UK research groups looking to build their global standing and establish meaningful international collaborations can now tap into a new £13 million funding scheme.
The Newton International Fellowships, launched this week, will fund the most promising early-stage overseas researchers to undertake postdoctoral research at UK universities with the aim of helping UK research groups establish long-term international collaborations. There are separate postdoctoral fellowships for UK nationals.
The programme is funded by the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering with the support of Research Councils UK.
"I can't imagine a better opportunity," said Stephen Cox, the executive secretary of the Royal Society, which is leading the initiative. "It is an opportunity for UK research groups to attract and establish connections with the best and the brightest early-career researchers wherever they are in the world. They can have these rising stars coming to their labs, they can work with them, and moreover there is the opportunity for continued collaboration," he said.
"UK research groups should identify people they would like to have coming and alert them," Mr Cox said.
The fellowships themselves last up to two years, but what is different from previous initiatives, according to Mr Cox, is that they are accompanied by alumni funding - which provides cash to build on the collaboration after it has officially finished.
Each year for the next three years, 50 fellowships are to be awarded. The first round of applications will be invited from the middle of this month for those starting in 2009. The fellowships are open to postdoctoral early-career researchers working outside the UK who do not hold British citizenship. Applicants can come from any subject area covered by the remit of the national academies. Researchers in the humanities, social sciences, engineering and natural sciences are all encouraged to apply. Researchers must agree a placement with the UK research group they wish to join before they apply.
The fellowships are each worth up to £100,000 over two years. This includes a subsistence stipend of £24,000 a year, research expenses of £8,000 a year and a one-off £2,000 relocation fee.
The alumni package is worth a maximum of £60,000. For up to ten years after they finish, former fellows are eligible for additional funding of up to £6,000 a year to help develop lasting international networks.
"When the fellowship is over there is an opportunity to continue the links that have been established with the UK," Mr Cox explained.
Former Newton fellows will also become members of the UK International Fellowship Association. The group, managed by RCUK, aims to create a network of overseas researchers who maintain contact with the UK and to encourage new collaborations.
Two of the Royal Society's existing fellowship programmes to bring postdocs to the UK from Asia and North America fold into the new scheme, which covers a wider range of subjects and countries. The expectation, however, is that the US and Canada, China and India will continue to be well represented.
"There is a global market in post-docs, and the UK is competing with the other major scientific nations in the world to attract them," Mr Cox said. "If we are going to remain internationally competitive, we have to have the best and the brightest of scientists coming here."
One pair to benefit from the existing Royal Society scheme is Stephen Ormerod of Cardiff University's School of Biosciences and his international postdoc, Christy Morrissey.
Dr Morrissey arrived from Canada 18 months ago on a two-year Royal Society research fellowship to work in Professor Ormerod's research group on how river contaminants have affected bird life.
She has just won a further fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust to remain with the group after the first fellowship finishes.
The two came into contact when Professor Ormerod examined Dr Morrissey's PhD thesis. "We realised there was potential work we could do together, and Dr Morrissey approached the Royal Society for funding," Professor Ormerod explained.
From his point of view, having an international postdoc has been a treat. "We are getting an independent, very highly trained academic at a very productive time of her career ... But she is also bringing a whole set of (Canadian) collaborators with her, which is very useful for the project. There is real added international complementarity."
For Dr Morrissey, the overseas experience - and the opportunity to work with some of the best in her field - is "absolutely invaluable" to advancing her academic career.