23 July 2013

Professor Kathy Belov holding a baby Tasmanian devil

Image: Professor Kathy Belov holding a baby Tasmanian devil. Photo courtesy, Steve Merenos.

 

An additional round of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) prestigious Future Fellowships scheme was secured and announced in May, as part of the Federal Budget 2013-14.

ARC CEO, Professor Aidan Byrne, welcomed the budget announcement which included an additional $135.3 million for the ARC to continue the scheme and support 150 researchers.

The Future Fellowships scheme was announced by the Australian Government in 2008 and was implemented to promote research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia.

The aim of the scheme is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers. The five-year scheme was due to terminate with the last cohort of Future Fellows to be announced this year.

Professor Byrne said he was pleased the Government had committed to an additional round of the scheme.

“This is a great scheme that has worked extremely well and is strongly supported throughout the research sector,” he said.

“The ARC has just completed a consultation process with the sector on the Future Fellowships scheme and there is overwhelming acknowledgment that it is meeting its objective of attracting and retaining outstanding mid-career researchers.

“Our Future Fellows are undertaking research critical to our nation, for example the work of two of our inaugural Future Fellows has attracted a lot of attention: Professor Kathy Belov is working to save the Tasmanian Devil from extinction researching the facial tumours that are decimating our native population and with great results; and Professor Mark Kendall developed the Nanopatch for efficient vaccine delivery which won him the 2011 Australian Innovation Challenge.”

The news of the extra round was also welcomed by the sector and current Future Fellows. Professor Belov, who tweeted soon after the budget announcement, said she was relieved to see funding for an additional round and was proud to be linked to the scheme.

“Successfully obtaining a Future Fellowship has been really important for my research—it has given me time to actually establish myself.

“During my fellowship I have also been successful in obtaining two other Discovery Project grants and two Linkage Project grants.

“This has really given me time to build my team and I have a very strong team that is working on a range of things, not just research into the Tasmanian Devils (which is what I received the Future Fellowship for). We have research in progress on platypuses, the tammar wallabies and a range of different reptiles, frogs and toads. The Future Fellowship has definitely helped me to get where I want to go.

“My team has produced some really important papers on understanding the Devil Facial Tumour Disease. That has been quite important to me because I’m quite passionate about trying to understand this cancer and trying to help the devil and I think we’re making really good progress towards that. It’s been really important to have financial support to be able to do that, the Future Fellowship plus a number of other grants has made it possible to do this research properly.”

Professor Belov also said that the Future Fellowship had allowed her to collaborate internationally.

“As part of the fellowship I travelled to the US to the Benaroya Institute to construct two Tasmanian devil BAC libraries, which are genetic libraries that hold large fragments of Tasmanian devil DNA.

“I’ve also received a number of invitations to speak at both national and international conferences. Last year I was invited onto the Governance Board of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, one of New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence. I believe that these opportunities would not have occurred had it not been for the Future Fellowship.”

Professor Byrne said that while he was pleased an additional round of the scheme had been secured he was committed to ensuring the scheme was secured in the longer-term.

“I will continue to work with the Government to give this scheme even greater security into the future.

“The ARC has received a wealth of feedback from current Future Fellows who have said this scheme has helped bolster their careers and ensure the important research they are undertaking, to the benefit of the nation, can be undertaken.

“I see this often in researchers, like Professor Belov, in their important contribution to research and the nation and hear their positive endorsement and promotion of the scheme.

“I too believe this is a scheme that should be cemented to allow our mid-career researchers to excel, in their own country, and continue to produce outstanding outcomes,” Professor Byrne said.