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Nursing Uses Collaboration to Strengthen Research Culture

RD Highlight: Strengthening Research Culture

Staff and faculty from the College of Nursing discuss strengths and weaknesses of an external funding proposal (photo from August 2019).To complement research development in the Office of Research and Engagement (ORE), some colleges take proactive steps to support faculty members’ research with targeted RD activities of their own. The College of Nursing is one of those, and it offers financial incentives to encourage participation.

Tami Wyatt, associate dean of research, says that like ORE, the College of Nursing is intentional about strengthening a culture of research. One recent program was a summer grant-writing workshop created especially for junior faculty interested in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Participants received $5,000 stipends, and the primary obligation was to submit a federally funded proposal by June 2021. Participants included College of Nursing faculty Joel Anderson, associate professor; Katherine Morgan, Katherine Newnam, Patricia Roberson, Knar Sagherian, and Tracey Vitori, assistant professors; and postdoctoral researcher Rodi Svynarenko. “The key is working as a cohort, learning with others, working with others, and helping each other,” Wyatt says.

Already, three proposals have been submitted (one R01 and multiple R21s), and the rest are in progress. Wyatt says these proposals were made more competitive by the three-session workshop process, which began with a focus on specific aims and included reviews and input from senior mentors/participants including Wyatt; Clea McNeely, research professor of nursing; Kiley Compton, research development manager in ORE; and Maureen Groer, a visiting scholar with 20 years of success with NIH research grants. Wyatt explained that in addition to receiving reviews, participants also served as reviewers, further expanding their perspectives on the competitive proposal process.

“Whether online or face-to-face, we conduct these critiques publicly,” Wyatt explains, noting that researchers sometimes have difficulty receiving constructive criticism. “This process provides a valuable model for how to accept these critiques. We build a supportive team environment.”

researchers from UT College of Nursing during writing retreat

Writing retreats, like this one from August 2019, allowed researchers the opportunity to discuss ideas, dedicate time to writing, and benefit from colleagues’ insights.

Another effective research development activity in the College of Nursing is the mock review, which received funding from ORE’s Strengthening the Culture of Research program. Wyatt says that every faculty member seeking external funding must participate in a mock review, and reviewers are paid for their time, which has enabled input from external reviewers.

According to Wyatt, the College of Nursing has several writing groups, which can provide a team environment that strengthens writing for both proposals and publications. Most use the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Wyatt participates in a group that typically gathers for a long-weekend writing retreat, which has resulted in numerous publications.

“We have minimal interruptions, enjoy the participation of a committed group of people, and engage in a lot of team building that is so important to the process. People are working with you, not against you. It feels good, and faculty love it,” Wyatt says. She also explains that although current writing groups are limited to online gatherings, they are still quite helpful.

Screenshot of a virtual proposal workshop from UT College of Nursing

When the pandemic forced researchers to work remotely, they conducted online workshops to refine their research ideas in a collaborative environment.

Finally, Wyatt encourages her nursing colleagues to take advantage of ORE research development services whenever appropriate. “Not only does the research development team have expertise in proposal development, they can look at your proposal from a non-clinical perspective. To be effective, faculty must convey their message; this forces them to write clearly.”

More information on ORE’s research development services is available here.