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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
52
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Megan
Last Name: 
Passey
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
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?: 
The reason for the falling number of project grants and the change in the ratio of grants to fellowships is due to two factors – the overall funding for NHMRC remaining static, and significant increases in the average amount for project grants which appears to be largely driven by the increase in the number of 5-year grants. Not all research questions worth addressing require five years to answer. Rather than reduce the number of fellowships available, the NHMRC could consider encouraging some smaller, shorter term grant applications, perhaps by having two streams – one for longer grants and one for smaller, shorter grants. This issue needs to be considered within the context of overall funding for the University sector, with increasing pressure on Universities resulting in a drive to increase student:staff ratios. This situation reduces the ability of younger academics to establish their research careers as they have limited time for research. Thus the fellowship schemes are increasingly important in developing our research workforce and I do not believe they should be cut back.
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?: 
Yes, I think this is reasonable. This then provides opportunity for younger researchers to also receive support. However, if this is done it will be important to structure the eligibility criteria in relation to time since PhD to have some overlap so that people don’t fall through a gap, or miss out one year and then become ineligible. If people have had multiple fellowships, their University has had many years of effective support from NHMRC with the associated research productivity and prestige. It would not be unreasonable to require the Universities to commit to picking up the salary for these researchers, particularly those who have progressed through multiple levels. This would also help reduce the steepness of the slope in the pyramid of fellowships available as more of the higher level fellowships would be available to those on the rung below.
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, I don’t think 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)?: 
I think this has some merit. In the fields of public health and health services research, most research takes several years to generate results. In order for ECRs to be able to demonstrate their ability and productivity, funding for five years would be reasonable. I also think funding for seven years for CDFs is reasonable, but wouldn’t extend to ten years as this would reduce the number available too much.
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, a strategic approach to building capacity in several areas is required. In addition to increasing participation by women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, I would suggest increasing participation by rurally based researchers and researchers working in prevention and in health services research. Rural: Approximately 30% of the Australian population lives outside major cities. It is well recognised that rural and remote Australians experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality than urban Australians, and that they have poorer access to health services. Researchers based in major cities are not aware of these issues and are not able to undertake rurally-relevant research to address them and find the best solutions. Rurally-based researchers can do this but face additional challenges in building their research careers particularly due to their professional isolation and consequent reduction in opportunities to collaborate with senior colleagues and others. Pro-active support to build rural health research capacity with rurally-based researchers is required. This could be done either through a specific allocation of fellowships which are only available to rurally based researchers or through adding a rural-loading to the scoring of applications. Prevention and health services: With the increasing burden of chronic disease, the aging population and the increasingly technical and expensive approaches to curing and managing disease, that Australia is facing, it is critical that more effort is invested in research that addresses prevention of disease or in finding new ways to more efficiently provide health services – particularly to rural and remote populations. A greater allocation of fellowships to these streams would be wise. In terms of increasing support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, for many years it has been recognised that research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is more complex than in most other areas, particularly due to the need to invest considerable time and resources in engaging with communities before, during and after the research, ideally with ongoing relationship with communities over decades to ensure that the research brings lasting benefits to the communities. This is an issue for non-Indigenous researchers working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research also. Would it be possible to increase the duration of fellowships in this area (by one year or so at each level) and also allow additional funding for engagement with communities (to be applied for with each fellowship, with a maximum amount, with the amount requested justified by the applicant – costs will vary depending on the project.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
I think that only time in which research activity was seen as a suitable activity in the role should be counted eg time working with industry in which research was not part of the role, should not be counted.
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, see my comment above in Question 2. Universities should be required to commit to continued employment proportional to the years that the person has been receiving Fellowship support – maybe one year for ECRs, two years for CDFs increasing to five years for SPRFs.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
No

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016