The purpose of the Skills Development Fellowship (SDF) scheme is to address identified skills gap areas through postdoctoral training. In partnership with the Medical Research Council (MRC), the University of Exeter is targeting two types of researcher: talented medical and bioscience graduates who wish to undertake a focussed period of quantitative research, or highly skilled quantitative researchers with backgrounds in computing, chemistry, engineering, physics or mathematics who have a clear vision for how their work can impact current questions in health or medical research.
There are no restrictions on the research fields of applicants but Exeter has research strengths in the development of quantitative methodologies for:
- Health services research
- Genomic medicine
- Fungal and bacterial infections
- Healthy Ageing
An SDF is suitable for both very early career researchers (e.g. having just finished their PhD, or about to) or for more established researchers from a biomedical or clinical background. Very early career researchers would typically have a background in a priority skills area and be seeking to further develop these skills in the context of a biomedical or clinical challenge area. Whereas biomedical or clinical researchers would be looking to transform their career by developing new quantitative skills.
Research Proposal and Skills Development Training Plan
To initiate the application process, applicants are required to submit a Expression of Interest form that briefly describes their research project, perceived training needs, career intentions and who the project sponsors might be.
Candidates who have submitted a clear Expression of Interest will then be invited to submit a full application for the SDF.
Research project ideas should be ambitious, and should clearly describe the biomedical/clinical relevance of the project, and how skills will be developed in relevant quantitative or biomedical and clinical areas. Applicants will need to have a clear understanding of the contribution of their research to their field, and be able to demonstrate independent research ideas, show an awareness of research in other fields, and an appreciation of the importance of working across disciplinary boundaries.
A critical component of these fellowships is skills development. Applicants must have a clear rationale for the skills they wish to develop and a preliminary plan for how they will achieve this.
Please see the MRC’s guidance on skills needed to win support for further information.
What to expect as an MRC Fellow at Exeter
Sponsors and Mentors
Fellowship holders will partner with at least two sponsors with complementary expertise, at least one from a quantitative discipline, and at least one with a biomedical or clinical focus. You will identify sponsors as part of the application process, and should work closely with them while developing your application. Sponsors will support fellows through scientific discussion and guidance, providing access to expertise and stimulating research environments, state-of-the-art facilities and collaborators both within the University and externally.
A member of the Host Leadership Team will act as a mentor for the fellow and will meet with them regularly to provide support in the challenges associated with interdisciplinary research and provide career advice. Mentors will primarily be focused on preparing the fellows for the next stage of their career.
With this support network, fellowship holders will be able to direct and develop their own research programme, and over the three years, gain an increasing level of independence as they carve out their own niche at the interface between the quantitative and biomedical disciplines.
Training and Development
Fellows will develop their own bespoke package of training and development, built around the research challenge identified. The training component will include spending up to 12 months in a globally leading second research centre, where fellowship holders will further develop their skills. Sponsors and mentors will assist with identifying an internationally excellent centre most appropriately matched to the research project.
Beyond the training opportunities presented by the research project itself, formal training and development opportunities will also be identified. The University of Exeter offers a significant number of advanced courses spanning topics from basic physiology, genomic sequencing, biomedical informatics, biomedical statistics, mathematical modelling, optics and biophotonics, through to clinical trial design. Transferable skills will be developed through Exeter’s Researcher Development Programme which runs more than 360 events per year including seminars on research management, personal effectiveness, communication skills, networking and team building, and open access. Fellows will also be provided with a flexible budget for additional external training requirements.
At the end of the fellowship, fellows will have consolidated their existing skills and will have developed a broad range of biomedical, clinical and/or quantitative skills to complement these. They will be in an excellent position to apply for further research fellowships or an independent academic position. Should fellows decide on an alternative career pathway to academia, our training programme will prepare them well for a career in industry.