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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
26
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Melinda
Last Name: 
Fitzgerald
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): 
Clinical 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 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?: 
There are circumstances where it is not feasible to apply at an increased Fellowship level and hope for success. For example, women who have been working part time cannot be expected to have amassed the track record required for the next level.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
No: 'rising stars' can always miss a level if they feel able to do so.
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)?: 
The principle of increasing the length of time of Fellowships is valuable, providing a much needed sense of security. However, the likely required further reduction in the number of Fellowships awarded to achieve this goal would lower the chances of success to a level that would discourage applicants from a career in medical research.
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?: 
The current system of assessing the careers of women 'relative to opportunity' is fundamentally flawed. I took an extended parental leave of absence (1998-2006 inclusive). While the 8 years absence was taken into consideration in my Fellowship and Project Grant applications, the time taken to recover momentum was not. It is extremely difficult to build a career after a complete break and therefore many women do not even attempt a return to science under these circumstances. In my own case, I have now been awarded a CDF2 and am CIA on 2 Project Grants. However such a success story is rare. The bloody minded determination required to achieve the goal of resurrecting a research career from scratch is detrimental to family life and there are few women who make this choice. It is also time to consider the oft neglected reality that women usually have considerably more family duties to attend to than their male counterparts. The larger load of family responsibilities is a function of the way the female mind works: holding all the requirements of both work and family in the head at one time. It becomes debilitatingly difficult to maintain the intensity required for effective medical research and family duties, leading to burnout of women in this situation. I suggest that if the NHMRC is serious about increasing rates of women in the upper levels of research, it is necessary to change the way outcomes are judged and make them more realistic for women juggling multiple roles. It is all very well to say that a women working at 0.7FTE is assessed relative to opportunity. However the reality is that anybody, male or female, that is only devoting 0.7FTE to work is not considered to be 'taking their research career seriously' and will therefore not be competitive in the current funding environment. It is not realistic to expect a woman juggling the responsibilities of a family to be publishing in Nature. While some women are able to achieve this goal, the proportion of overtly successful women is lower than that of men, in my opinion due largely to the fact that women are more overburdened with domestic as well as work responsibilities. I therefore suggest that the NHMRC Fellowship category descriptors are adjusted to more truly take into account the competing demands on women's time and that panels assessing a female applicants achievements 'relative to opportunity' take into account the 5 years required to regain momentum after any substantial (greater than 9 months) period of part time work.
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? : 
The reality is that many Universities, and the independently managed Schools and Departments within them, are not in the position of being able to support Fellows after their Fellowship is completed. This merely transfers the burden. I have been told by my Head of School that I should place my next Fellowship application through a different Institute or Department that may be able to afford me after the Fellowship is complete, as her Department cannot.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
Their is no reason why ongoing support should be restricted to earlier Fellowships. The more senior Fellows have developed a wealth of experience and to deny them support after the completion of their Fellowship is not logical.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016