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Issue 150 Winter 2023

Endocrinologist > Winter 2023 > Society News


| Society News

Ruth Andrew is Professor of Pharmaceutical Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh, and directs the Clinical Research Facility Mass Spectrometry Core. She sits on the Society for Endocrinology’s Council as General Secretary, and is the incoming Editor-in-Chief for two Society journals: Journal of Endocrinology and Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

We caught up with Ruth, who has also been part of the team modernising the Society’s grants portfolio. We asked her why the time was right to review our grants, and how the new portfolio will better meet our members’ funding needs.

Ruth, how did you become involved with the Society, and how has that relationship progressed?

I was guided to join the Society when I started at the Endocrinology Department at the University of Edinburgh during my first post doc. My first Society event was the 1995 Meeting of the Society in London just before Christmas, where I was selected for a talk. This was very exciting and, at the time, I had to get my slides printed. I remember carefully packing them like gold dust! Since then, I’ve attended every SfE BES conference, and now bring my own team with me.

I became involved with Society activities, first as a local co-ordinator, and then joined the Science Committee. During that time, I was part of the team that developed the Society’s Career Development Workshop with Rob Fowkes and Derek Renshaw. It is really rewarding to see so many of those delegates still attending the SfE BES conference and progressing in their careers.

I spent time on the Society’s Programme Organising Committee, then on Council and, more recently, the Finance Committee. I’ve also been involved in several Society working groups. I’ve found that broad experience has been highly valuable in my current role as General Secretary, where you need a holistic overview to join the jigsaw of the ‘Society group’ together, and make sure we find opportunities to link the right people up.

'As a junior researcher, my first Society grants were for travel, both to the SfE BES conferences and internationally, usually to ENDO.'

How much have grants had an impact on the course of your career?

Hugely – the Society’s grants are enabling, and we probably don’t capture well enough the significant good we’ve done as an organisation. 

As a junior researcher, my first Society grants were for travel, both to the SfE BES conferences and internationally, usually to ENDO. Presenting at these meetings enabled me to gain exposure to international experts and build skills in answering unexpected questions.

Later on, I gained one of the first research grants, and that facilitated an important clinical arm to complement the preclinical studies of one of my PhD students, Alison McNeilly (now a lecturer in Dundee, and an Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Fellow). That translational element really boosted the impact of her work, and opened doors to a more impactful publication. 

Further students of mine have similarly benefited, gaining their own small grants. Some of them, for instance Mark Nixon, have gone on to join the Society’s Leadership and Development Awards Programme. These funds often provide the keys to unlock the full potential of research and researchers. 

My team has also been able to gain Practical Skills Grants to learn from world experts, which not only helps their individual careers, but also enables us to grow as a team through shared knowledge.

In addition, I’ve gained grants to support undergraduates, and I think the grant that gives me the greatest pleasure is the smallest one: the Undergraduate Achievement Award. I’ve held this with Edinburgh colleagues since 2007, to promote endocrinology in Honours years, benefiting both scientists and intercalating medics. It is just £300 per annum and, even then, we split it between several courses and across several activities. We’ve awarded a small part of this award to an undergraduate performing an abstracting task, and the best performing student is often not the one who might shine in the end of term exam. It is hard to express how rewarding it is to see their reaction when their previously untapped skills are unexpectedly recognised.

'It had been a long time since we’d taken a holistic view of the grants portfolio, and it made sense to do this alongside the Society’s strategic review.'

How did our new strategy highlight the need for an updated grants portfolio?

The Society’s grants portfolio had grown iteratively over a number of years, with the best intentions, and resulted in a complicated array of grants, largely focused on junior researchers. The system had become unwieldy, with some disparities in criteria and also no possibility of veering between grant pots to best utilise the available funds. It had been a long time since we’d taken a holistic view of the grants portfolio, and it made sense to do this alongside the Society’s strategic review. 

At the time, the Society’s Council was executing a review of equality, diversity and inclusion, and we wanted to ensure the benefits of membership were clearly available to all. Feedback from our Science and Clinical Committees also highlighted that that it would be valuable to support a larger proportion of our members’ activities, including teaching, clinical audit, and patient and public involvement.

Overall, a more flexible grants structure was proposed, linked to the pillars of our new strategy. This was guided by a working group including representatives from all our member categories. We’re really grateful to Professor Jeremy Tomlinson for stepping forward to lead the new Grants Panel, and the next year will allow us to embed and shape the new portfolio, to provide the maximum benefit to members.

How will our new grants support the changes in members’ funding needs, post-pandemic?

Speaking as a researcher, I find there has been a move to greater integration of data science and support from expert technology facilities. Going forward, training in computer programming, such as R, is becoming an essential research skill. 

Although not pandemic-related, another evolving change is the participation of patients and the public in research design and execution. The UK is one of the world leaders in this area; integrating these constituencies is now essential for a successful grant application, even for basic science. 

The Society can help with this through linking to patient groups, and also by providing essential funds for an initial scoping, to satisfy the larger funders of feasibility, as well as evaluating population numbers in database resources.

Who can apply for the new grants?

Everyone (subject to being a member for the appropriate amount of time). Even student members can be part of a team application. Our governance body still has a strong desire to support early career researchers, but the new portfolio allows other members to apply on merit. The proportions of junior to senior members supported is something that Council and the new Grants Panel will be monitoring closely, until we get it right.

'All the Society’s grants will now be reviewed on merit, by the same committee, to allow equity across the portfolio.'

Why did the Society decide that grant applications should now be marked by a Grants Panel?

This arose through recommendations from our Science Committee, where the Chair, Kevin Murphy, scoped best practice. Having a dedicated Grants Panel will also bring us in line with guidance from the Association of Medical Research Charities. All the Society’s grants will now be reviewed on merit, by the same committee, to allow equity across the portfolio. And, although our Council has provided guidance on how, roughly, the funds should be split amongst different grant types, evaluation of all grants by one panel will bring greater flexibility about how funds are distributed, ensuring that we spend every penny on members!

The Society is also going to offer 25% of the spaces on the Grants Panel to more junior members who want to gain experience of grant-awarding panels. This will allow us to develop our members, so that the Society can be highly represented in the larger UK funding bodies. We are a small Society, but we already punch above our weight nationally, so we need to keep that up by developing a sustainable stream of leaders in all career types.

What does this mean for our members?

Well, first, please check out the opportunities and read the new guidance on the website; become familiar with what is on offer and the deadlines. Grants will be judged by the panel three times annually and, wherever possible, feedback will be given. All the opportunities that were there previously are still there now, but they may be ‘wearing a different hat’ and require more justification. 

Some of our previous grants were awarded on a capacity basis; that is no longer the case. All will be judged on merit, so justification is now more important. If you have a need and a reason, and can express the value and impact that the grant will have, please apply.

'The Society is going to offer 25% of the spaces on the Grants Panel to more junior members who want to gain experience of grant-awarding panels.'

Do you see this having a big effect on endocrinology?

I probably need to reflect on the impacts I have seen. These grants had a large impact on me at a junior stage, and enabled me to improve the impacts of my research outcomes. My team has also benefited from access to funds for skills training or supporting a summer student. These benefits don’t just help the student, they help train the young academic in supervision, and provide evidence of their leadership skills for their own progress reviews. For me, being on the Society’s Science Committee offered me my first experiences of grant reviewing, and helped me gain roles on national and international panels.

The Society’s Meeting Support Grants also have a significant impact. I’ve been lucky to have been involved with teams in Edinburgh delivering small conferences with the help of these awards. These have led to highly stimulating events, fostering ongoing collaborations and developing younger colleagues. Two of the Society’s Leadership and Development Awardees were on the programme committees for these events, which gave them their first taste of how to develop stimulating programmes, with opportunities for networking and student development. At least one, Zoi Michailidou (our incoming Science Committee Chair), has gone on to work on the Programme Committee for the SfE BES conference.

So, I believe these awards help us to promote excellent endocrine science and clinical medicine but, importantly, they also enable our members to rise to the top in their own arena as champions of endocrinology.

What is your advice to members who are considering applying for grants?

Well, first of all, please do so! We want to support you. The process is competitive, so make it easy for us to award the grant. We’ve also got useful resources on the careers pages of our website, which explain what a good grant application looks like, so make sure you take time to think about that, and also take advice from your peers who have been successful in the field. 

If you have a specific question, ask us. As with any process, read the guidance and try to answer all aspects. If we can’t award a grant to you the first time, please take on board the feedback and, if it encourages you to reapply, please do. That type of feedback is genuinely trying to encourage you, because we think – with some tweaks – you can succeed. 

Lastly, please help us by telling us how the grants have helped you, so that we can engage others.

Discover Society Grants and Awards

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