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MRC Fellows' Symposium - 2012

More than 100 fellows from across the spectrum of MRC fellowship schemes gathered in BMA House in London in May to exchange ideas on topics as diverse as work-life balance and future MRC strategy.

The MRC Fellows’ Symposium is designed to give MRC fellows an insight into the workings of the organisation, an opportunity to meet members of senior management, Council and funding groups, and the chance to mix with fellows in both similar and different areas of research.

The event included sessions on specific challenges such as work-life balance, grant-writing and working with industry; and talks from successful MRC fellows past and present on how they have handled their scientific careers.

Dr Wendy Ewart, director of strategy and deputy chief executive of the MRC, employed post-it notes to gather fellows’ ideas on priorities for the refresh of the MRC’s strategic plan, while a ‘speed-dating’ networking session saw epidemiologists rubbing shoulders with neuroscientists, and malaria researchers exchanging ideas with vaccine scientists.

Fellows and MRC senior management put themselves on the line in the afternoon session. In a ‘Dragons’ Den’ event, Dr Allan Lawrie, a career development award fellow at the University of Sheffield won out against three other entrepreneurial fellows with his — sensibly undisclosed — potential drug targets for pulmonary hypertension. During the MRC Question Time session, fellows asked questions on topics ranging from the MRC’s commitment to funding basic science to its relationship with China.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell received a rapturous response to her keynote speech, ‘Careering through astronomy’, in which she described how, as a girl who had to campaign to study science at school and failed her Eleven Plus exam, she rose to become president of the Institute of Physics, discovering pulsars and becoming a mother along the way.

Dr Yanlan Mao, an MRC bioinformatics training fellow at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, said that gaining an insight into the workings of the MRC throughout the day had been invaluable. “It’s been great to see and hear about how the MRC functions from the most senior people and to get the insider’s view on MRC strategies and policies. Tips on writing grant applications and the session where we heard from fellows on how they had achieved their positions were really useful too, particularly hearing about having a family and being a woman in science.”

Sir John Savill, MRC chief executive, rounded off the day with some words of encouragement. “Our strategy is called Research Changes Lives and today we’ve heard how fellowships change lives; both yours and the people whose lives are changed by research. You must carry on doing this kind of high-quality research.”