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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
44
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Sandra
Last Name: 
Cooper
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 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?: 
As NHMRC Fellows attract around 50% of research funding for all schemes, it is clear the scheme is achieving its goals. To attract such a high proportion of research grants, it is clear Fellows are producing sustained and identifiable research outcomes, as you do not get one without the other. Thus, it would be foolhardy to reduce the number of Fellowships to compensate for the decline in total number of project grants, as it remains likely (if not predictable) that Fellows will continue to attract ~50% of research funding, but the grants may be longer, bigger or both. Additionally, I believe the five-year funding period, whilst highly desired and with recognisable benefits, favours well-established senior researchers over early and mid career researchers. Largely, because predicting research outcomes 4 years into the future is almost impossible in many (most) situations. Inclusion of Project Aims that are not solidly supported by existing preliminary data diminishes feasibility. While there are projects naturally suited to longitudinal studies, there are many other research projects where it is not possible to create an addressable hypothesis for unknown findings into a fifth year, and any drop in mark for Scientific Quality could have disastrous consequences. Established researchers with large teams and several grants running simultaneously (and often with other support in addition to NHMRC funding) are better positioned, with strong track records likely to score 6's rather than 5's. And this is often the difference between being funded, or not.
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?: 
I believe this suggestion, when intersected with ideas in Q4 and Q8, could greatly enhance the scheme. For example, CDF1 four years, CDF2 five years. Then SRFA - initially awarded for 8 years with eligibility to apply for SRFB after five years, and, eligibility to apply for an extension to extend the fellowship to ten years. However, up and out after ten years. Similarly SRFB, initially awarded for 8 years with eligibility to apply for PRF after five years, and, eligibility to apply for an extension to extend the fellowship to ten years. However, PRF should be eight years, with capacity for re-application at this level ad infinitum. PRF is such a prestigious level of output and performance, but is often accompanied by significant other demands, that many may not proceed to SPRF. This would provide a clear career path of more appropriate longitude.
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)?: 
Yes, see suggestions related to Q2.
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?: 
Yes, broadly speaking. It remains vital that fellowships are awarded on performance. However, it is also strategically important to align NHMRC research endeavours with those of national Government priority areas. We much always follow the trickle of money………. Supporting women - It is startling that only 34% of CI recipients are female, and even more so that only 11% of women are SPRF. I believe this reflects, at least in part, the vulnerability of Fellows. Certainly from my own perspective as CDF2, I worry CONSTANTLY about the uncertainty of my research future. Generally speaking, I believe men have more bravado, and more confidence that something will work out for them, whereas women can tend to be conservative in their decision making, and particularly when they have children and/or are the main income of a family. Also, as many Fellows in CDF/SRF schemes are in their 40s and 50s, this is often a period when many individuals will become divorced. Then women will be sole income earners even in a shared custody circumstances, and may elect for a more reliable career path due to our extreme vulnerability. This is most likely what I would do, if I did not have the support of my husband.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016