Applying for a National Institute for Health Research Doctoral Fellowship

By Jo Cull, National Institute for Health Research Wellbeing of Women Doctoral Fellow

No matter how keen you are to do your PhD, the thought of six years of part-time study while working part-time to pay for it is, well, a bit of a thought.  The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) offer salaried Doctoral Fellowships to healthcare professionals, including midwives. I'm grateful to have been awarded a Fellowship, and I'd love to see more midwives applying.

There are two key funding streams: the Doctoral Research Fellowship (if you plan an academic career), or the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship, (if you intend to combine clinical and academic work).  More details, including funding timetables, can be found at the links below.  Fellowship applications are scored across three categories - commonly referred to as Person, Project, and Place - with Patient and Public Involvement also a key aspect.


These are Fellowships, not research grants, so your potential as a healthcare leader of the future is just as important as your proposed research project.  You aren’t expected to have a jam-packed CV, but ideally you will show the ability to write to a high level, with at least one or two papers published in peer-reviewed journals.  Previous recognition, for example through a travel award, also helps.  You need to show a strong training plan which will develop you as a researcher: a good place to start is the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (2010).  Many fellowships include an overseas visit to learn from experts elsewhere.


Make sure to focus on the benefit of your study to women and their families, and ensure your writing is clear for a non-specialist audience as your application will likely be reviewed by non-midwives.  This foundation work does take a lot of time, but it helps you get off to a great start if your application is successful, and is a good starting point for applying for other sources of funding if it’s not. My local Research Design Service was a great support in developing my application.


This aspect of the application is scored according to the experience and suitability to your study of your Supervisors, and the quality of your host institution. You will ideally need a supervisor who is a subject specialist and one who is a methodology specialist.  You can ask Supervisors from other institutions if they would like to be on your Supervision team - I have - but the Fellowship funding can only go to your host institution, so there will be no financial benefit to them.

Patient and public involvement (PPI)

PPI is a crucial aspect of your application, so consider how you can include the views and opinions of women in your study.  I’ve created a ‘Research Collective’ to support the study, comprising women with lived experience of trauma (my subject area), experts from the voluntary sector, and midwives.  I got the group together before finishing my application so they could give feedback on my proposals: it was scary but definitely strengthened the application. 

These Fellowships are an incredible opportunity to make a difference for women and their families and develop yourself.  I hope this article has encouraged you to think about applying.  If you would like to have an informal chat, I’d love to talk.  Good luck!

NIHR Doctoral Fellowship Round 7

The NIHR Doctoral Fellowship funds individuals from a range of health and social care professions to undertake a PhD in an area of NIHR research.

The Fellowship funds:

  • full salary support, including protected time to concentrate on research
  • PhD fees and research costs
  • a bespoke training and development programme to meet individual needs

Applicants from clinical or social care practice are able to include up to 20% clinical time as part of the Fellowship, to ensure the maintenance of their clinical competence whilst undertaking the Fellowship.

For further information visit:

Deadline for applications: 1pm, 18 January 2022

More information

You can find more information on the Doctoral Research Fellowship here

And on the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship here

The VItae Researcher Development Framework is here

You can also find out more about participating in research on our research and funding page here.