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Career Development Award (CDA): Transition to Independence FAQs

This is selected guidance regarding this particular scheme and all applicants should also familiarise themselves with the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under document downloads).


1. What is the difference between a Career Development Award (CDA) and a Senior Non Clinical Fellowship (SNCF)?

Successful SNCF applicants are proven independent researchers with a track record of excellence in their scientific field  who are ready to make the transition to research leadership. Their track record is commonly evidenced by e.g. high quality publications which were intellectually driven by the applicant, and a record of a previous funding success. CDA applicants are not expected to be fully independent at the time of application, although the panel will be looking for evidence that the applicant’s skills and experience match those of the transition to independence career stage in the applicant skills and experience table.

2. At what stage of my career should I apply for a CDA?

The CDA supports talented post-doctoral researchers to make the transition to independent investigator. There are no eligibility rules based on years of post-doctoral experience. To be considered suitable for the scheme, applicants should be able to clearly demonstrate that their skills and experience match those of the transition to independence career stage in the applicant skills and experience table and clearly explain how a fellowship would enable a move to the next level in their careers, through a change in their current role.

3. What is within remit of the scheme?

Scientific remit: Applicants can apply across all areas of the MRC’s scientific remit. Applications may range from basic studies with relevance to mechanisms of disease to translational and developmental clinical research.

Person remit: Applicants proposing to continue their existing work, which is indistinct from their current group / leader, are not suitable to apply and will be rejected (as specified in our peer review guidance. If an application is deemed outside scheme remit, applicants can withdraw their application, meaning they do not forfeit one of their chances to apply (applicants may submit to any MRC fellowship scheme only twice regardless of the extent of changes to the proposal).

If an application is rejected rather than withdrawn, then the applicant cannot re-apply for at least 12 months, and loses one of their chances to apply.

4. What is the difference between a Career Development Award and a NIRG?

The New Investigator Research Grant (NIRG) aims to support individuals seeking to transition to independence through their first grant as a principal investigator and clear host institution support. The time spent on the NIRG should be combined with a portfolio of other activities, such as (this list is not exhaustive) teaching, administration duties, other time spent in faculty, time spent on other research grants or clinical duties.

A career development award is a personal award that aims to support individuals seeking to transition to independence through protected research time and an ambitious programme of research training and personal career development. Please see MRC vision for fellowships for more information.

You cannot apply concurrently for a CDA and a NIRG. Given both awards support the transition to independence, you cannot apply for a NIRG if you have held a CDA and vice versa.

 5. Can I apply if I hold a permanent academic or research position, or an award that supports my salary?

All applicants to MRC fellowships must articulate why a fellowship is the best way to achieve their research goals. Individuals who currently hold a permanent position are eligible to apply if they can:

  • demonstrate that a fellowship would be the best way to support their long term career goals and chosen career route
  • provide a clear rationale why a fellowship would be different to their current role. As part of this expectation, applicants may be planning to move away from their current department, or will describe clear pathways by which they will differentiate the fellowship position from their current role
  • clearly state that 100% of their time would be dedicated to the fellowship to focus on research, shielded from other professional commitments.

Applicants cannot continue to hold an existing position and a fellowship at the same time. If awarded a fellowship, the permanent position would need to be relinquished for the duration of the fellowship. Applicants wishing to retain an existing position and combine this with research funding, should consider funding options under one of the grant schemes.

6. Do I need to move institution to apply for a fellowship?

No. If an applicant currently holds a permanent position at an institution, moving department or institute may help to demonstrate why a fellowship would be different to a current role, but there is no requirement to move to a new institution.

7. What will happen if I am offered a permanent position during my fellowship?

One of the benefits of a fellowship is the provision of a full salary for the duration of the award, enabling fellows to dedicate their attention to their research and development.

Award holders who are offered a permanent role during the fellowship should contact the office on fellows@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk. Award holders can accept this position as long as it adheres to the terms and conditions of the fellowship award, e.g. that it will not require spending more than six hours a week on non-fellowship duties. Any more significant time commitments would need to be deferred until after the end of the fellowship to allow continued focus on the research, shielded from other professional commitments.

If this is not possible and you wish to take up a position, the fellowship needs to be relinquished. Please contact us if you require advice.

8. Can I apply if I do not currently reside in the UK?

There are no residence eligibility restrictions for this fellowship, but applicants from countries other than the UK must comply with the Department of Employment requirements and hold a valid work permit where appropriate. In the course of applying for a fellowship, you would be expected to show a genuine commitment to the UK research effort beyond the end of the award. If you were offered a fellowship by the MRC, you will need to be registered at a UK research organisation for the duration of the fellowship. Any queries regarding residence eligibility or visa requirements should be addressed to the research organisation concerned. Successful applicants who require a visa to work in the UK will be eligible to be considered under the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route. Please contact fellowtier1info@rcuk.ac.uk for further details.

9. Can I apply if I am clinically qualified?

Medically and other clinically qualified professionals who are clinically active should consider MRC’s Clinical Fellowships. If you are clinically qualified but not clinically active, a CDA may be suitable; please email the fellows inbox fellows@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk if you would like further guidance.

10. What is the tenure of a CDA?

A CDA may be awarded for up to five years. Applicants are expected to take advantage of the full five years funding available.

11. Is there an opportunity to spend time in an overseas research centre, a second UK research centre or a UK industrial centre?

Applicants are encouraged to spend time in an overseas research centre, a second UK research centre or a UK industrial centre (see question 13 below for more detail on working with industry) where this will provide a concentrated period of training that cannot be achieved as effectively within the academic host institution. MRC considers this period at a second centre to provide an invaluable opportunity to broaden fellows’ development towards becoming a research leader. For applications including a second centre, we would normally expect the Fellow to make one visit of between 6 and 12 months. The interview panel may agree to requests for visits to more than one centre if this can be justified on the grounds of training and development needs. The fellow should be prepared at interview to discuss in detail any visits proposed.

12. Would I be at a disadvantage if I did not take the opportunity to spend time at a second centre?

No. Whilst the MRC encourages applicants to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time at a second centre where this will benefit the fellowship, in cases where the host centre is able to provide all necessary training and career development benefits, the MRC recognises that spending time at a second centre may not be appropriate.

13. Can I apply with an industrial partner?

The MRC encourages and is very supportive of applicants who wish to spend time with an industrial partner to benefit from unique training opportunities.  There are a number of ways applicants can include an industrial partner:
  • spending time at a second UK industrial centre (as per question 11)
  • applying with an industrial collaborator – this should be submitted as an MRC Industrial Collaboration Award (MICA) – for more information please refer to section 5.2.10 of the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under document downloads) and the MICA section of the MRC website. 

14. Do I need a sponsor?

Yes. Sponsors are compulsory for all fellowships run by the MRC and the Sponsors section of the Proposal Form must be completed for all fellowship applications. For intermediate and senior post-doctoral fellowships, this section should be completed by at least one senior member of the department who has academic responsibility for the fellow. In this case the sponsor is not expected to fulfil a supervisory role during the award, but act as a supporter for the application. The sponsor should have expertise in the scientific area of the application and will act as guarantor for the quality of the proposed research, suitability of the candidate and level of training and development the department will provide.

15. Do I need a mentor?

Mentors are not compulsory, but including a mentor is encouraged as it can help to demonstrate that applicants are gaining the independent career advice required to develop a fellowship.

A mentor is someone who provides independent career advice and is distinct from a sponsor or supervisor. Where a mentor is listed on the application a letter of support should be included detailing the support they will provide. A mentor’s time cannot be included in the costings for the proposal.

16. Can I apply with co-investigators?

No. Co-investigators are not permitted on fellowship awards.

17. Can I apply with collaborators?

Fellowship applications can include collaborations with individuals and organisations, both commercial and academic. If including a collaboration, a summary of the collaboration (up to 200 words) should be included in the ‘Collaborations Explanation’ section of the proposal form. A statement indicating the willingness of each collaborator to co-operate (max 2000 characters including spaces and returns) must be submitted with your application as a Letter of Support. If a collaborator will be providing clinical samples for the project, the letter should confirm their willingness to provide the samples and confirm that they have the appropriate ethical approval to cover the proposed research. For further information, please see the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under Document downloads). Collaborators’ CVs and Lists of Publications are not required and should not be uploaded as separate attachments.

18. Can I work part time on my fellowship?

The MRC is very supportive of applicants who may wish to combine their research with personal or domestic responsibilities and we therefore offer all fellowships on a part-time basis. At least 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) must be dedicated to the fellowship and fellows are expected to dedicate their full contracted time to the award. Part-time awards are not available to combine the Fellowship with other research activities and projects or to continue clinical training, however applicants needing to maintain professional clinical responsibilities may request part-time support. See the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under 'Document downloads') our flexible working policies page and our guidance document for career breaks and flexible working (PDF, 40KB) for further details.

19. Can I spend any time on teaching or other projects during the award?

Career development fellows and research support staff funded through full-time fellowships may spend up to six hours a week teaching, demonstrating or supervising research staff not funded by the fellowship. Payment for such work may be retained in full if this is the host institution’s normal policy.

20. Can I apply to other funders at the same time as my MRC application is considered?

Applications for fellowships may simultaneously be submitted to the MRC and other funders’ fellowship schemes. Applicants may not have simultaneous fellowship proposals under consideration by MRC and UKRI Fellowships schemes. You must list any current applications in the ‘Other Support’ section of the MRC form and mention your MRC application in any applications to other funders.  For further information, please see the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (PDF, 772KB) (available under Document downloads).

21. Can I apply to more than one MRC fellowship scheme?

You can only have one MRC fellowship application under consideration at any time. If your application is declined by one scheme you may resubmit to a different scheme so long as you can demonstrate your skills and experience match those of the relevant career stage in the applicant skills and experience table.

22. Can I apply for grant support whilst undertaking a CDA?

CDA holders are encouraged to dedicate their time to the fellowship during at least the first half of the award, ensuring that the additional work can be carried out within the six hours per week allowed for other duties as stipulated in the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under Document downloads) and in the MRC Terms and Conditions. 

During the second half of their award CDA holders may apply as a principal investigator or co-investigator for grant support via an MRC research grant or collaboration grant, or grants from other funding organisations, subject to written approval from the MRC fellowship section.

23. I’ve had a previous MRC fellowship application declined. Can I resubmit?

MRC fellowships are personal awards. As an individual, you may submit to any one MRC fellowship scheme twice. Resubmissions must include substantive amendments from the original submission, which should be detailed in the cover letter. Moving institution or submitting a different project does not reset the number of previous applications. Applicants should allow at least a year between submissions whether applying to the same or a different scheme. Applicants wishing to reapply within a year should request permission from the relevant programme manager prior to resubmission by contacting: fellows@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

24. I have had my resubmission declined. If I apply with a new project does it still count as a resubmission?

Yes. You may only apply to any MRC fellowship scheme twice, regardless of the extent of changes to the proposal. Moving institution or submitting a different project does not reset the number of previous applications.

25. What is the next career step after I complete the CDA?

The CDA cannot be extended or renewed. Existing fellows who wish to continue developing their research careers, and who do not have an established position, may be suitable to apply for an MRC Senior Non-Clinical Fellowship to enable their transition to research leadership.


26. Will my award be made with the Full Economic Costing (FEC) framework?

Yes. All postdoctoral fellowship awards are awarded within the FEC framework. If a grant is awarded the MRC will provide funding at a rate of 80% of the FEC and the research organisation(s) must agree to fund the balance of the FEC for the project from other resources.

27. Are there limits on the funding I can request?

The fellowship provides a competitive salary, research support staff, research consumables expenses, travel costs and capital equipment appropriate for the research project under full economic costs. The award also provides funding for research training outside the UK. There is no limit to the research costs that can be requested, however all requests for resources must be justified in terms of delivering the objectives of the research proposal.

Applicants are asked to request that, wherever possible, their Institution contributes 50% towards the cost of any capital items or equipment over £10,000 (inc VAT).

28. Does the fellowship support my salary?

Yes, the MRC provides support for 100% of the fellow’s contracted working time for both clinical and non-clinical applicants

29. Can I include my sponsor or mentor’s time as a staff cost?

It is unusual for a sponsor or a mentor to cost their time on a fellowship application and may cause referees to question an applicant’s readiness to develop as an independent researcher. Staff requests should be for staff actually undertaking activities on the project.

30. My project incurs NHS costs. Where should I include these in the proposal?

These should be noted in the case for support and a letter of support from the relevant health authority uploaded with the application stating that they are prepared to cover the costs incurred. An NHS Costs Proforma (XLS 83KB) (XLSX, 57KB) should also be attached to the application.

31. Is joint-funding available?

Applications are invited for the MRC and Multiple Sclerosis Society training fellowship, which is aimed at non-clinical researchers who also wish to undertake research into understanding and treating multiple sclerosis. Your interest in joint funding should be highlighted in a cover letter.

All applications are considered in open competition; therefore a request for joint funding will have no effect on the outcome of your application. Any jointly funded fellowships will be offered at the same funding level as other CDAs and under standard MRC terms and conditions, except where additional terms and conditions are specified by the joint funder. See MRC’s website or contact the funder for further details.

32. How are jointly funded awards administered?

The award will be administered in the same way as a standard MRC CDA, though some additional terms and conditions may apply. Your research organisation will not need to contact the joint funder regarding the award and MRC will administer all funding issues.

33. Can I apply for publication costs?

Publication costs are no longer awarded and should not form part of your application. This is in line with UKRI terms and conditions. These costs are available from your research organisation via the block grant they receive for publication costs. If you are experiencing difficulties in obtaining funds to cover publications, please contact us, RFPD@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

34. Can I request travel costs for my family if I spend time during my fellowship overseas?

Yes, travel costs for your spouse and/or children can be requested if the applicant intends to spend over six months abroad and their family will accompany them for the whole period. For more information please refer to the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under Document downloads) and out flexible working policies.

How to apply

35. How do I apply?

All applications to the MRC must now be made through the Joint electronic-Submissions system (Je-S). The URL for the Je-S application system is: https://je-s.rcuk.ac.uk/

36. Which documents are mandatory to attach to my application and which are optional?

All applications consist of a number of components.  The following are mandatory:
The following are optional:
  • Covering Letter
  • Additional Costs Proforma: NHS Support and Treatment Costs (Mandatory where NHS
  • costs are incurred)
  • Letters of Support (Mandatory if mentor is added to the form)
  • MICA Form (Mandatory where application includes industrial partners)
  • Heads of Terms (Mandatory where application includes industrial partners).

Please see the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (available under Document downloads) for further information about each component of the application (including information regarding content and page lengths).

37. Does my application have to be submitted through my research organisation’s administration department?

Yes. You will need to ensure that your research organisation is registered on Je-S as an administering authority in order to submit your proposal. Further information and guidance is available on the Je-S Help Pages.

Please note that when an application is submitted through Je-S it does not pass directly to the MRC, but to the research organisation’s administration team who will then process the submission to the MRC.

You are strongly advised to contact the team responsible for proposal submissions at your research organisation to confirm how much time they will need to process your application and complete the submission process. All applications must be submitted to the MRC via the Joint electronic-Submission system by 16:00 on the advertised closing date.

38. How much time will my research organisation need to process my application before submitting it to MRC?

This will depend on your research organisation and you will need to contact the team responsible for submissions to confirm this.

39. Can I submit offline instead of using Je-S?

No. All applications must be submitted via Je-S.

40. Where should I navigate to in Je-S in order to create my application?

You should create a new document in Je-S. On the first step of the application, select the following options:

  • Select Council – MRC
  • Select Document Type – Fellowship Proposal
  • Scheme – Fellowship FEC
  • Select Call – The exact name will vary for each competition but will be clearly labelled as Career Development Award and will generally take the form of the scheme name and the month and year of the deadline date.
  • Click on ‘Create document’.

41. Where can I get advice on how to complete my application?

General guidance on fellowship applications can be found on the MRC website and in the Guidance for Fellowship Applicants (PDF, 772KB). For guidance on using Je-S, please see the Je-S handbook or contact the Je-S helpdesk at JeSHelp@je-s.ukri.org or +44 (0) 1793 44 4164.

42. If my application does not reach MRC by the deadline can it still be considered?

No. Applications not submitted by 16:00 on the day of the deadline will not be considered.