How you can build your research profile
Think beyond the present
I hope that the article last year inspired you to submit an abstract to Physiotherapy UK or another scientific conference, and that it whetted your appetite to make this a regular occurrence. If you’re now at the point where you can see the benefits of making time to start questioning, gathering data and evidence and sharing your work and findings, then you’ve already taken the first step.
The next step now is to think bigger and explore further. If you are going to be research-active and develop a research profile, you’ll need to look outwards, beyond yourself, your team and service, even beyond your organisation to the national drivers and ultimately to patient benefit. To do this you should look at your research interests and ideas and consider how they align with those priorities.
First scope out the research landscape. Rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’, it is important to look around to see whether someone else has already begun to research that topic.
Find out what other research is happening locally, nationally and even internationally that you could build upon.
This means immersing yourself in other’s research. It goes without saying that this activity is worth doing anyway as you are likely to come across evidence and examples to improve your own practice or transform your service on route.
There are so many ways to do this: locally through journal clubs or Council for Allied Health Professionals Research (CAHPR) hubs, nationally by reading Physiotherapyand other journals (CSP’s library is an excellent resource to draw upon), familiarising yourself with national guidelines or CSP research priorities, and/or attending scientific conferences (such as Physiotherapy UK).
Once you’ve scoped out possible gaps in the evidence base, decide how you can make the best contribution then make time to plan out some realistic medium to long term goals. You’ll need some help with this but before you talk to others it’s a good idea to have first considered where your interests and skills can be used to good effect.
Take time to assess your competence. Where might you need to develop? If last year was your first foray into research what might that mean if the topics you are interested in take you out of your comfort zone? Do you have any developmental needs in broadening your research methodology horizons? For example, some of the really exciting topics within the 2018 CSP Physiotherapy research priorities might draw upon mixed or qualitative methods, more traditionally found within social sciences. If so, do you need to develop links with other disciplines? Or if your research interests lie in thinking critically about the profession itself then networks like the Critical Physiotherapy Network might be worth connecting with. Which leads me on to my next point, get some support.
Support and collaboration
No researcher is an island. Tap into existing communities to look for opportunities to collaborate, within the profession and outside. Keep your horizons broad, collaborations with disciplines outside of health and with patient groups are well worth considering.
Speak to colleagues, connect with others through routes such as the CAHPR hubs, or find a mentor. Those with more experience will be able to help advise you on your plans, share their experiences and suggest resources to support your development.
As well as potentially co-producing research with patients, you’ll benefit greatly from engaging with patient groups to help develop your research questions and methodology. You’ll find the James Lind Alliance worth connecting with.
It goes without saying that you’ll need to get the support of your employer. We’ve already talked about external drivers. When looking for support from your employer, it will need to be a balancing act between this bigger picture and how it will benefit your organisation.
Think about how your research ambitions will benefit them, what are the drivers for your organisation? What is the potential impact?
It’s important to think about cost benefits but also think about other tangible benefits like the value of drawing your whole team into your research - and I mean the whole team: students, support workers, and even patients.
I could write a whole article solely on funding given how essential it is. Instead, I’m signposting you to the pages on the CSP website drawn together by the CSP Research team. It is a fantastic starting point. It’s worth highlighting that the CSP Charitable Trust Physiotherapy Education Awards has funding available to support your development needs if you’re still at a very early stage in your development, and the Research Foundation Awards, which is currently open, offers grants including one for novice researchers.
Call to action
The CPD activity prompts are embedded within the article. Decide where on the journey you are and challenge yourself to follow through on the points.
If research is impractical right now, don’t forget to immerse yourself in current research findings anyway.
If you’re almost ready, go back to two of the earlier Frontline CPD articles. They’ll help you submit an abstract for the first time.
This year’s Physiotherapy UK is around the corner so give it a go.
And if you’re already research active and are considering a move into research then this Frontline article is full of useful tips.
Finally, wherever you are in your development, happy researching. fl
Once again, my thanks to colleagues in the research team, Fran Fitch and Katie Prangle in particular, who helped draw these suggestions together.
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