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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
45
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Georgia
Last Name: 
Chenevix-Trench
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?: 
Any necessary adjustment should be taken evenly from all the schemes, not just from Fellowships else there will just be a brain drain of research leaders overseas with catastrophic outcomes for Australian research.In addition there should be no special initiatives while times are lean. The current Genomics initiative equates to 35 Fellows or 52 CDAs and I think is totally inappropriate in the current climate, particularly if there is only one application (as I believe), so can hardly be seen as a competitive process. That $25M should be put back into CDAs, Fellowships and Project grants; and the Dept of Health should fund those sorts of initiatives out of a different bucket of money.
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?: 
Absolutely not. At the moment it is clear that most Fellows only have one term at the same level (and very few have more than two except among SPRFs) so the majority either leave the scheme, or are promoted . Therefore they must be outstanding (excellence is apparently rarely sufficient these days), and NHMRC should support outstanding leaders in research. There are not enough senior jobs in Camberra or Universities for these outstanding SPRFs, and anyway, why would anyone want to encourage them to leave full time research when they are outstanding, regardless of their age/number of times they have held an SPRF. Comparisons with other countries are irrelevant e.g. in the US, senior salaries are often funded through RO1 grants, but that isn't an option here, and anyway would simply be cost shifting.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
Probably not. Rising stars can advance as fast as they want, if they are deemed outstanding at the level to which they apply. However, if NHMRC ceases to regard SPRFs as renewable, for outstanding reseachers, why would a hot shot want to get there at age 35 and then be tossed out at 40? That would certainly impede rising stars. My only caveat is that I am not sure of the value of ECFs that are taken within Australia. These can be funded through project and program grants, and I think it might be better to use those funds to expand the CDA/Fellowship scheme, and to support short term (eg 2y) project grants for those post-docs to start to develop their independence.
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. 4 years is more than enough for an ECF, particuarly since it is difficult to pick winners at that early stage in their careers. I thought CDAs were 4 (not 5) years, but again I don't think they should be longer, but instead they should apply for the next level so that they can be reevaluated. The existence of 5y project grants allows them opportunities for more long term, risk projects, and most institutions will (should) provide a salary guarentee for their duration. But, we also need the opportunity to apply for 1/2/3/4 year grants, as the science needs, and short term grants are likely to favour young researchers who are probably going to be less able to get a 5 year grant because of their more modest track records (even when opportunity is taken into account).
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?: 
No. The only criteria should be excellence (or, in reality, outstanding science). All they should do to support women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [NHMRC has removed acronym and spelt out in full] researchers is to remove the obvious barriers. In the case of women, that is childrearing - given that the data who that they usually take the majority of responsibility for childrearing (and certainly have longer periods off work for maternity leave). So my suggestion is that women with pre-secondary school children who are awarded an ECF, CDA or RF, be given a $20k pa loading (provided their partner works full time) which they can use for childcare, parking, reagents, students or anything they like that will help to support them through these years.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
Not that I can think of, that is objective.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Probably a bit more ie 1-2 years if their Fellowship application fails. But they certainly cannot take over the responsibility for funding the majority of CDAs/Fellows. The institutions simply can't afford it and the consequences will be catastrophic.
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? : 
Yes, but as I said, more than two years is probably impossible for them to afford, particularly when the success rate for getting into the scheme is already so low, so they are struggling to support their excellent lab heads.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
No, I think it should exclude ECFs (given that those salaries can be funded by projects and programs) but also include RFs.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016