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Signposting medical research career options

18 Mar 2015

MRC removes eligibility criteria for fellowship applications based on years since PhD

First interactive guide for careers in medical research 

The Medical Research Council today launches the first interactive careers guide for those working in medical research or hoping to do so.  The Interactive Career Framework is aimed at all those wishing to pursue a career in the field – be they an apprentice in a medical research setting looking for the next step, or someone moving from being a postdoctoral researcher to an independent investigator.

The framework was constructed after broad consultation from individuals and groups from all areas of medical research including: the Academy of Medical Sciences, charities, industry and other research councils. In addition, a review of medical research careers - Bringing Research Careers Into Focus (PDF, 927KB) – was conducted using online questionnaires and telephone interviews with nearly 400 non-clinical medical researchers funded by the MRC.

This first phase of the MRC Interactive Careers Framework will be developed further with additional career routes, case studies and interactive tools.  The MRC hopes to receive feedback on the first phase and this can be provided through the feedback form on the framework itself or by emailing fellows@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk.

The review focussed on the first ten to twenty years following a respondents’ MRC award  in order to find out how much of an impact MRC funding had had on their chosen career path and, importantly, to identify what factors acted as ‘enablers’ in career advancement and which factors  may act as an obstacle.

The findings indicated that while 86% of respondents were working within research, 2% had temporarily left the field and, a significant minority (12%) had left research for good.

A key finding of the review was that even though most respondents thought that MRC funding had had a positive effective on a research career, 44% had finished their PhD with either no idea or only a general idea of what they wanted to do next.  Of the total number of respondents, 60% felt they hadn’t received enough careers advice, support and guidance throughout their career and 9% reported not receiving any careers advice at all.

The most frequently cited transition points at which respondents felt they could have benefitted from further advice included that from PhD to post-doc, and from post-doc to research independence or Principal Investigator.

Many of those who contributed to the review spoke of the lack of flexibility in making research career choices resulting from the fact that researchers have only a certain number of years after their PhD in which to apply for fellowships, after which point they’re ineligible. The MRC has addressed this by removing eligibility criteria based on years of post-doctoral experience altogether.

Professor John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

“We need to ensure that our researchers feel supported in how they make careers choices. Medical research careers rarely follow a set path so trying to find the right career can be a bit like trying to find the correct destination when approaching spaghetti junction.  What’s needed most of all is clear signposting and this interactive guide allows users to select potential opportunities to discover more about what different roles entail and the experience and skills needed at each stage.

“As a consequence of the review we are refreshing the way we support tomorrow’s leaders in discovery science by removing eligibility criteria based on years of post-doctoral experience to ensure we are providing the right support at the right time. This will allow for variations in career paths, recognising that the speed of career progression can be affected by factors unrelated to a person’s scientific potential.”

The interactive guide also features case studies of researchers at different stages of their careers giving an insight into the variety of research careers and the different pathways taken.  Professor Dame Carol Robinson describes how she left school at 16, took an eight year career break and returned to research – later becoming Professor of Physical and Theoretical chemistry at the University of Oxford. 

Read more about the removal of time-bound criteria from MRC fellowship applications in an accompanying blog post.


Notes to editors:

The Medical Research Council supports more than 5,700 research staff, 200 post-doctoral training fellows and 1,900 PhD students across the full spectrum of health disciplines, many working with industry. MRC Units, Centres and Institutes make significant contributions to training and the development of future research leaders.

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk.


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Generic
  • Locations: Other
  • Type: News Article