Go back

MRC probes success rates

The Medical Research Council has launched a survey of early-career researchers to find out why they are struggling to win a second research grant from the council.

Over the next six months, the MRC will conduct a survey of former MRC-funded fellows who failed to win a second grant from the council, whose numbers are on the increase. It aims to determine what factors have contributed to the decline in the success rate and whether these early-career researchers have been able to secure grants from other funders.

The investigation was prompted by data published in March showing that the success rate for researchers who had held an MRC early-career fellowship and were now applying for a second MRC grant had fallen from 27 per cent in 2012-13 to 16 per cent in 2015-16. The overall success rate for MRC research grants declined less sharply in the same period, from 23 per cent to 19 per cent.

The more rapid decline among early-career researchers is particularly concerning, said Ian Viney, the MRC’s director of strategic evaluation and impact and a council member. “Council members were concerned that it was proving difficult for early-career researchers to secure their next substantial grant,” he told Research Fortnight.

The council was particularly concerned that scientific progress could be delayed if academics were struggling to get funding, he said. “We can’t investigate that fully on our own because we can only see those people who return to the MRC for funding, but people can choose to obtain funding from elsewhere,” said Viney.

Viney said the council planned to ask former fellows whether they had won a grant from another funder, how long it took them to obtain the funding and what they had to do to get it.

At a council meeting in July, members noted that many of the failed proposals were scored as internationally competitive according to MRC metrics, meaning that excellent science could be going unfunded. More money could help address this, said Viney.

“We have tried to make the case that we need increased funding to meet both response-mode applications but also to pick up those high-priority strategic areas, such as mental health research,” he said.

At the same meeting, MRC chief executive John Savill told attendees that the figures were evidence of the persistent underfunding of medical research.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight