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Insight blog: Posts from the "Behind the MRC scenes" Category

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Antibiotic resistance: how we’ll beat it together

13 Nov 2017

Bacteria resistant to drugs are stopping us from treating infectious diseases and undermining medical advances. So what can we do about it? This WHO Antibiotic Awareness Week Dr Jonathan Pearce, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, explains why understanding how resistance develops and spreads is key to tackling antibiotic resistance. And how using this knowledge, we can find creative new ways of preventing and treating infections.

Enterobacteria grown on a selective agar plate.

Antibiotic resistance is now recognised as one of the most serious threats to human health, spreading across national boundaries. It arises from a complex interplay between biomedical, animal, social, cultural and environmental factors. If we are to meet this challenge, we need to take both an international and interdisciplinary approach. [...]

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Raising the research quality bar

24 Aug 2017

Reproducibility isn’t something that can be solved without considering the bigger research picture. So as part of efforts to improve the quality of research, we’ve collected tips and resources – relevant to each stage of the research process – from across the MRC community to help. Isabel Baker reports.

Improving research quality

Methods are us

Good science needs good methods. Good methods ensure that health research and policy are built on the best possible evidence. Using robust, bullet-proof methods that are reliable and repeatable can also improve efficiency. Efficiency is important, as it’s not just taxpayers’ money at stake; valuable samples from humans and animals can often be used only once, and time donated by volunteers is precious. [...]

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Mental health research: working it out together

10 Apr 2017

One of the ways the MRC supports scientists in delivering world-leading research is by holding workshops where researchers can meet with our programme teams to discuss the MRC’s aims and ambitions for their area of work. As we prepare to publish our updated Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research, Dr Kathryn Adcock, the MRC’s Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health looks forward to the global mental health workshop coming in June.

Close-up of group of people in discussion while sitting at an office table

As with so much in life, the best ideas often emerge when we come together. It’s the meeting of minds that enables those ideas to grow, and dialogue and debate that nurtures those ideas, shaping the world of tomorrow.

This is especially true for research. The MRC fervently believes that the best research often comes about when researchers collaborate, irrespective of science area and increasingly, irrespective of geographical boundary.

Social media provides a terrific virtual way to bring scientists together, whether it’s announcing new programmes and research calls on twitter, or commenting at the foot of blog posts like this one. But as helpful as the virtual world can be, there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction. [...]

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Capital for tissue banks – what we want from charities

20 Feb 2017

Last month we invited applications for a £5-million pot of capital investment to partner with charities to establish or enhance human tissue banks and linked data. Katherine Nightingale spoke to MRC Programme Manager Dr David Crosby about the role of charities in tissue banking and what we’re looking for from charity partners.

Why do we need tissue banks?

Tissue banking is a really important area for research. If you want to understand the mechanisms of human disease and identify appropriate targets for new treatments, then tissue from patients with a particular disease is a fantastic resource. You can study the disease processes in cellular form, screen therapies, develop diagnostics and validate what you’ve learned from other research such as animal studies.

A rack of tissue samples

A rack of tissue samples (Image: UCL)

What’s the purpose of this investment?

Tissue banking isn’t cheap and it’s logistically complex. We’re making a one-off investment to fund tissue bank infrastructure. This includes the people, equipment and facilities required to collect, characterise, curate and store the tissue and its associated data, and make it accessible to the research community.

The awards will concentrate on areas of existing strength either in tissue banking or in important lines of research that can benefit from tissue banking.

Applicants will need to describe how a proposed tissue bank will catalyse new science through new tissue banking and data linkage approaches. [...]

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How do you solve a problem like reproducibility?

27 Oct 2016

Today the MRC and a group of partner organisations issued an update on what we have been doing to address of reproducibility and reliability of research since the publication of the report of our symposium on the issue last year. Dr Frances Rawle, our Head of Corporate Governance and Policy, talks about what we’ve done so far.

arrows heading in the same direction

Dr Frances RawleReproducibility is everyone’s problem. If we can’t ensure that our results are reliable, then our research can’t improve human health.

Everyone involved in biomedical research, including funders, individual researchers, research institutes, universities, publishers and academies – must play a part in improving research practices.

We’ve worked across the sector to discover the main causes of irreproducible results and what we can do to improve the situation. [...]

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A new informatics institute: who, what, why?

20 Oct 2016

We’ve just launched our search for a Director to run our new UK Institute for Health and Biomedical Informatics Research. Rhoswyn Walker, our Head of Informatics Research, tells us about the new institute.
Graphic representing different types of data

Let’s start at the beginning… What is informatics?

There are many definitions but broadly, informatics is the use of maths, statistics and computer science to get answers from large, complex datasets. Datasets in health and biomedical research come from lots of different sources so the institute will work with biological, clinical, social and environmental data. Researchers will also use emerging forms of data like that from wearable technology. [...]

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Taking the funding view to find the grant for me

5 Oct 2016

We’ve been working with seven other medical funders to create a ‘funding view’ of the interactive career map. The ‘funding view’ will help you find which grant or fellowship is the right one for you. During his three-month MRC Policy Internship Andrew Eustace, PhD student at the University of Bristol, helped us test the map. Here he explains how it will help with career planning.

screenshot of the new funding view resource

Have a look at the full resource on our website

After months of thesis writing I begin to catch a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Like all students at this stage, I’m starting to think about what to do next. Do I pursue a career in academia, industry, or leave science altogether?

A career in scientific research can mean short-term contracts and long working hours. Despite this, you might, like me, still be inspired by scientific research and so assessing the postdoctoral job market.

Once you’ve made that choice, it is almost time to make another: what will you do after a postdoc? [...]

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Interview day: what’s it like to face a fellowship panel?

27 Sep 2016

Dr Joanne Ng agreed to have a mock Clinical Research Training Fellowship interview filmed to give future applicants the chance to see exactly what it’s like to face the panel. The video below shows you the interview in full in the room where all MRC fellowship interviews take place. Beneath that you can see what the panel made of Joanne’s interview, and her reaction.

[...]

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8 top tips for writing a useful grant review

19 Sep 2016

The time and effort that peer reviewers give to the MRC peer review process is invaluable in helping our research boards and panels make funding decisions. MRC Peer Review Programme Manager Rachel Prosser asked board and panel members for tips on writing a grant application review.

Arrows emanate from a central point to reviewers around the world1. Know what you’re doing

It sounds obvious, but it’s important to read the guidance carefully. It’s there to help you use your expertise to provide the best review possible. Is it a grant? Is it a fellowship? Different MRC grant schemes have specific assessment criteria so, before you get started, check what type of proposal you’re being asked to review. Remember: if you have concerns about any element of the review or the process, please just get in touch before you start – we’re really happy to help.

2. Make it (un)personal

Try to keep your review strictly professional, not personal. Bear in mind that your report will be fed back to the applicant who will have an opportunity to respond to any questions that you raise. To remain anonymous, it’s important to avoid including anything in your assessment that will identify you personally. This includes making references to your own work, where you have worked or who you have worked with. [...]

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