Why are we working with Wellcome?
Research funding bodies hold a unique custodial role for ECRs. Currently, funding agencies provide many of the fellowship or starting-grant opportunities that can be used to each entry, or facilitate a successful academic career. They consider the needs of ECRs by acting as signatories on the ECR Concordat, providing mentoring programmes within successful fellowships, and/or building in mobility clauses, but they have done little to adapt peer review processes to the unique needs of ECRs. Indeed, many of the challenges facing ECRs stem from the precarious nature of academic contracts teamed with a hyper-competitive academic system, which means that access to formal academic mentoring, the ability to travel internationally, and the opportunity to learn from failure is less guaranteed. There is also a high degree of career and financial risk associated with the time taken to apply for funding, as well as risk associated with possibly negative outcomes which are more pronounced for ECRs.
Funding agencies hold part of the responsibility to do no harm and promote the health of the academic reward system, and here we see a role for them in fostering the career development of ECRs through adaptations to the peer review process. To do this they must foster a peer review process that balances critique, integrity and transparency of their peer review processes, with their custodial role to ensure a strong future academic workforce by ensuring that any feedback provided to applicants clearly outlines the reasons for the decision made and is constructive. In this way, funders have as much of a moral and social obligation towards unsuccessful candidates, as they have a financial obligation to successful ones.
We are working with the Wellcome Trust to build a peer review system that is more sensitive to the needs of Early Career Researchers.
Why Research on Research?
Wellcome wants to distribute its funding in the most efficient, fair, effective, and beneficial ways possible to achieve our mission. We wish to encourage research that helps us to better understand our own funding practices and policies – and those of other funders – and how they can be improved to enable research and innovation. We want to understand how to best evaluate research proposals and allocate funding. Through this project we hope to understand how we can better support early career researchers through the decision-making process.