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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
65
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Kristen
Last Name: 
Radford
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?: 
If the balance shifts towards less fellowships and more project grants more salaries will be requested on project grants for the CIs, particularly PSP5s, which will significantly raise the costs of project grants and do nothing to alleviate the problem. Many international project grant schemes prohibit CIs from requesting their salary and adopting a similar approach is one option that could be considered. The exception to this could be the New Investigator scheme where a request for a salary for the CI would be appropriate. The number of ECFs could also be reduced. They are disproportionate to the other schemes, even with a pyramid structure and there are plenty of other options to support ECF salaries.
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?: 
This would be a very fair and appropriate option given the current funding situation. There definitely needs to be greater opportunities provided for those from the CDF level upwards as these are extremely competitive and there are few other options for salary support at this level. This may also be a means of providing more opportunities for the majority of women with career disruptions and parental responsibilities but limited support, who simply cannot compete against those who are well past this stage or do not have such responsibilities.
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 structure as is does not impede career progression of rapidly rising stars as there is nothing stopping those individuals entering the higher level schemes if they are competitive there. The SRF levels could be condensed to 2 levels and the CDF scheme definitely requires renaming. Perhaps a single level CDF (and SRF) with an option to renew for a second term subject to performance would be one way to simplify the structure and alleviate concerns regarding length of fellowships whilst still providing an "opt out" clause for poor performance.
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)?: 
5-6 years would be an ideal time frame for a CDF but 7-10 years would limit opportunities for others and it would be risky to offer fewer, longer fellowships given the attrition rate at these levels. One option might be a single level CDF for 5 years with a possible option of "renewal" for a further 5 years based on performance, or buy in with a percentage of guaranteed salary support from the hosting institution.
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?: 
Identifying and supporting strategic priority areas would be a great way of building capacity in these areas, particularly at the earlier career stages to attract ECRs into priority areas. There is too much talk and very little action with regard to supporting women, this really need to be started to be taken seriously and addressed as a priority with practical measures being put in place. I have been on several GRP panels and career disruptions are simply not being considered appropriately. The ongoing effect of career disruptions on a career well beyond the actual time away from work are not considered, particularly for an individual trying to establish independence around the same time.The definition of "full time" hours committed to research is very different for someone who is a primary carer of children compared to a peer without those responsibilities or with significant home support. It is only the "elite" women without these responsibilities, or those with significant family support and minimal time out for maternity/parental leave that can compete at the CDF/SRF level. Fellowship schemes specifically for women, particularly for re-entry after significant career disruptions would be a good step forward. Significant support in terms of an RA or admin assistance, and mentorship would be extremely beneficial.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
There is still far too much focus on papers, and this may be very different for someone who is very early in their career compared to someone who spent years working as an RA before embarking on a PhD. There are many things that could be included into clearly defined selection criteria and a more detailed scoring system that might help to encourage asses diversity relative to opportunity. The assessment panels would also need to be considered. At present these are most often comprised of NHMRC fellowship and or project grant recipients- ie those who have followed the traditional NHMRC career ladder themselves and are perhaps naïve to the qualities that diversity may bring.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
This is really important, particularly if NHMRC fellowship funding decreases. The expectation [NHMRC has removed third party information] is that all group leaders should hold SRFs or find their own salary which is completely unrealistic given the current climate. The 4 year duration of the CDF really isn't long enough to establish an independent group, particularly after significant career disruptions. This really needs to be 5-6 years, which could be incorporated by expecting the institutes to contribute an extra 1-2 years salary. I spent a large proportion of my time during the final year of my CDF2 looking for alternative jobs/careers, only to have my contract extended by a year at the 11th hour. This in my opinion is not good use of NHMRC money and causes a huge amount of angst and wasted energy that could have been spent on creative and innovative research with a bit more long term security.
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? : 
More incentive in terms of 50-50 support from research institutes or guarantee for funding for an equivalent duration post fellowship would be useful. something like a 3-4 year fellowship matched by 3-4 year subsequent support from the institute would be a good compromise.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
definitely not, especially if the "up and out" approach gets taken.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016