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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
73
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Christopher
Last Name: 
Little
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?: 
To answer this question rationally it would be valuable to know the relative gains (both standard metrics such as publications, citations etc AND health outcomes i.e. translation of research to patients, practice, policy) from Project Grant $ vs Fellowship $. If (as one might suspect) the greater outcome/$ is from Projects (including clinical trials) then the ratio should be adjusted to favor Projects. This having been said, it is untenable for Fellows to not get re-appointed when they hold current Project Grants as CIA - some link between Project and Fellowship funding is required (as in the "old days").
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?: 
I think ultimately there should be some sort of up and out scheme. Perhaps not single tenure at each level - perhaps single tenure up to PRF and then 2x 5year at PRF and 2 at SPRF (or similar - e.g. make these level Fellowships 7 or 8 years). This would depend on appropriate institutional support (Q7) such that arguably our "best minds" at PRF and SPRF are not lost.
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, there needs to be enough levels to allow development, but with Q2 instituted there would be movement at the top to make way for new blood to enter the system. There needs to be drop off along the way to a pyramid shape is inevitable - this is no different (nor should it be) to other careers. Indeed with medical research where productivity and translation are key outcomes one could argue that an even steeper pyramid is expected.
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)?: 
No - see my comment above. I would go the other way to retain arguably the most productive levels, PRF and SPRF, while still having an "up and out" scheme.
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?: 
No to identification of priority areas - this has the potential to stifle unexpected discovery in areas that lead to broad change. It assumes that NHMRC or anyone else has the crystal ball to know what will be the health priorities and where the best discoveries will happen. Medical research is a global rather than national venture these days, so we will benefit from discovery in other parts of the world even if we are not leading the way in that particular field as others will benefit from our work. We should support excellence over directing where that should occur. We need to determine why we lose women from our research Fellowship AND Project Grant schemes and fix that/those issues. I don't know that we know why we we lose them... Participation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders must come from bottom up - i.e. correct the issues that are prohibiting them from entering the medical and medical research fields from school upwards.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
Perhaps a more general evaluation of "Research Seniority" - which might include years post-PhD as well as evidence/experience in leadership in: research (e.g. group or project leader in industry or clinical group leader in hospital), teaching/mentorship (e.g. clinical group leadership, training of interns and registrars), outputs (e.g. products developed or taken to market in industry, policy documents developed). We do this now with track records for Project and Fellowship applications - we should be able to develop metrics that would place someone at a seniority level. The objective is to prevent obviously senior and experienced people who come back to do a PhD would not compete against someone who came straight from undergraduate.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Yes - there should be a commitment from Universities/Institutes to take on Fellows, particularly if an up and out scheme is instituted. This might be for a set term based on years of NHMRC Fellowship (and associated RIBG returns, student training, outputs etc the Fellow has given to the institution). This scheme is in place in other schemes e.g ARUK Fellowships.
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 above
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
No - rather it should be for PRF and SPRF in an "up and out" system.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016