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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
55
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Patrick
Last Name: 
Tam
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?: 
It is not relevant to correlate the number of available Project Grants (or the overall funding level) with the number of fellowships. Researchers who are supported by fellowship that offers certain continuity in career progression are more able to leverage funding outside the NHMRC schemes to support their research endeavour, whereas not having secured fellowship support could impact negatively on the funding opportunity. Fellows do not draw any disproportionately larger share of NHMRC research funding than others due their professional status, as the grants are awarded principally on their merit, competitiveness and contribution to medical and health solutions. Reducing the number of fellows would not reduce any demand on the resource. The key is to uphold a healthy competitive paradigm for awarding research grants.
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?: 
It is not unreasonable to expect incumbent fellow to progress along the career path, provided that exceptional circumstance is taken into consideration in the decision process for reapplications. There is no specific information on whether a five-year term at one fellowship level will provide adequate opportunity for career development to equip the fellow for promotion at the next renewal. Perhaps an appropriate strategy is to allow longer tenure at each level, e.g. up to 7-8 years, if an “up and out” approach is adopted. While application of out-of-sync promotion may be entertained, it may be appropriate that such application will be considered as a new application with the condition that the position becomes “open” for competition.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
The current structure of the fellowship works fine to an extent. However, the CDF should be integrated into the career scheme to re-constitute the Research Fellow (RF) category and one SRF level would suffice. The lack of continuity particularly following the tenure of the CDF is not conducive for career progression at the formative phase of one’s career.
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)?: 
The consideration of the duration of fellowship tenure has little to do with the steady-state funding for research grants. The primary objective of the fellowship (at all levels) is to nurture individuals to develop and sustain a career in biomedical research. The duration of fellowship should be considered only on the basis of whether it provides the optimal opportunity for fostering a productive career. In this regard, a extended duration is imperative, and certainly be longer than the current 5-year term.
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?: 
The answer is undoubtedly yes for the first part of this question. This is aligned with the current approach of providing people support for researchers outside the conventional research setting, such as the practitioner/industry/translational fellowships. Fellowships may be considered for research support professionals in health-related disciplines, such as clinical trial, genome medicine, bioinformatics and allied health in anticipation of the future trend of health delivery and impending demand of research capacity. Positive measures should be taken to enhance the diversity in gender and minority as favoured attributes for the appointment of fellows, over and above research achievement and career potential.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
This may require the formulation of a set of lucidly defined criteria to evaluate the non-linear / unconventional career path of candidates for people support for accomplishment relative to opportunities. The “years post-PhD” is not an informative measure. It is more appropriate to take into account the “scientific age” in the context of the cumulative period of productive career output.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Employing institutions should commit to support employees fully on the expiry of the fellowship support at the first award of the fellowship, or providing shared support at a level (e.g. 50:50 co-funding), agreed prior to the tenure of the fellowship, for employees with new or renewed fellowship extended beyond the normal term of tenure.
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, this may work as a contingency to sustain the career of the exited fellows. It should be a requirement for the award of the fellowship to replace the previous “6th year fellowship”.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
This provision of contingency support should be extended to all level of fellowships. It certainly is more critical for early career researchers who for various reasons exiting the fellowship scheme prematurely.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016