Universities should give full backing to researchers in first independent positions

Professor Philippa Saunders FMedSci, Chair of the Springboard Panel, discusses the announcement of the Academy’s first cohort of Springboard awardees and calls on universities to give full backing to vulnerable researchers in their first independent position.

 

Springboard provides research funding and tailored mentoring and career development support for biomedical researchers on the cusp of independence.

The inaugural round of Springboard has been recently completed and the Panel was extremely pleased to recommend 19 outstanding researchers for support. As a Panel, we were looking to identify researchers whose independent career is primed for take-off and have a brilliant idea with which to take that leap – that meant considering the person, their project and their environment. We wanted to see an innovative proposal that was matched by a clear vision for a future career path. We expected the research plans to be backed up by a good track record complemented by evidence that the research environment was one that matched the ambition of the applicant.

The UK is a fantastic place to do research and these applicants were all located in excellent environments particularly in terms of intellectual critical mass and facilities. We were, however, disappointed by the great variability of start-up packages made available to applicants by their host institutions, some of which provided neither funds nor staff/students to help these new group leaders start their independent research programmes. The first independent position is a critical and vulnerable time in a researcher’s career; in order for them to succeed, they need the full backing of their institution. Universities should provide tangible financial support to new hires over and above their personal salary, and that’s something we will look for going forward.

We were highly impressed by the calibre of the applicants put forward by the Springboard Champions and particularly pleased to consider proposals across a wide range of academic specialities including neurosciences, veterinary sciences, chemists, biostatisticians and engineers. Although we were only able to fund 19 awards in this round, we are pleased that the Academy can offer career development support to all those who submitted an application – all applicants put forward by the Springboard Champions have been invited to join the Academy’s mentoring scheme and will have access to a range of networking and training opportunities. Specifically, mentorship is a valuable tool in career development and the Academy’s scheme is highly regarded for its wide range of potential mentors to choose from. Mentors offer insights and share their experiences on a range of issues, and act as a sounding board for the mentee to discuss career plans and ideas, concerns and upcoming transitions. Personally, as a mentor, I find it extremely rewarding being part of a mentoring relationship with my mentees.

Hearty congratulations to our first cohort of awardees!

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