'Best and brightest' postdocs rewarded

August 10, 2007

Twenty newly qualified biomedical scientists have each received £250,000 awards from the Wellcome Trust in a new scheme to help postdoctoral students start their research careers, writes Louise Radnofsky.

The researchers will work in the UK and abroad for four years on areas as diverse as rabies, decision-making and cell death. Each had no more than 12 months' postdoctoral experience at the time they applied for the awards.

Thomas Jahn, 29, has used his fellowship to move from Leeds University to Cambridge University, where he will study changes in the brain that cause neuron degeneration and diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

"Here you basically get the money and can decide where you want to go with it," Dr Jahn said, adding that he would otherwise have applied to join other people's laboratory groups. "It gives you much more freedom to decide your own project."

Dr Jahn will manage his own salary, equipment and travelling costs from the grant. "It will be a learning curve, but I feel comfortable I will manage it," he said.

Jim Smith, a professor at the Gurdon Institute at Cambridge, chaired the interview panel for the awards.

"What we were really looking for was the question of independence, the extent to which the person had an independent project that was clearly his or her own thing," he said. "I think this new initiative does provide young scientists with a real opportunity to realise their potential early."

Professor Smith noted that many writers and musicians had enjoyed success in their twenties, and that younger scientists were less constrained in their ability to move around for research.

"There is a risk of stifling an independent spirit if you extend apprenticeship too long," he said.

Mark Walport, director of the trust, described the 20 winners as the "best and the brightest".

"We will follow the careers of this cohort of Henry Wellcome Fellows with high expectations that outstanding scientists will mature," he said.

Application forms for Wellcome Trust fellowships for 2008 are available at www.wellcome.ac.uk/node2151.html </a> . Submission deadline is November 5.

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