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Skills Development Fellowships FAQs

A) FAQ regarding potential fellowship applicants

1. What career stage are the Skills Development Fellowships appropriate for?

The purpose of the Skills Development Fellowship scheme is to address identified skills gaps areas through postdoctoral training. This can be for researchers that are early in their career e.g. having just finished their PhD (or about to) or within a few years of doing so, who have preliminary skills in a priority area but need further training to develop these skills, or who wish to obtain new skills in a priority area that is complementary to existing skills. This could also be for researchers that are more established, but wish to obtain training in a different area (relevant to priority skills gaps). We tend to see more researchers applying that are early in their career.

2. I am a clinician, am I eligible to apply for a SDF?

The SDF scheme has always been open to clinical applicants and this continues. We do not typically receive a high number of clinical applicants. In an institutions application there should be an explanation for how recruitment of such individuals would be managed, should they wish to apply, but this scheme does not specifically focus on clinical careers.

3. I am an individual interested in applying for a Skills Development Fellowship – how should I go about this?

The Skills Development Fellowship scheme is now going to involve successful institutions being allocated funds to then appoint fellows directly. This does create a different mechanism for individuals interested in these fellowships. As part of their application, along with a description of training environment and governance of a programme, institutions will be expected to present information about their recruitment strategy. They should not pre-identify candidates. However, individuals interested in holding an SDF will often contact an institution they are interested in working with.

We recommend getting in touch with the Institution you are hoping to apply to (a group leader or their research office) to find out if their bid is focusing in a skills gap area of relevance to you.

The assessment meeting for the scheme is taking place in September and institutions should be promoting their available fellowships soon afterwards. The MRC will also broadly announce/promote the successful institutions at that time (Sept/Oct) e.g. on our website, to ensure potential fellows are aware of the opportunity.

4. Can I cost for staff on the fellowship(s)?

As these are training and skills consolidation fellowships, we would not expect staff costs to be included, other than the Fellow’s salary (note that this differs from our transition to independence fellowships).  

5. What is the duration of a Skills Development Fellowship?

Fellowships will be of 3 year duration. Applications should present a case for two years of intake, but at this stage the MRC will be able to provide funding for the first intake year only.

6. What are the resubmission rules for the new SDF mechanism?

As individuals are not applying directly to the MRC for this scheme, the standard MRC resubmission policy is not as relevant here and explicit need for project revision is not mandated by the MRC. Institutions will carry out their own recruitment and appointment process and may have different project proposal requirements. This will not be stipulated by the MRC and it is recommended that applicants seek advice from the host institutions on this matter.

The MRC will always recommend that a previously declined application is revised before resubmission, with reviewer comments taken in to account to strengthen a project plan.

B) FAQ regarding institutional applications

7. Can our application include support for both types of career stage fellow (i.e. early career and more established researchers), or should we choose to focus our bid on one type or the other?

An institutional application to the SDF scheme can include both, or focus on one career stage if preferable – either way, a clear justification should be presented for why a case is being put forward e.g. evidence of a track record in supporting established researchers to shift discipline/obtain alternate but complementary training, or of support mechanisms for early career researchers to work across disciplines or clear mechanisms to provide support for trainees no matter their career level.

8. Will the funds go directly to the institution?

When decisions have been made regarding successful institutions, an indication of award will be provided to the institutions so that recruitment of fellows can be undertaken. However, the actual awards will be made to the individual fellows directly as an MRC fellowship - rather than as an institution award. Each fellowship project may budget for training, travel, consumables and overheads etc. as appropriate.

9. There isn’t a DTP at my institution; can we still lead an application?

Yes, you can apply to the Skills Development scheme whether you have a DTP or not. You should, however, include evidence of a track record in supporting trainees, which may include reference to a DTP or similar scheme.

10. Can my institution lead a bid as well as partnering on other bids?

Yes, we would expect each institution to lead only one bid, but they can be partners on other bids where this is appropriate.

11. What is the difference between a Partner Research Organisation and an Associate Partner Research Organisation?

An Associate Partner RO is, for example, a co-located MRC Unit or Institute or a collaborative partner, who may wish to be involved in the bid. Partner Research Organisations are institutions in their own right, who would be able to lead their own bid. For further information about MRC Units and Institutes, please see question 13, as these can, in some cases, lead a bid. We would encourage institutions to present their various partners as best appropriate for their submission – there is some flexibility in how these may be articulated and one of the strengths of delivering the scheme in this way is that it allows the flexibility to be able to bring new partners on board as new and exciting relationships and opportunities develop. 

12. What level of collaboration is expected from institutional partners?

Collaboration across Departments/Schools/Faculties must be part of a bid, as noted in the ‘eligibility’ section of the guidance “as the success of these awards depends on the coordinated support of multiple disciplines that are often separated by traditional institutional boundaries”. This may be internal within an institution, or across institutions. Evidence will need to be presented for what the different partners will bring, why this partnership will work, how fellows will be supported in these interdisciplinary collaborations. Collaboration may involve a range of opportunities such as financial leveraging, supervisory support, access to training courses – individual institutions should present their unique case. National or international partnerships will present different opportunities and would need their own justification, based on what this would add to the fellowship support/ management/ excellence of a training programme.

13. We are an MRC Unit, can we lead a bid?

We would expect each university to only lead one bid but involve relevant partner institutions and departments in the application process. If your university is not putting in a bid, the Unit can lead on this.

14. Can we cost for staff on the fellowship(s)?

As these are training and skills consolidation fellowships, we would not expect staff costs to be included, other than the Fellow’s salary (note that this differs from our transition to independence fellowships).   

15. Can we include administrative costs for the fellows in our application?

As the funds will go directly to the fellow as an MRC fellowship award, rather than the institution, you would not be able to request funds for administration. These costs should be in-kind support from the host institution. However, each fellow will be registered through a department at their institution and will therefore be eligible to get estate and indirect costs, as with other MRC fellowships. You are permitted to request up to 5% FTE for supervisor time as indicated in the MRC fellowship guidance.

16. Should I cost per fellowship or cost for the total cost of all fellowships requested and what level of detail is required?

Detailed costings are not required at this stage, as individual fellows and their research projects are not yet defined. However, there will be an expectation that the proposed general costings are explained and justified. A bid should include the total request being made and what this will cover (acknowledging that exact costs will depend on the project).

In the guidance we present an indication of the past average 3-year SDF cost- £290k (cost to MRC). We expect applying institutions to take this as a starting point for consideration when preparing a bid. Career stage may affect costs, as would issues such as whether wet-lab or dry-lab work is proposed. There may be an average cost presented per fellow, or there may be allowance for some more senior and some more junior fellows. ‘Padding’ of costs will likely not be well received, e.g. just in case senior people apply. Evidence/justification for higher costs should be described, for example institutions may refer to having past success supporting senior academics changing field (e.g. through fellowships), or to a specific programme targeting a career stage etc.

17. Can an international organisation be included as a partner?

Applications for the Skills Development scheme are welcome to include international partnerships that will add value to an institution's bid. This may be as a partner or alternatively, these could be developed later as part of individual fellowship proposals. We're keen to encourage opportunities for fellows to gain training/experience in a range of ways appropriate to their needs and ambitions. As has always been the case with the SDF scheme, this can certainly include visits to other institutions/overseas - this is likely to be specific to each fellow and their project. However, it is important to remember that it is expected that partner organisations will have a significant role in the proposed training programme e.g. may be available as the main host site for fellows or to provide a mentor or co-advisor etc.

18. Do you require Letters of Support from each partner and should we include one from the Host Institution?

Yes, Letters of Support would be very helpful to the Assessment Panel. As on page 7 of our guidance in Annex 2, this should be up to 1 page from every partner named in the Case for Support. A Letter of Support from the Host is not mandatory as Host contributions will be captured in the application itself. However, you are welcome to include a Host Letter of Support if you wish to. There is no pre-requisite for the level of seniority of the people signing the Letters of Support; this hasn’t been stipulated as we would expect them to be signed by the most appropriate people.

19. What qualities should the named lead applicant possess?

It will be critical that the named applicants have a demonstrated track record (publications/grant funding etc.) in the priority skills areas, and in working across research disciplines (likely, those presented in the application). We would not necessarily expect there to be a strong MRC track record for the lead applicant, but experience of holding research funding and publishing in relevant areas would be important. 

It will be valuable for applicants to have evidence of an interest/experience in supporting training and skills development (e.g. contributing to a DTP). As the SDF scheme has a focus on supporting skills gaps and cross-disciplinary working, it is likely that applications will need a team of applicants to bring together appropriate research expertise. For example, it would be fine for an applied mathematician to lead a bid within a maths department, but they would likely be co-applicant with a biologist(s) and would have experience of working on biological questions.

20. Should we include any CVs in our application?

CVs have not been requested because a significant component of the assessment for this scheme needs to focus on governance and training/skills expertise – which a scientific CV doesn’t always easily represent. We’d encourage a brief description within the application (e.g. Case for Support) about the appropriateness of the applicant team for leading such a bid.

21. What is the duration of a Skills Development Fellowship?

Fellowships will be of 3 year duration. Applications should present a case for two years of intake, but at this stage the MRC will be able to provide funding for the first intake year only.

The total duration of an institution’s application is likely to therefore be 4 years.