Research and leadership placements

Research and leadership lie within two of the four domains of practice within the RCSLT professional development framework. It is therefore important for students to gain experience and skills in these areas to support and complement their clinical practice, and to provide insight into the different career paths available to them in the future.

Research and leadership skills are transferable across professions. Placement projects can be effective in providing important context for students while supporting the understanding of multidisciplinary working and the wider health and social care landscape. Students need to recognise why they are doing things, not just how to do them (Becoming Research Confident, Council of Deans 2021).

The early adoption of these skills and experience will, in turn, support the future speech and language therapy workforce, in all areas of practice.

Research and leadership tasks can be incorporated into project-based placement activity, meaning that students can work remotely or within a physical environment, depending on the needs and nature of the placement. These tasks can be set within a single research/leadership placement or as combined placement with clinical activity.

In addition to providing students with a wider breadth of experience, the tasks set by practice educators can also contribute to the progression of real-life ongoing or planned projects within an existing workload.

Examples of research and leadership placement tasks include:

  • Analysis of research data
  • Evaluation/audit of services
  • Quality improvement projects
  • Running focus groups
  • Development of resources

Clinical and research placement case studies

The following case studies have been produced with input from students and practice educators with recent experience in research and/or leadership placements, both within the speech and language therapy profession and the wider allied health professions (AHP) community. They outline how placements were structured and include benefits, challenges and top tips for anyone considering placements in research and leadership.

Combined research and clinical AHP placement

Rachel Thomson, coordinator, Sussex Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Care and Research Network

Rachel is a speech and language therapist by background but has been in her role as part of a multi-disciplinary team for the Sussex MND and Research Network for six years.

Rachel’s team provided combined research and clinical placements for occupational therapy and physiotherapy students. The placements included the analysis of data that had already been collected during a project that had been stalled by COVID-19. The placement therefore not only provided valuable experience and skills to the students but helped to progress an existing project.

Combined research and clinical speech and language therapy placement

Aaisha Bapu, newly-qualified speech and language therapist

Aaisha completed a combined clinical and research placement in her third and final year at the University of Manchester.

During her placement Aaisha learned how to generate a population, intervention, comparator and outcomes (PICO) question, develop a search strategy, and screen and critically appraise papers. By the end of the placement she had created a rapid review on the benefits of indirect voice therapy.

Delivering a research and clinical placement

Sophie Chalmers, speech and language therapist

Sophie is a speech and language therapist at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust. Sophie provided a combined research and clinical placement in 2022 which mirrored her own role working in a long COVID service and as an AHP clinical academic. In this animation, Sophie describes the structure of the placement, how she prepared and the key benefits of it.

Combined clinical and research placement as a physiotherapist

Django Lagnado, physiotherapist

Django Lagnado is a physiotherapist who recently graduated from the University of Brighton. He completed a combined clinical and research placement and had this to say about his experience:

“My research placement was in my final year and was around motor neurone disease (MND). It was a combined clinical and research placement.

My initial thoughts with regard to the research aspect were that I was interested and excited but when I found out it was focussed on qualitative research as opposed to quantitative research, which I had a bit of background in, I was a little bit disappointed. I wasn’t too sure what qualitative research actually meant so I was a bit unsure how things were going to pan out.

The placement was run through distance learning, working from home for three days, speaking to our lecturers, having regular meetings maybe once or twice a day, and then having meetings with my colleagues and another student, there were two of us on the placement. Then two days out, going to visit different trusts to look at how people were working with individuals with MND. We were also looking at interviews and data that had already been collected. So getting a grasp of research methods and tools for collecting the research.

In terms of how this was different to other placements, it was a lot broader. We weren’t just this individual student going around learning about a particular field of physiotherapy and learning how to treat patients. This was more observing other people like GPs, senior physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, so looking at their different roles and how they work with people with MND. Also being involved in multidisciplinary calls and looking at the multidisciplinary approach. So really quite fascinating, very, very broad and enriching.

I think the challenge was around qualitative research and what that actually means, and the different array of research methodologies that you can choose to interpret the information. And the complicated terminology and understanding of that terminology. And not being clear so much about how things would materialise, so a lot of uncertainty, that was a challenge.

However, in terms of the benefits, those were the benefits as well. So being uncertain or being comfortable with uncertainty and watching things emerge and evolve over time, through hard work. Repeatedly working at something and talking about it. And being able to talk to lecturers was fantastic. To have more personal one to one time. That was kind of enlightening. That was a real benefit. A lot was gained from that – to hear how the lecturers would think and problem solve and then to bring in my own opinions as well.

Meeting new people and going into different fields within health care as well. You had to kind of shift out of just being a physiotherapist but talking to different people and kind of understanding the broader, wider role, that multidisciplinary role as well. So that was a benefit.

In terms of top tips and advice. Organisation skills are quite important. I planned every day what I was going to do and achieve within the timeframe, working consistently to kind of mini deadlines through the day, particularly for the days that were focused around research.

Communication – if you have another person or student that’s with you, really work with them to plan and discuss any concerns that you have. And with lecturing staff as well. So I think those would be some of the top tips.

Thank you and all the best for those pursuing research placements in the future.”

Delivering leadership placements

Heidi Cox, a senior student education facilitator for allied health professions at Essex Partnership University, NHS Foundation Trust reflects on developing leadership placements for students:

“During the summer our organisation agreed to offer speech and language therapy and occupational therapy (OT) leadership placements. At Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) we have a passion for student education and are always on the lookout for ways to develop our placement opportunities. We were under increased pressure from higher education institutions to increase our capacity of allied health profession (AHP) placements and we also wanted to develop the quality of placements offered.

Consequently, we started to investigate leadership placements, as this gave us the opportunity to add placements on top of the clinical placements already provided. Plus, the leadership placements incorporated project work alongside learning more about leadership in the NHS. The projects chosen were based on already identified work streams in the organisation, creating resources or work that was really needed, which resulted in huge benefits to the organisation.

One example involved a student creating a video to explain the importance of preceptorship for newly qualified staff. This video was then added to our trust website to aid staff. Another example, a video created by a student on how to communicate with adults with learning disabilities (LD) was created after a need for staff on wards in mainstream physical health and mental health services was identified in a LD co-produced focus group. A video was also created by student SLTs to demonstrate speech and language therapy as a career. This has been used to promote the career and organisation for recruitment events.

The placement was a win-win. The students gained an insight into leadership in the organisation, spreading the word about compassionate leadership and the strength of well led leadership in AHPs at EPUT. We also developed our skills as educators and gained some valuable resources that the whole team is able to use.

Going forward following the success of these placements, we are planning to expand the placements and offer them to other AHPs, such as physiotherapy and dietetics.”


  • Health Education England (now NHS England) case studies from students who completed leadership placements:
  • Guide to Practice-Based Learning for Allied Health Professional Students in Research (PDF)
    This guide highlights the range of AHP students working in different research settings. The aim is to assist students to meet their learning outcomes but also to help them build their research pillar of practice at an early stage. It is hoped that the guide gives educators and others the awareness, confidence and knowledge to embark on this type of placement.
  • NHS Education for Scotland guidance on AHP leadership placements
  • The Council of Deans of Health’s Becoming Research Confident (PDF) promotes the importance of research placements and provides some useful case studies.
  • In July 2021, the Council of Deans of Health launched #ResearchPlacementWeek – a campaign to promote research placements for nursing, midwifery and allied health profession students and highlight the value of engaging students in research opportunities. As part of the campaign, they launched a report and CoDHcasts to showcase how research placements can successfully be set up and share learning in this area.
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