Dental researcher gets his teeth into the research funding landscape

Every day is a school day for HRB Intern (Project Officer) Dr Peter Hyde, who has spent the last 18 months working on HRB funding award schemes. He tells Claire O Connell all about it.

Peter Hyde

Research needs funding, but how does that process happen? Dr Peter Hyde has stepped away from the lab bench to learn more about that process, and the best way to do that has been to get directly involved.  The microbiologist has spent a busy year and a half working on various projects with the HRB. He talks to Claire O'Connell.

‘There has been a lot of learning’, says Dr Hyde, who did his PhD in the Dublin Dental University Hospital before taking up the HRB post. 

‘My research was fundamental science. I was working on a fungus, Candida dubliniensis, that can cause oral and systemic infections in immune-compromised people, such as people with AIDS and those on steroid medications’. 

Dr Hyde looked at the genetics of fungus and its microbial relatives: ‘We wanted to figure out what features allow them to cause disease, because if you understand this you can try and target those features and stop them’. 

Wider ecosystem of funding 

Dr Hyde’s doctoral research was funded by the HRB, but he admits he hadn’t thought too much at the time about the wider ecosystem of research and funding in Ireland. That changed when his PhD finished he started working on a short-term contract with the HRB. While reviewing annual reports for active grants, he got a glimpse ‘under the bonnet’ at how research funding works. ‘It was a great opportunity to see where the reports went and see what went into the research management side of things from the funder’s perspective’, he recalls. As luck would have it, the HRB Intern scheme kicked off while Dr Hyde was there, so he joined (or applied for) it through the Dublin Dental University Hospital.

‘The intern scheme provides a way for researchers to still be a part of science without being directly in their research group in the university, and to see what goes on in the research ecosystem’, he explains. ‘I had really enjoyed my time on contract with the HRB and I liked the people and the outlook that they had so I decided it would be a great opportunity to see more about how it works’. 

Life cycle of research 

Since then Dr Hyde has been doing eight-month rotations, working on ‘pre-award’ activities to support researchers as they prepare to request funding for projects and ‘post-award’ supports for researchers who have received HRB funding.

‘The idea is that you see the whole life cycle of funding’, he explains. 

He has worked on developing documentation for the launch of a funding call, supporting applicants during the submission process, building the forms that applicants fill in and scouring the scientific world to find suitable external experts to review the applications. Dr Hyde has also helped on programmes to encourage undergraduate research, leadership skills in research and to help projects get the message about their findings out to the wider public. 

New perspectives 

His work with the HRB has offered a new perspective on how research is supported in Ireland.

‘When I was doing bench work, I never really thought about the work that goes into funding - the agreements that have to be put in place to enable the researchers to do the best research that they possibly can, whether that is due to college partnerships, collaborations or maybe facilitating partnerships with the HSE and charities’, he says. ‘It is great to see how the various pieces fit together in the system’. 

And what about the PhD? While he no longer works in fungal genetics, the analytical and problem-solving skills that Dr Hyde honed during his time in the lab are now standing to him in his new role. ‘It is very rare that a PhD student goes into a PhD and it goes exactly as planned, there will always be fences to get over, and you can then bring that experience into the research management side’, he says. ‘If an applicant comes in with an idea, you can help them think about aspects that might be stumbling blocks and take an analytical approach to help them’. 

Learning all the time 

The constant training and interacting with people is what Dr Hyde likes best about his role with the HRB, and the learning goes on around the clock. ‘I enjoy learning about lots of different ideas and helping applicants to put them together, getting them talking to the right people and thinking about the right things to develop their projects’, he says.