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Early promise


Fellowships for cancer researchers looking to tread their own path

Leukaemia UK is a young funder with an old pedigree, formed in 2019 following the merger of charities the Elimination of Leukaemia Fund and Leuka. 

Leukaemia UK’s John Goldman fellowships are its flagship scheme for early career scientists. Applications open on 1 December and close on 31 January. Projects are worth up to £150,000 and run for between 18 months and two years.

Named after John Goldman, who pioneered the development of bone-marrow transplants, Leukaemia UK says the fellowships were set up in recognition of Goldman’s ethos that “innovators need the chance to take risks without fear of jeopardising their careers”.

Tom Simpson, research manager at Leukaemia UK, explains more.

How would you summarise these fellowships?

They aim to enable early career researchers to make the move from being, for example, postdoctoral researchers on somebody else’s project to becoming their own independent researchers or group leaders. That is a time in a researcher’s life when it is difficult to get funding for one’s own innovative ideas. We want to enable the people we think might be the best future researchers in leukaemia to make the move to becoming independent researchers.

How much funding is available overall for this round?

We have previously funded around four or five fellowships a year, but the number we fund does depend on the quality of applications that come in.

The website states that a maximum 20 applications will be considered. Does that override the deadline?

Essentially, yes. We are aware that researchers must get their application signed off by an internal process within their institutions, which is often not as quick as they might hope, and something over which they have no control. If we can see via our application system that somebody has been building their application over the last month or so, they have put it all together, have asked for internal approval and then it has run into the sand, we would not exclude them because they were the 21st application to come in. We would try to be charitable. But ideally, yes, once we get to 20, that is when we would stop.

How do you weight the science and the applicant’s potential?

We weigh those things equally. Regarding the review process, as a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities, we adhere to their guidelines for reviewing proposals. That involves everything being reviewed by five members of our scientific and medical panel, and by two independent external reviewers. In each case, those sets of reviewers are asked to comment on the applicants and their potential on the one hand, and on the scientific aspect and its potential impact on the other. Those two scores are combined and discussed in the meetings to determine the very best applicants and projects that the panel then recommends to the board of trustees for funding.

Do you encourage applicants to leverage funding?

Yes. The hope is they will be able to use this to become independent researchers. Anecdotally, we hear from researchers that funding from Leukaemia UK does help them obtain further funding. It is seen as a mark of quality for the researchers themselves, and for the work they do.

How specific should applicants be about their planned next step in their career?

In general, the review panel likes to see evidence that the applicant has thought about both how the fellowship will enable them to develop their own independent research career, and how the applicant sees the scientific work in the proposal potentially progressing. For example, what funding sources does the applicant hope to apply for during or after the fellowship, and how will the fellowship help the applicant secure these? How does the applicant think they or their research group will develop the scientific results of the fellowship into further work or other areas? What kinds of collaboration would the applicant hope to establish because of the fellowship research?

What would make a proposal stand out?

Those that stand out are those where the applicant is clearly wanting to pursue their own project in some innovative way that would lead them to become an independent researcher. It needs to be very clear that they do not want to continue to do work on somebody else’s project, but that it really is their project, their idea, and they will lead on it and develop into an independent researcher and group leader. 

One further piece of advice would be that applicants should always get somebody else to proofread their application.

Any advice for those who are invited to interview?


Interviewees are provided with some of the comments from the external and panel reviewers beforehand. They should try to take account of those comments when doing the interview. And, of course, practise the interview beforehand. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com