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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.

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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Talking patient data with parliamentarians

12 Jul 2016

Today we’ll be joining a number of other organisations in Parliament to demonstrate how patient data is revolutionising healthcare at an event hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research. Grace Gottlieb, who’ll be there, explains what the session is all about.

WestminsterIt’s hard to overestimate the benefits of studies using patient data – they have allowed us to spot disease trends in populations, understand the causes of disease and learn how to treat patients.

In 2005 we worked with a number of other organisations to set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research (APPG) to provide a forum for parliamentarians to discuss medical research. So today, scientists, research participants and representatives like me from the MRC and other research funders are venturing into Westminster to talk to parliamentarians about how vital patient data is to research. [...]

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Unconscious bias holds back science

3 Jun 2016

The diversity we see among PhD students isn’t currently reflected at all career stages. Professor Jim Smith, Director of Research at the Francis Crick Institute and Deputy Chief Executive and Chief of Strategy at the Medical Research Council talks about how being aware of our unconscious biases could help to change this balance to benefit science.

equality and diversity

About 50 per cent of people working on PhDs are women, and the percentage is about the same for postdocs, but when you get to group leader positions, the number of women plummets. Men and women are equally good at science, so if women are leaving the profession we’re losing some of our best scientists.  Science is poorer for the fact that we are losing women at the rate we are. [...]

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MRC peer review explained

10 May 2016

The MRC funds research across the biomedical spectrum in all major disease areas. But do you know what happens to your MRC grant application when you press ‘submit’? Familiarising yourself with MRC peer review will not only help you navigate the selection process but also learn more about what reviewers are looking for. We invite you to go behind the MRC scenes in our short animation explaining how the MRC peer review process works.

Find out more about peer review on our website [...]

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Why peer review needs you – and you need peer review

10 May 2016

Engaging in peer review of grant applications means helping ensure public money is spent as wisely as possible. The decision-making process is difficult, but with over 20 years of peer review experience Eleanor Riley, Deputy Chair of the MRC Infections and Immunity Board and Professor of Infectious Disease Immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), explains what makes a good review and how everybody gains if everybody takes part.

Eleanor Riley. Credit: Anne Koerber, LSHTM

Eleanor Riley. Credit: Anne Koerber, LSHTM

To be sure we fund important research questions, high-quality research and well-designed studies we need to ask for the opinions of people who best understand that research area. It is a long, difficult and sometimes imperfect process but it is the only way to ensure we allocate finite funds to the very best projects. [...]

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Reproducibility in science — where the MRC comes in

29 Oct 2015

The MRC and a group of partner organisations have today published a report and joint statement  about the reproducibility and reliability of research, and what can be done to improve them. Here, Jim Smith, MRC Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Strategy, thinks about how discussions of reproducibility offer us the opportunity to improve the way science is done.

Jim Smith

Jim Smith

From basic discovery science to clinical studies, medical research works. When a new drug saves or extends lives, a new screen permits early detection of disease, or we find a new use for an old treatment, we can be confident in the long research journey that got us to that point.

But things aren’t perfect. For some years there have been rumblings in the scientific community and beyond that all is not well. In 2005, John Ioannidis published a paper in PLoS Medicine [1] provocatively titled Why most published research findings are false. In it he argued that most study designs will lead to conclusions that are more likely to be false than true.

And sure enough, a report [2] by the Open Science Foundation, published in Science this year, described the replication of 100 papers in psychological research journals: 97 of the original studies reported significant results, but this was true of only 36 of the replications. [...]

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12 top tips for writing a grant application

5 Oct 2015

Sitting down to write a grant application? Recently submitted a proposal or been successful in the last MRC board round? Building grant writing skills is a great way to help secure funding. With experience of working with various MRC boards and panels, Dr David Crosby, Programme Manager for Methodology and Experimental Medicine, has a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. Here he describes how to master the application process and make your grant stand out from the rest.

A woman typing at a laptop

1. Allow plenty of time

Everything takes longer than you think it will. No matter how simple it may seem to pull together a project there are lot of different steps, some more time-consuming than others, involved in submitting a proposal.

2. Choose your funder and scheme carefully

It’s good to talk! Speak to the funders – we’re here to help. Ask us questions to get an insight into what we’re interested in. Sign up for information feeds, find out what kind of research is in a funder’s remit and read through guidance and eligibility criteria carefully. We don’t want you wasting your time – or ours – applying for an inappropriate scheme. [...]

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We must keep using CRISPR-Cas9 technology

2 Sep 2015

Today we released a joint statement with other medical research funders in support of research using gene editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 to advance our understanding of disease in preclinical research and to explore their potential for future therapeutic use. Here our Director of Science Programmes Dr Rob Buckle discusses the huge potential of gene editing, and why any attempt to use it in a therapeutic context must be the subject of the kind of intense and rigorous debate that the scientific community and UK regulatory system has demonstrated in the past.

Wooden blocks with DNA letters on them

(Image: Duncan Hull on Flickr under CC BY 2.0)


Being able to edit the human genome is not a new idea or capability. For decades researchers have been developing potential gene therapy techniques to correct missing or faulty DNA and restore healthy gene expression in cells.

More recently, techniques have been developed that can edit the genome in a much more efficient and targeted fashion, and one such example, CRISPR-Cas9, has accelerated the field to such an extent that researchers can now make precise edits to the genome in a relatively easy, speedy, precise and error-free way. [...]

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People power: the volunteers behind dementia research

14 Aug 2015

New figures from the National Institute of Health and Development released today shine a light on dementia research and the growing number of everyday people committing their time and biological information to help tackle the disease. MRC Director of Science Programmes Dr Rob Buckle looks at why cohort studies are so important in getting underneath the skin of the disease.

Group of people waving at the camera

The number of people taking in part in dementia research is up by at least 60% in the past year, according to figures released today by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Champagne corks will be popping in labs across the country. There’s so much about dementia that we still don’t understand: who is at risk of developing dementia and why the progression of the disease varies from person to person; the anatomy of the disease itself; how we can develop new medicines to treat its progression and improve symptoms; and how we can make accurate diagnosis easier. [...]

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