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NIHR looks to improve global health—and researchers’ careers

The National Institute for Health and Care Research, a funder that is increasingly active in the field of global health, has launched a fellowship to support the independence and leadership of postdoctoral researchers in that field.

The NIHR has committed £34 million for up to three annual rounds of the Global Advanced Fellowship. The scheme is open to researchers in both the UK and low- and middle-income countries (as designated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

The fellowship offers a £750,000 award to fund research projects, including funding for training, development and institutional capacity strengthening. The deadline for applications is 11 July. 

Kara Hanson, the NIHR’s programme director for global health research, relates the essentials of the scheme—and what reviewers will be looking for.

Why did the NIHR decide to launch these fellowships?

There is a gap in the global health funding landscape for postdoctoral researchers. With this scheme, we wanted to create a pathway to research leadership for them—particularly for those based in low- and middle-income countries­—so it is open to applicants in the UK and LMICs.

Do you have any quotas for each group?

No, we do not have quotas, although researchers who are based in LMICs will be given priority at the final stage if the number of fundable applications exceeds the maximum that we can fund. But we are looking for a mix. We are aiming to award 10 fellowships in this round. We anticipate that this number will increase in subsequent rounds.

How many fellowships do you foresee in the first round?

We are aiming to award 10 and we anticipate this will increase in subsequent rounds.

What are the eligibility requirements?

People are eligible if they are just about to be awarded their PhD (but they need to have submitted their PhD by the deadline) right through to those who have several years of postdoctoral experience. They are not eligible if they have ever been appointed to professorships. It’s a wide range.

How should researchers in the UK go about including partners in LMICs?

If you are based in the UK, you must have a partner in an LMIC that can support the delivery of your research. That’s really important. For all fellows, the funding comes from the UK’s Official Development Assistance budget and so needs to primarily benefit those in LMICs. 

You are much more likely to be able to put the LMIC research need at the centre of the application if you are building on an existing relationship, whether that be one of your own or one from your research supervisor or mentor. So, at the postdoctoral level, we expect people to rely primarily on existing collaborations. It is hard to pull a partnership together at the last minute while making it an authentic collaboration—and these collaborations must be authentic.

Do the LMIC partners need to be academic institutions?

They can be higher education institutions, research institutions, non-governmental organisations or charities that can help you with the delivery of your research.

What would make a proposal stand out in this call?

We are interested in the person, their achievements to date and the trajectory that this fellowship will enable them to achieve. We are also interested in the project. It has got to be a high-quality project that is highly relevant.

So, on the one hand, the standout proposals will be the ones that address health needs in LMICs and look at the priorities that emerge from those settings. They must answer the question of why the research topic is a priority area and how your research is going to address it.

A good proposal clearly demonstrates how the funding will enable the fellow to build their career trajectory. A strong statement of support from your host institution can help with that. The statement should show how they are going to provide you with academic support throughout the fellowship, and that they are able to manage the funding for this research.

What common mistakes do you see on global health calls that applicants should avoid?

There are the classic things: applications must be within remit; they must be Official Development Assistance-eligible; they must demonstrate that their research is primarily for the benefit of people in LMICs. Clarity is also important, in all sections, including for the training plan, which should be tailored to their own career development but also to their project.

Another element of NIHR-supported global health research calls that should not be overlooked is the need for a strong community engagement element. That engagement and involvement plan needs to be embedded in the proposal. Applicants who see it as an add-on or a throwaway element at the end of proposal development will give a very poor signal to reviewers. 

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