Science doesn’t only need sprinters
At the moment, researchers have a certain number of years after their PhD to apply for MRC fellowships, after which point they’re ineligible. But is a ticking clock the best way for scientists to flourish? Here Simone Bryan, Programme Manager for Strategic Projects here at the MRC, explains why we’re removing time-bound criteria from our fellowship applications to help give people the time they need.
One of the best things about my job is getting the chance to meet so many brilliant and talented researchers who are doing jobs they love. But, for all its wonder, pursuing a research career is competitive and challenging.
In particular, moving from being a postdoc to an independent investigator in your own right is hugely challenging. It’s usually done by securing a personal fellowship which pays your salary and research costs.
But whether a researcher has built the track record needed to successfully apply for a fellowship can be affected by whether they’ve moved labs or countries, whether they’ve changed discipline, how much support they have had from his or her supervisor, and the nature of their research project. None of these factors are related to an individual’s scientific potential.
This period often overlaps with the time when people want to start a family, making this next big career step even tougher.
As part of the review of non-clinical research careers that we’ve just carried out, we asked people about the biggest barriers they face in successfully pursuing a research career.
Researchers have told us that the strict eligibility criteria for fellowships relating to time since PhD completion is making this already-difficult step more difficult.
We were told this time-restricted cut off is disadvantaging individuals who have taken a career break and are returning to science, those changing career path, or those who may need longer to demonstrate their track record, such as part-time workers or individuals with caring or domestic responsibilities.
We started to ask why a scientist’s potential should be assessed on the speed of his or her career progression within the first few years after their PhD. Is time since PhD an adequate or fair measurement of a person’s creativity, experience or productivity? Are only sprinters needed in science?
We don’t think so, so we’ve decided to remove eligibility criteria based on years of postdoctoral experience altogether.
Being a successful researcher requires perseverance, dedication and commitment; attributes that are borne out over time. As one of the researchers featured in our new interactive career framework says, “Research can be pretty tough. It seems easier to give up at certain points, but if you really enjoy what you do, do whatever it takes to stick with it. The rewards are amazing.”
So, from today, we’ve removed the years post-PhD barrier, widening the pool of applicants who can compete to make the leap into the next stage of their career.
Visit our applicant skills and experience webpage for more information about expectations for fellowship applicants.