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BBSRC early career fellowships support excellent research with impact

7 September 2011

BBSRC's flagship early-career fellowships scheme is working well to support some of the best newly-established bioscientists in the world, according to a new review. These individuals lead excellent research that often delivers economic and societal impacts.

Director of Innovation and Skills, Dr Celia Caulcott, will today (Wednesday 07 September 2011) launch a report following a review of the David Phillips Fellowship scheme. Speaking prior to opening the biennial BBSRC Fellows Conference, she said "This review emphasises the importance of early-career fellowships as part of BBSRC's funding portfolio. We are working hard to ensure continued financial and in-kind support for talented researchers who can benefit from such a boost to kick-start a life-long career in bioscience."

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "In order to retain the UK's leading position in research we need to foster the next generation of science talent. It's fantastic to see that BBSRC's fellowships are helping some of our best new bioscientists lead high-impact projects, putting them on the right path to a successful academic career."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC, will speak later in the day to expand on the announcement, he said "We are delighted to be supporting the next generation of research leaders so as to ensure the long-term viability of the UK research community and, in turn, the UK's ability to use science to deliver solutions to major global challenges.

"As a discipline, bioscience is perfectly placed to tackle many of the great challenges we face as a global community but it is vital that there are people with the knowledge and skills to do the work. Researchers in the UK are leading the world in the science that will underpin future food security and sustainable energy production, and support health into old age."

It is clear that the David Phillips fellowship scheme supports talented early-career scientists whose research is of a very high quality and often delivers economic and societal impacts. The support from the scheme enables these researchers to establish themselves in academia. Some examples include:

Dr Julian Hibberd (Senior Lecturer, University of Cambridge), a former David Phillips fellow at the University of Cambridge, has established a research programme examining photosynthesis within 'C4' leaves. Dr Hibberd is now part of an international consortium which aims to examine the feasibility of introducing 'C4' photosynthesis into rice in order to increase the yield of this crop. In 2007, Dr Hibberd was awarded the Melvin Calvin award. This international prize recognises outstanding investigations into metabolic and cellular aspects of the photosynthetic process by an early-career researcher. He was also named as one of five crop researchers who could change the world in a 2008 article in Nature.

Dr Marie-Claire Parker (CEO, Xstalbio Ltd), a former David Phillips fellow, first based at the University of Edinburgh, and subsequently at the University of Glasgow, developed novel technologies for producing protein coated microcrystals (PCMC's). Dr Parker recognised the potential applications of her findings in biocatalysis and drug delivery. Subsequently Dr Parker developed a commercialisation plan with the help of a BBSRC-RSE Enterprise fellowship. She co-founded the spin-out company Xstalbio Ltd, focussed on advanced mechanisms of drug delivery, specialising in the formulation of therapeutic proteins, peptides, DNA and vaccines. In 2006 Dr Parker was the recipient of the Gannochy Trust Award for Innovation.

According to the report, BBSRC is delivering the scheme flexibly, effectively and fairly; is offering a good level of financial and non-financial support to a wide variety of research done by David Phillips fellows.

Obtaining a permanent academic post remains challenging and the report advises that BBSRC should continue to work in partnership with host institutions to formalise the procedures for fellows' mentoring and career development, as this might benefit fellows' aims to secure additional research funding, and to establish independent academic careers.

The scope of the review was to assess the extent to which the scheme has supported outstanding early-career scientists; assess the quality of fellows' research and the outcomes arising from it; consider whether fellowship support has enabled early-career scientists to establish themselves in academia; comment on the level of support provided to fellows by BBSRC and host institutions; and to identify ways to build on accesses and address identified gaps and issues.

Evidence was collected for the evaluation in the form of questionnaire responses from 81 former and current early-career fellows (start dates between 1996 and 2008), and the final reports from 62 completed David Phillips fellowships. This evidence was reviewed by a panel of independent experts. This was made up of individuals who are familiar with issues around career development in bioscience. Between them, the panel members also have expertise across the remit of BBSRC's science portfolio. The panel included a representative from industry.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The full review is available at www.bbsrc.ac.uk/organisation/policies/reviews/funded-science/1109-david-phillips-evaluation.aspx.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .