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HRB awards €6 million to train tomorrow’s research leaders

New Health Research Board (HRB) funding for the SPHeRE programme will drive research to address Ireland’s current and emerging health and social care challenges.

Image of class and students

SPHeRE (Structured Population Health, Policy and Health-services Research Education) is Ireland’s leading doctoral training programme in Population Health, Policy and Health Services Research (PHPHSR), which the HRB has been funding since 2007. This fresh phase 3 investment will see it continue delivering its hallmark high-quality education and training that connects scholars from diverse backgrounds and consolidates a strong track record of influencing and informing policy and practice.

According to Dr Mairéad O Driscoll, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board:

“The HRB is committed to investing in research leadership and building capacity to respond to Ireland’s health and social care needs. This HRB investment will allow the SPHeRE programme to continue building a network of people across disciplines who understand how excellent research, data and evidence can influence decision making and inform health and social care policy.”

Key deliverables of the SPHeRE programme
  • Improve prioritisation of research performed in the national interest
  • Provide scholars with the skills and competencies necessary for successful careers in academic, practice, policy or other settings
  • Continue expanding a national network of knowledge producers and users.
This will be achieved by:
  • Strengthening connections with service providers, policy makers and advocacy organisations to ensure scholarships and training focus on areas of high priority
  • Engaging with Principal Investigators (PIs) from a wider set of disciplinary backgrounds to ensure scholars are placed in settings that focus on high priority research questions
  • Engaging with funding agencies to deliver high priority research efficiently, and focusing on topics which are not currently addressed
  • Ensuring the programme delivers state-of-the art knowledge and practices
  • Recruiting scholars of the highest academic standard in disciplines of need.

According to Dr Sarah Barry, Director of the SPHeRE programme, at Trinity College Dublin:

“SPHeRE has a strong track record of informing and influencing policy debate, along with population health and health services research. We will ensure this grows as our PhD research continues focussing on developing solutions to health challenges for the health and social care system, and among the Irish population.

“The programme brings together all the universities across Ireland in a unique partnership to train scholars with the skills, competencies and experience necessary to develop their careers. Our graduates increase awareness and use of research in the areas of population health, health policy analysis, and health services research across the broader academic, policy and health service communities.”

Here, three alumni of the SPHeRE programme describe how it has shaped their careers:

Dr Frank Moriarty, Senior Lecturer at School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, RCSI (2012 Cohort):

“The SPHeRE programme provided strong foundations for my career in academia. The exposure to a range of research methods really sparked my interest in the variety of approaches available to answer research questions. Studying alongside a multidisciplinary cohort of scholars was also hugely beneficial. The connections I developed during the programme have been really important in my career.”

Marita Hennessy PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Pregnancy Loss Research Group UCC (2015 Cohort):

“SPHeRE values scholars’ prior knowledge and experiences. It foregrounds research that is relevant to policy and practice, centering on lived experience and inter-disciplinary perspectives. The support is second to none. It allowed me to pursue my passions while developing diverse skills with and from incredible peers and established researchers/academics, and national and international networks and collaborations, along the way.”

Sara Burke PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Centre for Health Policy and Management, TCD (Cohort 2008):

“The SPHeRE PhD programme is how and why I became an academic researcher and now a PI in health systems and policy analysis. I loved the multidisciplinary peer-group and learning experience; the fact that we were being taught by the best in their field in Ireland; the excellent and supportive PhD supervision; and the funded study trips abroad. I could not recommend this programme more.”


Visit the SPHeRE website

Register for the SPHeRE Network 8th Annual Conference on 29 March 2022 (online)

Notes to editors:

The SPHeRE programme will support 30 HRB-funded students plus a number of additional, alternatively funded scholars over its next eight years of funding (2022-2030) and will be delivered by all nine universities in Ireland, i.e., Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), University College Cork (UCC), Dublin City University (DCU), National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), Maynooth University (MU), Technical University Dublin (TUD), University of Limerick (UL) and University College Dublin (UCD).

Co-Directorship Team:

Dr Sarah Barry (TCD), Professor Mary Clarke (RCSI), Professor John Browne (UCC)

Co-Leadership Team:

Dr Sarah Barry (TCD), Professor Mary Clarke (RCSI), Professor John Browne (UCC), Professor Kate Irving (DCU), Professor Molly Byrne (NUIG), Professor Sinead McGilloway (MU), Dr Paul Hynds (TUD), Professor Cathal Walsh (UL) and Dr Ian Kelleher (UCD).