As part of our new blog, ASME is checking in with past award winners. Today, we catch up with Kirsty Alexander, Small Grant winner from 2019…

I am a postdoctoral researcher currently working at the Research Department for Medical Education (RDME) at UCL. Having graduated with my PhD in 2018, I am an early career researcher and was very pleased to be awarded an ASME Small Grant in 2019.

My Small Grant project is a qualitative study exploring the process of knowledge exchange between academics and practitioners working in Widening Access (WA) to medicine. In the UK, WA is a governmental policy initiative that aims to reduce disparities between the proportion of different demographic groups entering university. Practically, it involves initiatives such as outreach, summer schools and gateway programmes. Many different stakeholders are thus involved: policymakers, researchers, university WA practitioners, schoolteachers, parents and the potential applicants themselves.

In healthcare research, we often talk of the importance of diverse stakeholders working together to share experiences and align processes to achieve shared goals. This can prove challenging, however, with stakeholders reporting barriers to working together: e.g. silo-mentality, jargon or differing priorities.  

My project therefore investigates how and why academics and practitioners exchange knowledge and experiences in WA, whether this exchange is working well, or how it could be improved.

I was encouraged to apply to the Small Grants by a past-award holder, who’d had a positive experience. The application process was very straightforward, with the form only requiring fundamental information about the proposed project and costs, up to 500 words in total. Upon award, ASME were very helpful and made the transfer of award easy.

I was thrilled to be awarded the grant, and honestly, quite surprised. Like many early career researchers, I sometimes doubt whether my ideas are interesting and relevant to others! Being awarded the grant affirmed to me that the community was not only interested in the topic but also interested enough to fund it, which was very motivating.

As a postdoc working on several projects, I am lucky to broaden my research experience and skills. The small grant has, however, also given me the opportunity to focus on my own core research interest and the one I think I want to pursue in my academic career. It’s been great practice to manage an externally funded small-scale project from start to finish, and to evidence to future funders that I have experience of this. I’ve also found the Small Grant has helped me develop ideas to further this research area and my own career. Using this as a scoping project, I am drafting a proposal for a postdoctoral Fellowship.

Finally, I’ve found that, as I contact practitioners and academics in other institutions to invite them to participate in the research, I have gained new networks and been invited to join virtual seminars and best-practice-sharing workshops. These opportunities for knowledge exchange have been a very positive side effect of the grant.

The project is ongoing, and I hope to share my progress and findings later in the year. Overall, I’d really recommend the opportunities the ASME Small Grants can bring – if you have an idea you’d like to explore or expand, this is a great way to secure funding to make it possible, as well as gain motivation and make it your own.




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