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Welsh universities back future research leaders

A scheme funded by universities in Wales that aims to train the research leaders of tomorrow is entering its third year.

Peter Halligan, chairman of the Welsh Crucible Steering Group, says the programme fosters interdisciplinary collaborations between early and mid-career researchers and makes researchers more “outward facing” and more aware of their skills. “I think we’re inculcating a variety of benefits—media, policy-engagement, innovation, entrepreneurship,” he says.

The Welsh Crucible, which every year selects 30 researchers from across Wales for a series of residential courses, has been running since 2011. Based on the Crucible leadership programme previously run by the charity Nesta, the researchers attend three short ‘skills labs’, during which they are encouraged to exchange and develop ideas. They also hear from representatives from government, research policy and media.

“It’s a real opportunity for researchers to get a flavour of what it might be like rather that just working within the confines of the university,” says Halligan.

“I definitely made contacts and met some very interesting people,” says Paul Brennan, a reader at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, who participated in the 2011 scheme.

“What was interesting about it was that they weren’t contacts that are useful directly to the work I do now, because the whole aim of the Crucible is to develop contacts outside your immediate professional group.”

“Doing something that’s outside your comfort zone gives you confidence and enthusiasm for taking on things that you might not have entered into before,” says Elaine Jensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences.

Since participating in the Welsh Crucible, Jensen has felt encouraged to put herself forward for other projects. “The motto was ‘go for it’, so I went for all sorts of things. I applied to be a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Schools Regional Champion, and I got that, and I’ve contributed to five grant applications, three of which have been successful so far. I have become much more active in a number of different areas that I’m really enjoying.”

Participants have the opportunity to bid for a share of the Welsh Crucible’s £50,000 seed funding for ideas cooked up during the programme.

In 2011, Brennan and his team were awarded £8,000. “We put together a project called Sustainable Lab Wales, that has enabled me to think about trying to develop and implement new strategies to make the lab more environmentally friendly,” says Brennan.

Participants are encouraged to keep in touch via an alumnae network.

The scheme is open for applications until 10 March.