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I was thrilled when earlier this year my Faculty (Medicine, Dentistry and Health) agreed to the Early Career Group’s idea of holding an annual ‘Early Career Researcher Prize Scheme’ to celebrate the outstanding contributions that contract research staff make to the Faculty.

Admittedly, it was the brainchild of my colleague Sandrine Soubes (Faculty of Science), but in the spirit of sharing best practise (or stealing a good idea when I see one), we proposed to the Faculty Executive Board that, like the Faculty of Science we should find a way to recognise early career researchers who go the extra mile to stand out from other researchers in the competitive world of academia. We not only wanted to acknowledge those who carry out excellent research but also those who excel in; supervision and teaching, research impact and enhancing the research environment. I was so pleased when I was informed that the Faculty would be granting 5 awards and that each winner would also receive £500 to spend on further career development .

In May we received a large number of nominations from right across the different departments of the Faculty, with a huge variety in the area of excellence that formed the basis for the application. It was an incredibly tough decision for the review panel to select the 5 winners, from across the 4 categories, especially as many had excelled in more than one category. All the nominees were clearly making outstanding contributions to the Faculty and University and its brilliant that we are able to acknowledge it in this way. I was delighted last month when the 5 very worthy winners were finally announced to the Faculty.

So who were our fantastic winners and what did it take to be awarded a faculty prize?

Below are the winners and an extract from their nomination:

  • Dr Phil Elks (Infection and Immunity)- Excellence in research

“Phil has managed at a very early stage to achieve excellent publications (4 first author, 6 others, all of significant quality) and his exceptional talent was recognised through the award of a Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Fellowship for an area of clinically-important, highly translatable research that will have major impacts on human health in the future.” (Professor Ian Sabroe)

On winning the award Phil said: “I was honoured and flattered to be awarded an ECR prize, and feel in esteemed company with the other recipients. The award will go towards funding an away day for a number of ECR labs in the department interested in leukocyte biology in non-mammalian models to promote future collaboration between our nascent groups.”

  • Dr Iwan Evans (Infection and Immunity) – Excellence in research  

“Iwan has proven himself to be a truly exceptional young investigator, he has recently obtained an exceptionally prestigious Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust and a reflection of the quality of the work is the acceptance of a recent paper in Current Biology as a senior author”. (Professor Ian Sabroe)

Iwan's research picIwan told meMy Current Biology paper elucidated a signalling pathway that controls that plays a key role in the recruitment of innate immune cells to sites of inflammation in vivo. It’s really nice to be recognised by the faculty and I’m really grateful to the people who recruited me and have helped me to set up my lab, in particular Prof. Moria Whyte, Prof. Marysia Placzek, Prof. Steve Renshaw, my RA Emma Armitage and all in the Bateson Centre. I hope to use the prize money to develop outreach work to publicise the use of Drosophila in biomedical research alongside the existing Fish for Science infrastructure.

  • Dr Claire Garwood (Neuroscience) – Excellence in enhancing the research environment

“Claire’s enthusiasm, organisation and passion to improve the environment for research staff has been exemplary” (Professor Ian Douglas)

 “Claire is a tireless supporter and campaigner on behalf of her staff peers and has recently made major contributions to changes in SRDS in the Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health, vision statement development, postdoc consultations, induction process audit, staff surveys and much more.” (Dr Graham Stafford)

Claire said: “It’s great to be recognised in this way for the additional activities I have been involved with alongside my research project and the money towards career development is a real bonus. I have recently been awarded a junior fellowship and so I am investing time in developing new collaborations.  This money will help fund the costs associated with visiting other researchers to facilitate this”

  • Dr Paul Morris (Cardiovascular Science) – Excellence in a research and impact

“Paul’s research effort, output and trajectory has been outstanding – he has been involved in raising new external Wellcome/DoH Health Innovation Challenge Fund income for the Department, raised his own grant income from a new project from the MRC Confidence in Concepts scheme and written a REF 2020 returnable paper.” (Professor Sheila Francis)

“His open mind and availability despite his heavy workload allowed us to write a blog seen by more than 10,000 people; more recently we wrote an article that educated readers much beyond the frontiers of the medical world. His skills in explaining, in simple terms, what sounds a priori very complex are remarkable and essential in our collaboration” (Thierry Marchal, Global Industry Director, ANSYS)

  • Dr Heather Mortiboys (Neuroscience) – Excellence in impact

“We are certain that Heather’s enthusiasm, patience and understanding, has helped make Parkinson’s research accessible for countless people over the years. She continues to give hope to those affected by the condition through her research and, of equal importance, her ability to inspire people with the promise of Parkinson’s research” (Stacey Storey, Parkinson’s UK)

How will Heather use the prize money?: “With the winnings I plan to set up a tool box to take into primary schools aimed at children aged 4-7 years to enthuse them about science and the brain in particular and a tool box to take to adult events to show hands on some science involving skin, batteries and Parkinson’s Disease.”

fish in bowlSo how will you stand out from the crowd? I hope the stories above will inspire you to think of different ways to further your career either in academia or beyond. Will I be reading a nomination for you in 2016? Whatever you try, just remember,

“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.” (Author unknown)

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