Feature: Supporting the skills supply pipeline
Maintaining a vibrant research community relies on an adequate supply of highly-skilled individuals. Ian Lyne, Head of Skills and Careers, reports on BBSRC support for strategic skills development, including a new scheme to meet the high-level specialist skills needs of the pharmaceutical industry.
In October last year, an independent panel (note 1) made recommendations to BBSRC on how best to protect strategically important and vulnerable capabilities in UK bioscience. Their report identified a number of ‘niche skills’ – areas of expertise where research organisations may not be able to rely on picking up a new expert off-the-shelf, but which are strategically important for the UK to retain.
While many research organisations are being proactive in thinking about how to ensure the future supply of the skilled people they need, the report identified potential risks within the broad areas of whole animal physiology; industrial biotechnologies; plant and agricultural sciences; and systematics and taxonomy.
The report also provides welcome evidence showing that BBSRC is targeting its activities in the right areas.
Specialist skills training
In 2005 we launched a £12.3M initiative with the Medical Research Council (MRC), Scottish Funding Council, British Pharmacology Society’s (BPS) Integrative Pharmacology Fund (donors: AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer), and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to build capacity in integrative mammalian biology. Building on this initiative, this month, BBSRC and MRC, in collaboration with the BPS, are launching a new scheme to provide additional funding towards the high costs of in vivo skills training. We hope that this new scheme will help ensure the financial sustainability of training in this important area.
We are also looking forward to working with the new Society of Biology in 2010 in connection with their plans for the accreditation of undergraduate degrees. We see this as a potentially useful way to identify and promote undergraduate degrees that provide higher levels of mathematics and practical work, and so prepare students better for careers in science and research.
The next generation of researchers
This year, over 90 BBSRC-funded PhD students and early-career researchers attended our annual Next Generation conference to find out about different career paths and future funding opportunities from academics, industrialists and senior BBSRC officials.
A hypothetical company, Gluten Replacement Technologies Ltd, which produces an imaginary product called GlutaSafe - a cheap, non-allergenic gluten replacement - impressed the judges to walk away with first prize at the final of the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Biotechnology YES) in December.
Team members (L to R): Lizzy Day, Fan Cheng, Sarah Leigh-Brown, Harry Harris and Daniel Naujoks
The winning team from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London beat off competition from 13 other teams to scoop the Biotechnology YES 2009 title:
- £1000 prize money
- Tickets to the Bioindustry Association (BIA) gala dinner
- The chance to present their hypothetical product at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston, Texas
Biotechnology YES is run annually by BBSRC and the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI). It aims to help the UK's early-career bioscientists gain the skills and contacts needed to turn research into commercial reality.
- The report from the BBSRC Skills and Careers Strategy Panel, chaired by Professor Ottoline Leyser FRS, followed a consultation run by BBSRC and the Biosciences Federation (which recently joined with the Institute of Biology to form the Society of Biology). View the consultation and report at www.bbsrc.ac.uk/consultations
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