University Research Fellow
University of Cambridge
What made you decide to apply for the University Research Fellowship?
I felt I'd reached a career stage where I wanted and needed to make the step up to a more independent, research group leader role. The URF is arguably the most prestigious of the 5-year "tenure-track" research fellowships in the UK.
How did you find the application process?
The application process is very much focused on scientific quality. The research proposal required is relatively short, and the other sections of the application are even shorter, have a clear focus and serve a sensible purpose. In my interview, the questions focused on the science and on plans for independent career development.
Can you tell us about building your independent research group – what has challenged you and what have you enjoyed? How has the URF supported you during this time?
Day-to-day, the biggest challenge is time-management. Once you've applied for more grants, hired a couple of PhD students and post-docs, and taken on some teaching to build experience, this can take over and leave no time for actual research. It's important not to let this happen and the URF allows you independence within a faculty to do your own thing and think longer-term.
How have you made use of the flexibility of the scheme and how has it been beneficial to you?
The URF can be moved at any point to any university or research institute in the UK. This flexibility has been hugely valuable and I've moved my URF twice now to somewhere that would benefit my scientific research and my career.
I've also taken 6 months paternity leave during my URF; my partner and I split the parental leave 50/50. The Royal Society have completely supported of this. For both maternity and paternity leave, the duration of the fellowship is simply extended accordingly. They are similarly supportive of part-time working, again extending the fellowship to compensate.
What are you looking forward to next in terms of your research and career?
Primarily, continuing to pursue exciting research!
Building up a new research group at UCL, applying for grants and taking on PhD students is not an end in itself for me - it's all part and parcel of building a research environment for myself in which I can do the best science I'm capable of.
The wonderful thing about the Royal Society is the training and other opportunities available that can be taken advantage of whenever works for you. I'm also excited about taking part in a new scheme being started in association with the Royal Society to mentor A-level science students from disadvantaged and under-represented background as I am also motivated by science mentoring and outreach. Having a URF is opening up opportunities in those areas I wouldn’t otherwise have.
What advice would you give a researcher who is considering applying for a URF?
Be aware that it’s very competitive so apply for similar fellowships at the same time. However, of all the grants and fellowships I've applied for (there have been many!), the URF application process stands out as refreshingly pleasant and straightforward.
You can read more about Toby's work here