Research funding in early career

Research funding in early career

One of the first steps in becoming an independent researcher is holding your own grant funding. We asked NIHR and the MRC which of their streams are most suited to early career researchers who wish to be a principal investigator. At NIHR the Research for Patient Benefit stream are the most supportive of those in early career. The MRC do not differentiate but do suggest you apply in collaboration with a senior colleague.

NIHR Research for Patient Benefit

This stream has a strong focus on encouraging early career researchers. They allow junior researchers to apply at the lead applicant providing they are supported by a strong team with an appropriate track record and expertise. Of all of the NIHR programmes (apart from fellowships), because they fund small project grants, RfPB is the most suitable for early career researchers.

NIHR Health Services & Delivery Research Programme/Public Health Research Programme

It is possible to apply to this stream as principal investigator; however you will require a mentor to be adequately costed on the grant. For example, the early career researcher costed at 30% and a mentor at 20%.

NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research

This stream supports complex programmes of work (typically comprising a series of inter-related work packages), with awards ranging in the £2m - £2.5m range over a 5 – 6 year period. It is seeking to fund researchers and teams with very strong track records in delivering complex pragmatic health services research and is not suitable for someone at post-doctoral level even with an experienced co-principal investigator to mentor them. That said, it depends on the amount of post-doctoral research the individual has undertaken, if it is substantive then a panel may look favourably at supporting a less experienced principal investigator who has a very experienced co-principal investigator working alongside them with strong mentoring arrangements in place. The key thing would be to make the case that you and your team have the experience to manage complex programmes of health services research.

MRC Research Grants (Populations and systems medicine board)

For this stream, the minimum academic qualification required is a graduate degree, although usually a PhD is required. Less experienced researchers should apply in collaboration with a more senior colleague. The applicant(s) must demonstrate that they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in the work.

MRC Programme Grants (Population and systems medicine)

The minimum academic qualification required is a graduate degree, although usually a PhD is expected. For programme grants the Principal Investigator should have a substantial record of successfully securing research funding and delivering high quality research.

Other funders

As well as NIHR and MRC there are smaller funders that support those in early career, though these tend to fund smaller projects.

Royal College of General Practitioners Scientific Foundation Board

The Dunhill Medical Trust

BMA research grants


Good luck!

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