white rabbitLast week I was really impressed to hear that both the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and BBSRC have changed their eligibility criteria for their early career fellowship schemes, removing the cut off point for number of years of postdoctoral experience. For many fellowship schemes the criteria would often be you could only apply between set years of experience e.g. 4-8 years post PhD. I’m so pleased that hearing “but I’m getting too old to apply for a Fellowship” is going to soon be a thing of the past if other funding bodies follow suit and this becomes a more common change to criteria.

The MRC announced: We are taking a fresh approach to supporting careers by removing eligibility criteria based on years of post-doctoral experience. This will allow for variations in career paths, recognising that the speed of career progression can be affected by factors unrelated to a person’s scientific potential

I asked Dr Allan Lawrie, BHF Senior Research Fellow in Cardiovascular Science who obtained a MRC Career Development Award Fellowship in 2008 what he thought of this recent change.  He said “This is an exciting move forward by the MRC. Hopefully this will reduce some of the pressure on aspiring early career researchers by allowing them time to find their personal niche area. These Fellowships are hugely competitive, and they will only become increasingly more so in coming years. To obtain these prestigious awards you need to have both identified and developed an excellent scientific foundation but luck, and timing are also critical, particularly with the timing of key publications, which may not always be in the hands of the potential Fellow. As the financial and chronological demands on high impact publications (particular in medicine) continue to increase, removing the time limit from PhD to application on Early Career Fellowships will hopefully allow more people to apply, and for them to be competitive.”

Rachel Dwyer, is the Research Development Officer for the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health and she added”

“The MRCs removal of the time-bound criteria for its fellowship schemes will allow ECRs who have other commitments, work part-time or who have changed disciplines to not be ‘timed-out’ of MRC fellowship schemes. Building up the skills and expertise expected by the MRC can now be planned for in line with career path to date and working pattern. The change does mean that the pool of potential applicants will now be larger for each fellowship scheme and so ECRs will need to ensure they take the time to build up demonstrably evidence of the skills and experience, relevant to their career stage, to be included in applications” 

FSA_LOGOSo what is it really like applying for a fellowship and how do people become successful at it? My colleague Dr Kay Guccione is currently carrying out some fascinating research exploring the role of self-leadership in the development of research independence. As part of the project ‘Fellowship Ahoy’, Kay has set up a blog where successful fellows share their story of gaining research independence in a very honest and open way which is refreshing to read.

Do you want to know what other support there is for you? Your Faculty will have a Research development officer like Rachel who will be there to support your future applications, so it’s really important that you make sure you know who they are and how they can help you. If you’re thinking of applying for a fellowship or just want to know more about the opportunities for gaining research independence, the Think Ahead programme at the UoS, supported by the Research Development Team (Research and Innovation Services) will be running a full day event on the 15th July called ‘Steps Towards Research Independence’. There will be presentations from funders and successful fellows, 1:1 clinics and short workshops covering a range of topics including career/CV planning for funding applications, writing personal statements and surviving fellowship interviews.

So if you do have more than 10 years postdoctoral experience perhaps you haven’t missed the boat and now you can think about applying for your own research funding after all!

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