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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
51
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Susan
Last Name: 
Jordan
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): 
Public health research – please complete the next two questions
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?: 
There should be no reduction in Fellowships on the basis of a reduction in the total number of project grants awarded each year. The stated reason for a future decrease in the total number of projects grants is that the duration of projects will increase. If a ratio of projects to Fellows is relevant (and it's not clear that this is a relevant metric) then the ratio should be calculated on a per year of funded project rather than on a per project basis. Theoretically, the number of years of funding should stay around the same and thus there is no clear reason why the ratio of Fellows to funded project years should not remain much the same. The Fellowships are required to ensure that CIs have salary funding to cover the duration of their funded projects. They also allow some separation from projects so that Fellows may have some time to explore new concepts/areas/ideas without being tied completely to funded work. This kind of exploration is what is required to develop new ideas and approaches and is surely one of the benefits of the having salary funding separate from project funding. It is also not clear how Program grants are taken into consideration in these calculations. A more relevant question would be about how we can increase research funding into the future and how we keep the highly trained and skilled research workforce in Australia. Research is fundamental to Australia's future prosperity. Why is research funding being decreased in real terms when Australia is trying to position itself as an exporter of knowledge and knowledge transfer. Without high caliber researchers and research institutes (supported by Fellowships and grants), Australia will not produce world-class science and will become much less attractive to international students.
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?: 
If all Fellowships were funded for 5 years (including ECF and the 2 levels of CDF) then this would provide the potential for career funding of up to 35 years and thus this approach might be reasonable (i.e. for a limited number of people, a full time, long-term career in medial research might be possible). This approach would, of course, discourage people from applying to higher levels of the Fellowship scheme before they have completed all the lower levels because they will 'run out' of years of funding in the later years of their careers if they choose this approach. Why is the pyramid structure for Fellowship in place? Surely once people have reached the SRF level they have proven themselves to be excellent researchers that have contributed substantially to their fields. To lose them from research would seem to be an enormous waste of a great investment by the tax payers of Australia.
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. At least with the current system there is the potential (if small) for salary funding over most of a career. The kind of research-only career that is supported by Fellowships is already extremely unattractive because of the inherent lack of job security. Why make it more so by decreasing the funding opportunities? Decreasing the number of Fellowship levels would ONLY be a reasonable option IF Fellowships were granted for longer periods of time and IF people can continue to apply for a Fellowship at the same level as they have previously held. 'Rising stars' can apply for Fellowships at higher levels if they wish. In order to retain them however, it would be important to avoid implementing 'up and out' rules.
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)?: 
Currently CDFs are 4 years and it would certainly be preferrable to extend this to 5 years. This would allow time for completion of a project and publications associated with that project before having to apply for the next Fellowship. At present, at least in some research areas, it is difficult to achieve this and will only become more so as the the duration of project grants is extended.
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?: 
There are a number of issues for women that mostly relate to their roles as primary care provider for children (in general) and often as household managers. Many women choose to work part-time for a period of time because of the demands of these additional roles. Fellowships that are awarded on a part time basis are awarded for the same number of years as a full time Fellowship. Why are they not extended out so that they equate to the same amount of research time as the full time Fellowships? It is extremely difficult to be competitive for the next Fellowship if those with whom you are competing have worked full time for the same duration of time (even if 'opportunity' is taken into consideration in the award of these Fellowships). At present if a Fellow drops to 90% FTE then the NHMRC considers this full time and does not extend it out accordingly. These kinds of decisions disadvantage women disproportionately because they are more likely to work part time than men. Furthermore, women (irrespective of their FTE) often have shorter working hours than their male counterparts. The 8 hour working day essentially does not exist for researchers - most work 10+ hours a day. This is much more difficult for women with small children to achieve because of their child care responsibilities (there are too many complex reasons for why this load falls on women rather than men to discuss here). Thus again, competing on an even playing field for a very limited number of Fellowships is difficult for women who are often at crucial points in their careers when raising their children. Some kind of monetary support could assist at this time - funds could be used, for example, to pay a research assistant for several hours a week. This would help boost research productivity for women (or potentially men) in this situation.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
Why not research-equivalent years?
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
That would be great. However, maintaining or increasing funding for Fellowships would also help provide more certainty. The current discussion around the future of Fellowships is certainly creating even more uncertainty than ever before.
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? : 
That would be a help but see response to Q7 above.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
No. Those with more established careers also need job security.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016