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The life of an MRC Programme Manager

by Guest Author on 8 Aug 2019

Martin Broadstock

Dr Martin Broadstock, Programme Manager for Immunology and Vaccines, joined the MRC in early 2017 after 10 years as a postdoc. Here he gives an insight into what he enjoys about this wide-ranging role.

A front-row seat to cutting-edge science

As a Programme Manager, I’m privileged to be at the forefront of cutting-edge research. I’m no longer doing my own science, but by regularly speaking to researchers and reading through their applications, I learn about areas of research which could revolutionise medical science. I don’t miss being at the bench, as I’m exposed to more varied research ideas as a Programme Manager than when I was a postdoc focusing on a few projects.

Our funding boards meet three times a year to decide which applications are going to be funded. I don’t make funding decisions; our board and panel members are responsible for those.  It’s my job to make sure that all applications are reviewed in the fairest possible way.

I check the research in applications is within our remit and that applicants have come to the right board. Using my scientific background, I decide if applications need to be reallocated to different boards; it all depends on what scientific questions they’re seeking to answer and the project’s aims.

Helping researchers succeed

It’s important that the people selected to review the grants – we call them ‘peer reviewers’ – are qualified in their field and provide a mixed view from both UK and international perspectives. I read the reviewers comments to check they’ve given enough justification for their suggested scores.

The board decide which applications will be funded, and which could do with some additional experiments or refining. It’s then up to me to deliver the good or bad news as to whether an applicant has been successful. It’s very rewarding to deliver the good news, although occasionally difficult to deliver the bad news.

For those not successful this time, I provide additional feedback to help applicants revise their application. Most of the time the applicants value the chance to discuss their proposals in more detail so that they can improve their application for an increased chance of success next time around. We’re a friendly bunch and are always happy to chat or give advice at any stage of the application process.

Engaging with the community

Chatting with applicants is one of my favourite parts of the job, which is lucky as I spend a lot of my time doing this! Applicants range from those who’ve had their first idea and are unsure about how to get funding, to senior MRC Unit Directors in charge of multi-million-pound investments. I give career advice to early-career researchers and highlight opportunities that might be of interest.

I also enjoy getting out and about. I regularly visit researchers at universities and attend conferences to keep up to date with the latest advances. I use what I learn to help shape the future – like setting up a new funding call.

Each MRC Programme Manager is responsible for a scientific patch within one MRC science area. My ‘patch’ is immunology and vaccines. Another of my responsibilities is looking at investments in this area and developing strategy. I want to help nurture new areas of scientific research – where an amount of targeted funding at the right time, in the right way, could really help move the field forward.

Scientific research doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and we often work with other funding agencies and charity partners. Collaborative strategies can help raise the profile of different research areas. For example, I co-organised a workshop with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Arthritis Research UK and Wellcome to identify research gaps and priorities in the area of immune-mediated inflammatory disease (diseases of the immune system involving inflammation). This led to a new funding call for research projects in this area.

Working in partnership

We work with industrial partners, who help to bring new devices or drugs to market. And I’m also in touch with learned societies, such as the British Society for Immunology, at a senior level – they can be extremely useful in spreading the word about forthcoming funding opportunities and gauging scientific advances that could benefit from additional investment.

I also interact with government agencies such as the Department of Health and Social Care, who will be implementing advances in medical science resulting from our funding.

Making a difference

It’s a varied and enjoyable role, with a real ability to help make a difference. As a public funding body, I’m aware of our responsibility to invest in world-class medical research on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Working together at the leading edge of scientific advances with other talented and committed individuals, I’m proud to be helping advance medical research in the UK and beyond.

You can find information on which Programme Manager covers your scientific area, and how to contact them, at:

Infections and Immunity

Molecular and Cellular Medicine

Neuroscience and Mental Health

Population and Systems Medicine

If you are interested in finding out more about our fellowship and studentship funding opportunities please contact Fellows@mrc.ukri.org

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