The first steps: an internship

This is a guest post by James Faraday, a speech and language therapist: Over the last 12 months, I have completed a clinical academic internship. And I can honestly say it’s been a fantastic and very productive experience!

There have been some formal “outputs” of the process, e.g. I’ve written a protocol for a systematic review on the effectiveness of SLT-led dysphagia training for nurses working in dementia care. But more importantly, I have gained a real insight into the clinical academic world – through attending research meetings, conferences, workshops, and just by talking to lots of people who are at different points along the journey.

These internships aim to give nurses, midwifes and AHPs a better understanding of what a clinical academic career might look like. And as the internship has come to an end, I’ve felt inspired and motivated to continue, and I’ve successfully applied for Research Capability Funding from my NHS trust, to take the work forward.

Here are a few things I have learned:

  • Research is a long-term process and, whatever your time-frame is, be realistic about what you will do with it – and think about what this might lead on to…
  • The dreaded “networking” is not that bad after all, and is actually really helpful! Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes (and thankfully, at least some of it can be done by email, which does take away some of the scariness). I have found it really valuable to hear other people’s experiences, and to have opportunities to communicate my own thoughts and ideas. I have learned to be brave; you never know what can result from a chance conversation.
  • It’s important to keep momentum going, and for me this has been about being persistent, but also being flexible when initial plans don’t quite work out. A bit like with house-hunting, if you have your heart set on a particular grant, but don’t get it, look around for another one – it might even turn out to be better!
  • Good support and supervision is key, and I have been really fortunate to be have been well-supported by my employer, the university, the Internship scheme, and others in the clinical academic community. Some of this has just been there for me, some of it I have had to seek out.
  • I have found it can be all too easy to be apologetic and doubtful about what I am doing. I counter this by regularly reminding myself of some of the reasons why I’m doing it: it energises me; I value it; I believe it will improve patient care.
  • I need to keep things in perspective: even taking into account all of the above, I try not to forget there are more important things in life than the clinical academic world!
  • Also – I now feel fresh enthusiasm for the term “evidence-based practice!” As clinicians, we are frequently told that our work should be evidence-based. But I have often wondered: what does that actually mean, and how do we do it? Over the years I’ve made various efforts to address this, e.g. taken study days to search the evidence for different therapy approaches. But at the end of these study days I tended to feel not much further forward, and left with a sense that (a) I don’t really know how to search for and appraise evidence; and (b) there doesn’t seem to be much evidence out there anyway. Now, having completed the internship, I definitely now feel more equipped and encouraged to appraise and contribute to the evidence base.

These are just some reflections after a few short months of experience. It would be good to hear whether or not they resonate with people in similar situations. And also perhaps interesting for me to revisit some years down the line, to see if they still ring true!

3 thoughts on “The first steps: an internship

  1. Thanks for your post James, and sharing your thoughts. The Internships seem to be a really good way to test the water and get some of the early analytical skills that make up a big chunk of research competency. I’m glad to hear you are now hooked! =)


  2. Thanks for this (both James and Niina). Am hoping to start an internship in 2016, this insight is both helpful and encouraging!


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