How to get funding and fellowship applications
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So you’ve decided that you want to become involved in research – well done, this is the beginning of an exciting and rewarding journey! After the initial steps of finding a research area, supervisor and designing a research project you will need to think about funding. The author is not an expert in funding or fellowship applications but does have experience as a junior researcher finding small pots of money and (after a failed attempt) finally securing a fellowship.
The best piece of advice is to find an enthusiastic and well connected mentor to provide guidance through this process. If you are struggling with this then the BGS academic section will be able to help match you up according to geography and subject area.
Types of funding
The great news is that there is a lot of money out there – you’ve just got to look for it. Broadly speaking funding is available as follows:
- NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowships – ACFs offer 25% salary paid for by the NIHR and therefore dedicated research time and a spring-board towards fellowship funding. They also will pair you up with an academic supervisor and infrastructure and look good on your CV – keep an eye out as there are many advertised in academic geriatric medicine.
- Awards – these are smaller pots of money aimed to help researchers get started on the road towards a PhD/MD or fund a smaller piece of stand-alone research.
- Fellowships – these are the biggest pots of money available and will provide a ‘full package’ to fund a PhD. This includes salary, costs and often tuition fees and travel expenses.
- Other money – often organisations or individuals (e.g. universities, senior researchers) have umbrella funding that includes money available to support a junior researcher to complete a higher degree. There may also be ‘loose money’ left over towards the end of a financial year that needs to be spent. These become available through a combination of networking (ask your supervisor) and demonstrating that you are the individual for that funding. As a start, see these funders (this list is by no means exhaustive).
- Employment – a number of SpRs in research fund time OOP via additional employment. Examples include working as an NHS locum or employment as a resident doctor in a private hospital. Needless to say this is very hard work but often useful for a limited period.
Universities and many other organisations offer small to medium amounts of money to junior researchers. These may be used to fund smaller stand-alone SpR projects or used to pilot research with a view to attaining fellowship funding at a later date. These awards are often not well publicised and not that competitive – therefore it is worth looking (and asking) around. Two examples at the BGS are the Young Doctors Education grant which provides money for conference attendance and the SpR Start Up grant which provides up to £10,000 to support research in geriatric medicine. See the research-grants section for details of these and other pots of money.
Fellowships generally provide funding to complete a three year PhD; they are offered by the government and various charities – some are more prestigious than others. They differ in-terms of competitiveness, what is funded and the amount of funding. For example, in 2011 an NIHR fellowship will cover salary, up to £10,000 per year towards research costs, £750 towards a computer, £1,000 per year for conference travel and university tuition fees.
A few schemes from the Wellcome Trust offer awards to the candidate before any project has been decided. These are hosted by a specific university and are designed to give the individual time to explore and pursue an idea in addition to providing research training in, for example, epidemiology, laboratory techniques, statistics. An example of the scheme hosted by Cambridge may be found at http://www.cimr.cam.ac.uk/study/clinicians/design.html.
There are plenty of fellowships available to geriatric SpRs including the Wellcome Trust, NIHR, MRC, Research into Ageing (BGS/Age UK) and the Dunhill Medical Trust. Applications are hard work and take a lot of time – prepare to be disappointed and be ready to try again; once you have applied for one fellowship others are much easier and they can often be applied for in parallel. Overall the experience is positive and a great learning experience in its own right.
The following bullet-points should help in this process:
1. Fellowships are generally assessed on the individual, the supervisor, the institution, the training and the project.
- Individual – demonstrate a commitment to clinical research and that you have the potential to be a senior clinical academic of the future. Get involved with publications, poster presentations and small research – the BGS scientific conferences are a good place to start.
- Supervisor – an academic supervisor is important for expertise, credibility and to guide you through this process. It is possible and perhaps advisable to have two supervisors and these may be in different institutions.
- Institution – the institution supporting your fellowship should have a good track record in your field of research and the infrastructure to adequately support you.
- Training – show that there is a clear training programme in place that is tailored to meet your needs – this will include research training and attendance at seminar series and conferences.
- Project – this must be relevant and well designed with a clear question, methods and application. This is what you will have to defend at interview.
- It is amazing how long it takes to complete the application form. This is principally because it has to go through the process of writing, checking, peer-review and revision. ‘Cut and paste’ is possible across different applications.
- Do not forget that the finance section needs completing. This section lays out all the costs (individual + university) and needs to be completed in conjunction with the finance department, start this early rather than waiting for the main section to be completed.
- Finally you will need a lot of signatures on the form and this process alone can take a few weeks.
- Getting to the interview stage means that the fellowship is there for the taking! This is like no other interview you will have had and requires preparation.
- You will generally be interviewed for 20-30 minutes by a panel of 10-15 academics and may be asked to give a 5 minute presentation (+/- PowerPoint) summarising the project. It is the author's experience that two panel member are assigned to your application and will ask the most probing questions followed by an opening up to the panel.
- Try to remain cool, smile and take your time. Remember that first impressions count so look smart and have a low threshold for staying in a nearby hotel the night before in order to avoid an early start and long commute.
- Finally – the golden rule is practice. It is strongly recommended that you arrange a series of mock interviews with willing people, ideally senior academics who can grill you and then give feedback. Although difficult in front of people you know this will improve your performance, increase confidence on the day and hopefully the panel will ask similar questions that you have practiced answering.
4. Good Luck
- There is always an element of luck with fellowship applications – just take a deep breath and go for it!