Early-career cash fillip

April 13, 2007

Rule changes mean new bioscience researchers will find it easier to set up their own labs, says Melanie Newman

Early-career bioscience researchers and lecturers will find it easier to secure funding to set up their own laboratories following changes made to a research council scheme.

Eligibility criteria for the New Investigator Scheme, run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have been overhauled to simplify the process of applying for cash for those with no track record of independent research.

Previously, researchers who had received grant funding of more than Pounds 150,000 had been disqualified from applying. A BBSRC survey of 158 applicants identified the £150,000 "cap" as one of the biggest problems in restricting eligibility. The main issue was that applicants with numerous small grants had to count them all towards the limit.

In its review of the criteria, the BBSRC said: "It was felt that this ran counter to the spirit of the scheme, which should be aimed at those who have not written grant applications before or managed postdocs on grants."

The revised criterion requires that applicants have not previously received as principal investigator research or support grants that include provision of funding for research staff costs. Grants for equipment are excluded.

The requirement that researchers should be within three years of the start date of their first appointment at the time of application has also changed. The BBSRC thought this might indirectly discriminate against people who have taken maternity leave or been in periods of part-time employment.

Only those who have been in full-time employment for more than three years at lecturer band five or equivalent level will now be disqualified.

The survey also discovered that 97 per cent of successful respondents felt the scheme, launched in 2001, had helped them to establish their own lab.

Almost three quarters thought the scheme had furthered their careers.

Anthony Hall of Liverpool University's School of Biological Sciences received an award to study the molecular mechanism of the circadian clock.

He said: "British science isn't badly funded. But the quality of research proposals is very high, so it is extremely difficult to get funding if you don't have an independent research track record."

Another researcher who has benefited from the scheme is Jonathan Peirce of Nottingham University's School of Psychology. The New Investigator scheme helped him to set up an operational lab for his research in visual neuroscience.

"The BBSRC scheme fills this niche very well. It provides sufficient funding to get your feet on the ground and start work in this critical first step," he said.

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

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