The Medical Research Council (MRC) is one of the leading funders of immunology research in the UK. In this article, we hear from Simone Bryan, their Programme Manager for Non-Clinical Careers Strategy, on the steps the organisation are taking to adapt the funding and guidance they provide to support carer progression amongst non-clinical researchers.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) has a leading national role in training future research leaders across biomedical, clinical and health disciplines. To assess how effective our strategy and policies are in training and developing the next generation of research leaders, MRC has reviewed its support for early career researchers.1–3
In 2014, MRC carried out a review of non-clinical research careers to explore the career choices of non-clinical researchers in the 10 to 20 years following their MRC award. Key aims were to better understand the impact of MRC awards, and the nature of any blockers/hurdles to pursuing a career in medical research. Researchers told us that while MRC funding had a positive impact on their research career, they had faced barriers, in particular difficulties in securing further funding and accessing careers advice and support. Consequently, MRC refreshed the way in which we support tomorrow’s leaders, to ensure we are providing the right support at the right time.
The review showed that more support is needed for PhD students to move to their first postdoc position, so we have provided additional flexible financial support to MRC’s Doctoral Training Partnerships to facilitate these transitions. The review also showed that moving from postdoc to independent investigator is hugely challenging, and that time bound eligibility criteria for fellowships was making this even more difficult. So, we decided to remove eligibility criteria based on years of postdoctoral experience and replace this with descriptors relating to the experience and skills researchers should demonstrate to be successful in securing MRC fellowships or New Investigator Research Grants. In each of our funding rounds since this change, we have made awards to intermediate fellowship and new investigator candidates who were previously ineligible under the old eligibility criteria. Several of these newly funded people have undertaken a non-biomedical PhD, and we have seen that this change is actively supporting interdisciplinary researchers.
Researchers also told us clearer research paths and advice in making career choices would have made pursuing a research career easier. In response, MRC launched a new online interactive career framework that highlights a range of career options and supports early career researchers in making informed decisions about their career choices. To our knowledge, this tool is the first of its kind. We have received positive feedback about the usefulness of the tool, and have added a new function showing different funding options across eight biomedical funders. Since its launch, other funders have adopted the framework and terminology, which is designed to accommodate portfolio careers.
We carried out a refresh of MRC webpages, to include more visibility of MRC’s flexible working policies and developed guidance on career breaks and flexible working. Information provided by applicants in response to this guidance is helping MRC to continuously assess how effective our policies and procedures are in promoting equal opportunities, and to increase the diversity of our research base.
Programme Manager for Non-Clinical Careers Strategy, Medical Research Council
- Stewart et al. 2012 What happens to clinical training fellows? A retrospective study of the 20 years outcome of a Medical Research Council UK cohort. BMJ Open 2:e001792. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001792
- Jenkins & Bryant 2012 Career Development Award Fellows Survey 2012 – Report.
- Medical Research Council et al. 2015 A cross funder review of early career clinical academics: enablers and barriers to progression