How to Apply for a Post-doc Fellowship Seminar – What We Learned

Computer_keyboardThe Melbourne School of Population and Global Health held a seminar at 12.30pm on the 10th June 2015 on how to apply for NHMRC and ARC Postdoc Fellowships.

On the panel were Dr Amy Pennay, current NHMRC Early Career Fellow, Dr Dennis Petrie, current holder of ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, Dr Nic Geard, current holder of ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, and Professor Tony Jorm, Professorial Fellow, NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and NHMRC Early Career Fellow panel member (see for details).

Here are some bullet take-away points that you might find useful when considering applying for a Fellowship:

1) Read previous winning applications, even from outside your field! They will help you understand how to format your application (particularly the non-project proposal bits). Find winning proposals here:

2) It’s a good thing to feel slightly uncomfortable when selling yourself and your project – if you don’t, you’re probably not selling yourself enough!

3) Make sure to get as many people as you can to read your work (i.e. supervisors, senior non-experts in the field, peers, previous winners, etc)

4) Make sure to think about who the target audience is when writing your proposal – most likely you won’t have a panel of experts in your field. Remember that you don’t need to go into fine-grained detail of the methodology, but make sure to make it clear to the panel that if they don’t know exactly how you’re going to do your research, YOU do.

5) FOR (Field of Research) codes are super important for ARC DECRA fellowships. Choose your FOR coding wisely, because they help to direct your proposal to your desired panel. Make sure to send it to a panel that will be sympathetic to your track record and your previous research (not necessarily to the new field, if you’re moving to a new field!)

6) You need to start thinking about how your research will translate into things beyond just high-impact publications. Remember to talk about things such as policy translation, commercialisation, engagement with the wider community, etc.

7) Be ok with dropping names all over the place – the panel probably won’t know you, but they’ll certainly know the experts that you collaborate with or work alongside. Make sure to let them know other people that you will be working with, and not just the supervisor. This makes the project sound much more feasible, and it makes you sound much more connected in the research community.

8) Really talk up your supervisors brilliance (along with your own, of course) – talk about their international status, and their strong track record

9) Make it clear to the panel that you are the only person who can do the research that you’re proposing, as evidenced by the previous research that you’ve done

Innovation feasibility scales(1)10) There is a fine line between proposing an innovative project, but also a feasible one. Keep that in mind at all times!

11) You need to SELL your story. Find a point of uniqueness to you and your research skills that set you apart from the other brilliant candidates out there. Remember that most other applications will be just as fantastic as yours and you really need to try to stand out as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to be forthright about what you can do and what you have done.

12) Being involved with things other than research is important – track record is important, but also try to be involved in organising conferences, reviewing grants/manuscripts for journals, being an editor of a journal, mentoring or supervising students/interns/research assistants

13) Make it clear that your track record is important in your field – some people will have Nature papers, but that doesn’t mean that your work isn’t important. You need to highlight that the journals you’ve published in are in the top percentile of your field.

14) It is good to somehow place your research proposal within a fundable perspective – i.e. say how the project will be currently funded (i.e. is it a part of cat 1 funding through your supervisor or is it a data set that’s already collected?)

15) Most NHMRC ECR winners from last year had on average 11 papers, with 6 of those as first author. It goes without saying that the most important thing to try to focus on is first author papers.


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