Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Fuse sandpit spa trip

Posted by Jean Adams

Quite often I have what I think is a great idea and I get all excited about it. I tell someone and they say “yes that is interesting”, whilst looking over my shoulder, and then walk off to do something more important. Occasionally the idea resurrects itself and is enacted without attribution. That’s okay: maybe someone else thought of it independently from me. Or maybe someone heard me talk about it, dismissed it, and then it came back to them as a seemingly new idea three weeks later when they were in the bath. But it’s not that common when I say “wow, I’ve just had this great idea” and someone says “that is an excellent idea, why don’t you write 500w outlining it, and we’ll discuss it at the next meeting of the Tedious Bureaucracy Executive Sub-committee”. Even rarer when the TBESC resolves to act upon my idea.

Sandcastle by Joe DSilva
So, you see, I haven’t had much opportunity to learn that when you have a great idea and someone else likes it, you then get charged with executing the idea.* I think I sort of thought I was just here to have great ideas – which is obviously a very poor reflection of what I do all day, but perhaps a very good reflection of what I wish I did all day.

On the Saturday before May Day 2012, I was climbing hills. I remember this because we climbed Ben Cruachan and it was my 142nd Munro – which is half way around the 283 Munros there were that day.** As we romped down the broad shoulder of Stob Diamh, Cruachan’s sister peak, back to the car park and tea shop in the warm May sun, I suddenly had this brilliant idea. Why not run a residential grant writing workshop for Fuse’s early career researchers (ECRs)? It would be a cross between those UK GRADschool development workshops that everyone raves about, and an EPSRC sandpit which everyone seems to come home from exhausted but £0.5m better off. 

We would get real people working in real-life public health to come up with research problems, get our ECRs to work with them to develop research solutions, and intersperse the whole affair with little seminars on career building, grant writing, and advanced research methods. It would be experiential learning personified. We could maybe even fund the best research idea? No? Ok, maybe that would be a teeny step too far. On reflection, this was probably not entirely my idea. But it’s a good story, no?

The only Fuse committee I am on is the Fuse Communications Group. I don’t think it has a particular remit for capacity building or career development, but I took my idea there because it was the only place I had to take it. I wrote my 500w. People seemed to like it. The idea got escalated to some other acronym and Fuse agreed to pay for the whole adventure (with the Strategic Health Authority later taking on more than half of the costs).

And then someone said, “so Jean, how do you want to organise this”? Truly? I didn’t want to organise it. Why would I want to do that? I just wanted to go off and climb some more hills and have some more ideas. But, you know, the person who asked was kind enough to say “okay, we could do it together”.

So we did. Janet and Avril and Mark and Terry and Sue and me, but mostly the others and not really me at all, co-ordinated calendars, visited venues, cajoled people into taking on all the various different roles required, told hotels that ‘limited’ wifi was not wifi enough for the 21st century, organised games, prepared delegate packs and almost drowned in organisational paper work.

On Monday 25th February, 30 Fuse early career researchers will join seven senior researchers, and three local public health practitioners in the beautiful surroundings of Linden Hall Hotel. The practitioners will present contemporary public health problems that require research solutions. The ECRs will work in groups with the practitioners to design relevant research projects. Each group will be guided by a senior ‘mentor’. Over three days the groups will write and submit full research proposals. These will then be considered by a board of Fuse members and associates in open session. Each member of the team who submit the application judged most appropriate for funding will win £500 to spend career development opportunities. There will be seminars on research methods and what funders are looking for in grant applications, a pub quiz, indoor cricket and a chance to hear about how one senior professor got where they are today. Perhaps there might also be some time to spend in the spa.

I hope it all runs smoothly – we certainly seem to have enough paperwork to suggest it will. I hope everyone enjoys it. But, more importantly, I hope they learn something useful from it.

Thanks Janet for liking my idea.

*Although, note that is exactly what happened with the “wow, let’s have a Fuse blog” idea.

**The Ordinance Survey continuously re-surveys the Scottish hills and between it and the Scottish Mountaineering Club the decision on how many Munros there are seems to vary on an annual basis. As I write, there are only 282 Munros.


  1. I'm really disappointed to be missing this...I think it's a really great idea, and I hope it all goes brilliantly! :-)

    1. Simon - I'm disappointed you'll be missing it too. You would have made a great contribution. Hopefully we will run it again next year and can call upon your enhanced expertise then.