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Guidelines for external supervisors of trainees' major research project

Research forms a central part of the DClinPsy course. All trainees work on their major research project throughout the three years. As can be seen from the list of recent projects, projects take place in a variety of settings with a variety of populations. Most are carried out in NHS settings in collaboration with an NHS clinical psychologist as external supervisor. However, all major research projects must have an internal UCL supervisor, who is responsible to the University for overseeing it.

These guidelines are intended to clarify for external supervisors what is involved in supervising a project. Although supervising clinical research demands a commitment of time and energy, there are many compensatory benefits: input of fresh ideas, getting a useful piece of work done in your service, and joint publication.

The UCL course team is enormously grateful to its external research supervisors, without whose contributions we would be completely unable to find sufficient projects for our trainees each year. The research staff at UCL are always happy to discuss any questions or concerns that supervisors, or potential supervisors, may have.

The major research project

Projects need to be clinically relevant, empirical studies of publishable quality that make an original contribution to the scientific literature, and demonstrate the trainee's ability to undertake rigorous scientific investigation. The course supports a pluralistic approach to research. The project can be done within a range of approaches and paradigms: what is important is that the research methods be appropriate to the questions being investigated. The standard expected is that the project should form the basis of a paper which would be suitable for publication in a mainstream clinical psychology journal. The course regulations state that the thesis should make a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality.

The project must be work that trainees carry out by themselves, although we encourage them to take on projects that are part of a larger, ongoing research programme. If the trainee is working in a team, or is analysing previously collected data, the boundary of what is their personal contribution can become hard to define, but the central criterion is that they should be making a substantial independent contribution to the study. The work done for the thesis must not have been submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of any other degree.

All projects must conform to the relevant ethical and professional standards and codes of practice, particularly the Department of Health's Research Governance Framework, and must be approved by the appropriate research ethics committee.

Trainees are also required to undertake a service-related project on one of their clinical placements, supervised by the clinical placement supervisor. The present document concerns only the major research project: there is a separate course document on the service-related project.

We recognise that the major research project has to be completed within a tight timetable and that trainees have many competing demands on their time.

Role of the internal supervisor

Each trainee has an internal supervisor at UCL who advises the trainee on scientific and academic aspects of the project. The internal supervisor is responsible for reading and commenting upon drafts of the thesis and for monitoring progress. It is a good idea if the internal and external supervisor liaise from the beginning of the project, in order to clarify each person's role. A three-way meeting with the trainee is often productive.

A separate course document gives guidelines for internal supervisors.

There is also a Statistics Demonstrator who can help the trainee with planning and design (e.g., estimate how many participants will be needed) and with data analyses.

Role of the external supervisor

The role of the external supervisor varies according to the particular project and each supervisor's interests, availability and research experience. In general, it is anticipated that the external supervisor will help with recruiting participants and research governance aspects of the project (which includes local management and ethical approval).

Recruitment of research participants can often be a problem for trainees as it is easy to overestimate the number of clients with a particular problem a service might see, and it is easy to underestimate the time it takes to recruit them. In addition, not all clients will agree to take part and to see the project through to completion.

Research governance is an increasingly time-consuming issue and the external supervisor's expert knowledge of the service is crucial to ensure all relevant parties are consulted and all aspects of the project are approved.

In addition to these two activities, there are a number of other ways the external supervisor may contribute. Some external supervisors will propose their own projects for trainees to carry out, whereas others will collaborate on projects initiated by the trainee or the internal supervisor. Some will help with design and analysis, interpretation and conclusions, whereas others may prefer not to be involved in these aspects. Some may wish to read and comment upon drafts of the thesis, whereas others may leave this to the UCL supervisor.

Proposing a project

External supervisors often have ideas for potential DClinPsy projects. There is a separate course document on proposing a project which gives details of how go about setting up a DClinPsy research project, in particular how to establish the supervision arrangements.

Timetable

Trainees start approaching potential research supervisors in the second term of the first year, after the project orientation session. They may approach several supervisors before finalising their research ideas; we have asked trainees to keep anyone they contact informed of their plans.

We urge trainees to stick closely to the following timetable. In our experience, the most common reasons for projects falling behind schedule are unforeseen delays in obtaining ethical and Trust approval for the project, difficulties in recruiting participants, and trainees' procrastination in writing up the project.

Year 1

Term 2. In discussion with potential supervisors, decide on the topic, start reading the background literature, and formulate preliminary research questions.

Term 3. Statement of intent due (date to be notified).

June to September. Prepare the research proposal. Discuss the project in the setting in which you will carry it out. If necessary, apply for external funding, after discussion with your supervisor.

Year 2

Beginning of term 1. Proposals due (date to be notified).

November to February. Modify the proposal and finalise the research plan as necessary. Complete the data protection and departmental health and safety forms. Submit ethics application and project registration.

February to September. Begin recruitment of participants as soon as the protocol is finalised and research governance approvals are obtained. Begin data collection. Write the first draft of the literature review.

Year 3

Term 1. Submit literature review to internal supervisor. Complete data collection and start data analysis.

Term 2. Complete the data analysis. Revise the literature review, write the empirical paper and draft the critical appraisal. Title and abstract due (for allocation of examiners: date to be notified).

April to May. Revise the empirical paper and the critical appraisal. Give the final draft of the whole thesis to your supervisors for comment.

June. Submit thesis (deadline to be notified).

September. Viva (date to be announced).

Trainee's responsibility

Trainees are responsible for the overall progress of their project and the content of their thesis, which they must ultimately defend in the viva. In particular, it is up to the trainees to ensure that the course deadlines are met and that they give their supervisors sufficient time to read and comment on their work.

Avoiding problems

It is always useful to clarify expectations initially and to discuss possible complications that might arise. A clear understanding of which aspects of the project you feel happy to supervise (and which you don't), and what you expect from the trainee, is always helpful.

Publication

We hope that the empirical paper (Part 2 of the thesis) and possibly the literature review (Part 1) will result in a paper submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The expectation is that the trainee will be the first author on publications arising out of their thesis, with the supervisors as joint authors. There are occasional cases, however, where one of the supervisors will have had such a central role in the conceptual and methodological aspects of the study that it may be appropriate for them to first-author the paper. In such cases, this should be made clear to the trainee at the outset, before the trainee decides whether or not to take on the project. Another exception to the rule of the trainee being first author is that if the trainee has not written it up within an agreed time period after completion, the supervisor has the prerogative to write it up themselves and be the first author, with the trainee as second author. This should be discussed early on. Likewise, any issues of ownership of the final data set may need clarification at the start of the project.

The BPS has produced a useful document on the ethical principles of authorship and publication.

Further information

All documentation for the course, including contact details of course staff, can be found on our course website; research documentation can be found on the research section of the site. Two particularly relevant documents are the Guidelines for the major research project and the Guidelines for writing up the thesis.