Catch up - Former NPAW events

NPAW 2020 catch-up

#Recognition of Research Talents

Monday 21 September 2020 | 1 pm | Online

Introduced by Dr Sara Shinton (Head of Researcher Development, University of Edinburgh), this event was aimed at starting Postdoc Appreciation Week on a positive and light-hearted note, by focusing on how great postdocs are, sharing tips on identifying strengths and communicating while being highly entertaining and fun!

Chris Humphrey (Founder and career consultant at Jobs on Toast) introduced the steps postdocs can take to unlock the value of their academic qualifications and experience, by (1) recognising the transferable skills, subject-matter knowledge, and productive behaviours they've developed, and (2) understanding the key factors required to access jobs and careers outside of academia.

Emer Maguire (Science communicator, broadcaster and musical comedian) then focused on one of these skills, communication. She talked about her approach to communicating research in a fun and engaging manner, the science of music, postdoc life and life during lockdown, all using humour and songs!

#PostdocChat - Careers in Academia and Beyond

Tuesday 22 September 2020 | 10 am | Online

This event aimed at providing information to researchers regarding their career options, available resources and opportunities to help them explore their career, and insights to navigating various career options.

Our experts provided highlights on different pilot programmes that were being developed at the time to promote researcher career development (such as the Prosper project and Wellcome's Broadening Horizons mentoring programme), insights to implementation of the new Concordat, available resources, and data on what potential employers value in a candidate from a research background (notably from Vitae).

This interactive panel discussion was facilitated by Christine Bell (Director at the Centre for Facilitation ) and involved Prof Fiona Watt (Executive Chair, MRC), Dr Bethan Hughes (Partner, Innovations Team, Wellcome), Lucy Williams (Prosper project manager, University of Liverpool), Rachel Cox (Engagement and Policy Project Manager, Vitae) and Dr Sarah S. Staniland (Reader, University of Sheffield).

Questions that couldn't get answered within the time allocated to the 2020 PAW Career panel discussion are answered below by representatives from the MRC:


Q: Eligibility of postdocs on UKRI grants

Several research councils (including MRC) have a researcher co-investigator (RCoI) category. This allows researchers to be included on grants where they don't meet the criteria for co-investigator (lecturer, contract of employment with the RO for the duration of the grant prior to application). This formal recognition for contributions to writing grant applications, designing and carrying out funded research should help their career progression.

Q: PIs think that naming postdocs as RCoI on a grant are detrimental to the grant success, is there a way to change this attitude in academics?

The data on RCoIs on grants is limited as it was only introduced in June 2018. However, looking at the data from MRC's 4 research boards (IIB, MCMB, NMHB and PSMB) the success rate of grants where a RCoI has been included is higher (19.9% compared with 16.5%). We will continue to monitor the use of RCoI. We will also engage with our community to understand their concerns over RCoI use.

Q: What fellowships do MRC offer for someone finishing an MRC skills development fellowship with math and computer science background? What is the best time to apply for the second fellowship when you are on 3 years fellowship?

You should consider the Career Development Award. This fellowship supports talented post-doctoral researchers to lead their own research plans and establish their own research team to make the transition from post-doctoral researcher to independent investigator.

You may also want to consider the New Investigator Research Grant. It is also aimed at researchers transitioning to independence but you can combine time spent on the NIRG with a portfolio of other activities, such as time spent on other research grants or clinical duties, teaching, administration duties, or other time spent in faculty (this list is not exhaustive). As such, applicants are normally expected to request up to, but no more than, 50% of their contracted working time on the NIRG.

MRC is always happy to look at a CV/proposal to confirm eligibility. We can be contacted at fellows@mrc.ukri.org

Our interactive funding finder also provides information on opportunities from a range of biomedical funders.

Q: I'm interested in how maternity leave affects being able to apply for short term academic positions - I'm thinking about the future and worrying about applying for 2 or 5 year positions and then taking maternity leave for a significant time of the position - are academics put off by this?

All MRC fellowships are open to individuals returning to research following a career break.

The assessment of MRC funding applications frequently involves appraisal of the applicant's track record. In making this appraisal, review panels take into account time spent outside the active research environment, whether through career breaks or flexible working.

Applicants should make clear any substantive periods of absence from research within their application. Details of career breaks or flexible working will only be used to make appropriate adjustments when assessing an individual's track record, productivity and career progression.

For further guidance please see MRC guidance on Career Breaks and Flexible Working (PDF, 40KB).

All MRC Fellows are entitled to take maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment. Full consideration will be given to requests for fellowships to be placed in abeyance during the absence of the Fellow and the fellowship then extended upon their return. The fellowship may then be continued on a part-time basis to allow the Fellow to meet caring responsibilities.

if you are a post-doc or fellow working 100% of your time on the award then the costs of your parental leave can be paid from the grant. MRC will compensate you at the end of the grant to cover any additional net costs that cannot be met within the cash limit of paid parental leave. The net cost is the amount paid to the individual less the amount the Research Organisation can recover from HMRC.

More information on managing your award can be found at: https://mrc.ukri.org/funding/guidance-for-mrc-award-holders/managing-your-award/

Q: What are good strategies to manage the fact that many fellowship schemes require you to apply a year before it starts and/or you may only hear about the outcome after months and months? i.e. apply for everything and quit if you do get the fellowship? take short-term positions?

We understand that it takes time to hear the outcome of your fellowship application. The majority of fellowship funders therefore allow you to apply to multiple funders at the same time.

Q: There is plenty of evidence to suggest a gender bias in grant awards (in favour of men vs women, unsurprisingly). What can we do to counter that trend?

This is a complex area. You can find data on UKRI's competitive funding decisions on the UKRI website www.ukri.org/funding/funding-data/decisions-on-competitive-funding/. The data shows differences in award rates by gender vary by applicant role. For instance, female Principal Investigators (PI) have lower award rates than male PIs (24% vs. 26% in 2018-19), but that finding is reversed for fellowships. Females have a higher award rate than males as Fellows (24% vs. 16% in 2018-19), which has been the case for four out of the last five years.

At the MRC, we take the gender balance of peer reviewers into account during peer review selection and panel stages. We consider gender and ethnicity balance when appointing new boards and panels members and aim to steadily increase the proportion of women on our boards and panels from the current 42% towards 50%. We also provide unconscious bias training for new board and panel members.

Q: In my experience there needs to be more funding to help postdocs develop the research skills and research niche needed to transition to the next research stage. Does MRC recognise this and are there any plans to address this?

We do recognise this and it was noted as a barrier in our 2015 report on next destinations. Due to limited budget we have recently been focussing our funding at the crucial transition to independence stage.

We are awaiting the outcome of the Government's 2020 comprehensive spending review. Depending on the budget we have available we will look at refreshing our existing fellowships and other funding schemes to target key career transition points and support careers in the most effective way.

Q: I'm concerned that I will suffer from lack of mobility - I have little opportunity to move due to a niche research area and/or dual career family

Funding panels are looking for evidence that you have plans to establish your own research 'niche'. One way to demonstrate independence from your former group leader is to move to a different research organisation. However, that is not the only way to do this. You can demonstrate that you have your own research plans/ideas which do not significantly overlap with your current group leader. You can also show that you have a network of research contacts independent of your current group leader, including appropriate collaborations nationally, internationally and across disciplines.

Q: Fellowship schemes like to see postdocs having been on a grant application previously to increase success rates

Funding panels look for a range of skills and experience. This includes the potential to lead independent research, for example by having won small amounts of independent funding. You can also demonstrate this by collaborating with teams in other departments, research organisations and/or other disciplines.

You can find details of what you need to demonstrate at the time of applying for an MRC fellowship or New Investigator Research Grant at https://mrc.ukri.org/skills-careers/skills-needed-to-win-support/