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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
5
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Don
Last Name: 
McManus
Step 3 - A. Some questions for you
1. Which of the following best explains your interest in NHMRC’s fellowship schemes: (select ONE only): 
I am currently working in the health and medical research sector
2. If you are a health and medical researcher, which of the following descriptions best classifies your research? (select ONE only): 
Basic science – please complete the next two questions
3. If you are a health and medical researcher, which of the following best describes the main source of funding that supports your salary? (select ONE only): 
NHMRC Scholarships and/or Fellowships
Step 3 - B. Consultations questions
Question 1: How should NHMRC’s funding balance between research grants and fellowships be adjusted as the total number of Project Grants available falls progressively over the next few years?: 
The Research Fellowships scheme has worked well for a considerable period - there should be no reduction in the number of fellowships provided. The bottom line is there is insufficient funding in the system and all avenues should be explored to increase funding to the NHMRC fellowship scheme and to Project Grants. A project grant success rate of less than 15% is untenable.
Question 2: To increase the turnover of NHMRC Research Fellows, should these schemes be seen as ‘up and out schemes’, whereby Fellows wishing to reapply can only do so at a higher level?: 
Again, the system has worked well - I see no reason to change it.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
Again, I see no reason to change.
Question 4: Noting the implications outlined in the Issues paper, should NHMRC extend the duration of Early Career Fellowships to more than 4 years and Career Development Fellowships beyond 5 years (to 7 or 10 years)?: 
No, retain as current.
Question 5: Should NHMRC identify and support strategic priority areas in order to build capacity for the future? What else should be done to support women and increase participation and success by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers?: 
As an infectious disease researcher with particular interests in the Asia-Pacific, I would like to see some additional support in this particular area as it is both scientifically important and strategic that we increase our presence in the region in this the Asian Century.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
Clearly Australia is producing far more PhDs than can be accomodated in Universities/Research Institutes on a long term basis unless some additional funding can be found to support the current system. If this does not eventuate, as competitition increases both for positions and fellowships and for funding support through the project grant system, only the very very best will succeed in long term medical research in Australia. Clearly many PhD graduates will need to seek employment elsewhere as a career in medical research will be unattainable. Whether there are suitable opportunities in other areas such as in biotechnology or commerce remains to be seen but this seems unlikely in the short to medium term as companies are not recruiting to the extent required.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Most definitely but medical research institutes in particular simply do not have the resources to support medical research scientists for a prolonged period. It is somewhat paradoxical that at my own reserach Institute there has been a policy over a number of years that all senior staff should seek personal salary support on fellowships (mainly from NHMRC). Previously many were employed by a State Grant or other Federal Grant support. This indeed has happened and the majority of senior team heads currently hold NHMRC fellowships. If the amount of support for the fellowship scheme is reduced, this would have a major impact on the Institute as it would just not be possible to retain the number and quality of staff currently employed. It would be a disaster for the Institute if it were to extend over a prolonged period.
Question 8: Would this be achieved if NHMRC required institutions to commit to one or more years of ongoing support for researchers exiting from NHMRC Fellowships? : 
My Institute does provide 12 month support to researchers who currently hold an existing fellowship from NHMRC (and other agencies) but who fail in their fellowship re-application. This helps but it would be more ethical to extend this to 2-3 years, particulary for mid-career scientists to find their academic feet. However, with the relatively limited residual funds available for the Institute, this would not appear possible.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
My Institute commits to all current fellows regardless of status as it should.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016