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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
49
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Blank Name
Last Name: 
Blank Name
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): 
institutional funds (possibly derived from multiple sources).
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?: 
Assuming - quite reasonably - little or no real increase in funding, then It will be necessary to reduce the number of fellowships to ameliorate the drop in grant funding. There is absolutely no point having researchers holding either NHMRC fellowships or any other research position if there is no virtually no chance of funding their research. The question of how career health and medical researchers' salaries are funded is actually a separate one to that of funding the research projects and program. This question is really only being asked because of the conflation of these two separate issues due to the one organisation (NHMRC) being the funder.
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?: 
No. Using promotion to promote turnover is unfair given the stringent requirements for even getting and even holding a fellowship, and is really an 'up OR out scheme'. If turnover is wanted, then a simple limit on renewals would be better. But this, and some of he subsequent questions, is only playing at the periphery of the real issue which is how to instate and support a viable career structure for health and medical researchers. One option for consideration is described in the attached submission.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
Maybe only one SRF level is needed. The number of levels is not an impediment - anyone who gets a fellowship at any level is generally grateful to have a source of salary. I have never heard of anyone leaving research or the country because they can't get promoted through the NHMRC fellowship scheme fast enough due to too many levels!.
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)?: 
I would certainly favour extending early career fellowships to 5 years given the records of achievement currently expected for the next levels of fellowships. I'm not sure however that the extra expense of extending CDFs would give much back. At some level it may lock mid-career researchers into more junior levels that appropriate which is already a problem, as the issues paper points out. I should stress again that these types of changes avoid the core issue that the current career structure (or lack thereof) is in crisis, and a major overhaul is needed, not just adjustments to individual NHMRC fellowship schemes. I have also attached a document with some comments and suggestions in this regard.
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?: 
Funding of priority areas is a way of addressing deficiencies or shortages, and may also help adapt the Australian health and medical research system to emerging problems, approaches and technologies. However care is needed in deciding what proportion of funds are earmarked for priority areas so as not to (i) substantially detract from other important and ongoing research fields or (ii) encourage a mass of poor or peripherally-relevant applications seeking to dip into the pool of dedicated funding. I am unable to comment specifically on indigenous researchers in a meaningful way, but as general point I believe the starting point for encouraging any particular group is to directly consult that group as to what the barriers are. Maybe a greater acceptance and recognition of the legitimacy and potential for productivity of part-time researchers would help.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
Not sure what this question means exactly. If it asks whether there are better guides to the background of people entering or re-entering research, or obtaining a period of experience outside the NHMRC system, then years post-PhD should be only one criterion. Positive credit should be given for diversity in background provided it is of some relevance. I personally faced this issue some years ago with a period in the biotech sector. When I considered doing this I asked if I could suspend my NHMRC Research Fellowship, as I thought I may well reenter academic research, but was told in no uncertain terms that I had to surrender it. With this period in industry, and relocation, I found it impossible to re-enter the scheme. However I believe attitudes may have changed somewhat in more recent times.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Absolutely. I believe that institutions need to take responsibility for employing their researchers - see attached submission.
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? : 
Such a commitment would certainly help, but only if it were a substantial one. One year's support would be of no real value at all. A commitment equal to the fellowship term ie 5 years would provide some certainty - and importantly allow the institutions to retain clearly talented researchers.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
Absolutely not. This would be just delaying facing the problem, not solving it.

Page reviewed: 29 January, 2016