The Research Funding Pipeline
Cure Cancer Australia serves as the catalyst for future research success, because without early-career researchers, there simply is no research pipeline
Choosing to go into the field of cancer research is by no means easy – in fact, many would argue that it’s more of a calling than a job. Before scientists can even qualify for a career in research, they must complete a Bachelor Degree with Honours as well as a PhD, which alone takes at least seven years. Even once this formal education is complete, job security is hard to come by, and it’s at this point that the battle for funding usually begins.
Cancer research is a life-long commitment to improving people’s lives, yet as a career it is riddled with uncertainty. Researchers can spend up to a third of their year applying for highly competitive funding, and with that comes a huge amount of stress – particularly for newly qualified researchers who, by definition, have a limited record of success. What many of them do have however, are bright, innovative ideas and new approaches to cancer research that may never have been explored before and which challenge the status quo.
In the past 25 years, the relative survival from cancer has improved from 48% to 68% thanks to advances in detection, diagnosis and treatment as a result of evidence based research. This just goes to show truly how important research is. Yet the problem is that in today’s research environment, funding is incredibly tight. Only around 12% of project grant applications to Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are successful, meaning there is a huge realm of ideas that remains untapped
The struggle for early career researchers
Opportunities for early-career cancer researchers to apply for funding in Australia are extremely limited. The majority of funding comes from the government via the NHMRC, but because there is such a limited amount of money available, funding bodies tend to be risk adverse. Most of the money is reserved for researchers with a proven record of success and some research results, making it extremely difficult for newly qualified scientists to get their ideas off the ground. Sadly, this often leads to talented researchers with incredible potential either leaving research altogether or moving overseas where funding is more readily available.
By exclusively funding early-career researchers less than seven years post PhD or medical degree, we support newly qualified scientists at a time in their careers when they need it most. This funding enables them to develop and progress their work here on home soil, and potentially go on to do great things.
The typical career path
Cure Cancer Australia serves as the catalyst for future research success, because without early-career researchers, there simply is no research pipeline. Once researchers have completed a PhD or medical degree, they are eligible to apply for Cure Cancer Australia funding. Successful grant applicants can request funds for their own salary, the salary of a research assistant, and/or research materials or equipment for a specified project. The grant funding is awarded on the basis of excellence. The applicants who are successful are those who have put forward a novel idea or approach to a problem, and those who have a particularly good track record relative to opportunity at this early stage of their career.
Cure Cancer Australia’s one or two-year grants set these early-career researchers on their way, and the results they obtain help them attract further funding. A few years of early-career funding can help an emerging researcher establish their own lab and set them up for the next stage in their career. Ultimately these researchers aim to move through the ranks and apply for further funding to support them as mid-career researchers before they might go on to become Associate Professors and Professors.
By giving promising early-career researchers a chance, we’re helping to secure the pipeline of Australian researchers for the future.
Hear from Dr Susan Woods, a Cure Cancer Australia grant recipient in 2011 and 2016 on this topic below: