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IARC International Fellowships Programme

Final Report Summary - IARC FELLOWS (IARC International Fellowships Programme)

The objective of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is to promote international collaboration in cancer research. The Agency is inter-disciplinary, bringing together skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be adopted. A significant feature of the IARC is its expertise in coordinating research across countries and organizations. The Agency has a particular interest in conducting research in LMICs through partnerships and collaborations with researchers in these regions.

As a key component of its Education and Training statutory mission, the IARC Fellowship Programme was the first research programme to be set up in 1966 when the Agency was created and has been running successfully ever since. The aim of the Programme is to provide young postdoctoral scientists with training in aspects of cancer research, ranging from biostatistics and epidemiology to mechanisms of carcinogenesis and, ultimately, to assist the development of cancer research and prevention in all countries, with special emphasis on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). More than 600 Fellows have benefitted from the Programme in its nearly 50 years of existence. Additional information about the IARC Fellowship programme is available from the IARC Education and Training site:

In addition to the Fellows described above, the Agency hosts a number of postdoctoral scientists supported by project funds from scientific Groups. Postdoctoral Fellows may be extended by Groups at the end of their fellowship, for a maximal total duration of 4 years.

In 2010, the IARC Fellowship Programme was successful in obtaining a grant from the FP7 Marie Curie Actions – People, Co-funding of Regional, National and International Programmes (COFUND), representing a major boost to the programme and resulting in a 30% increase in the regular budget devoted by IARC to the Programme for the 2010-2011 biennium. This in turn led to a significant rise in the number of postdoctoral scientists enrolled in the Programme. The enhanced visibility of the Programme resulted in an increased interest from IARC’s Participating States, leading to the establishment of new bi-lateral fellowship programmes. The Programme was reviewed during the 49th Session of the IARC Scientific Council in January 2013, which expressed approval and renewed support.

Within this grant period, four calls for applications were launched in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 and widely disseminated through a variety of media. Applications were considered from candidates from any country having finished their doctoral degree (PhD) within 5 years of the closing date for application, or in the final phase of completing their doctoral degree. Applications from candidates from LMICs or applicants from any part of the world, but with projects related to LMICs, were encouraged. The fellowships were tenable in Lyon, France, for a period of 2 years, the extension for a second year being subject to satisfactory appraisal. Fellows were selected on the basis of scientific excellence by a Selection Committee composed of external scientists of international reputation in the field of cancer research, together with scientists working at IARC and representatives from WHO and from the Union for International Cancer Control.

Twenty-nine Fellows from 21 countries benefitted from the grant, corresponding to a total of 48 Fellowship-Years. Although the Fellowship-Years were initially planned to correspond to 24 Fellows, 6 of them either did not request an extension or had to leave earlier than planned (for personal or professionals reasons). This impacted on the time-table and budget distribution required to meet the number of Fellow-years declared in the Agreement. A no cost extension of 9 months granted by COFUND allowed the programme to reach the planned 48 Fellowship-Years, allocated over 29 Fellows. On average over the four-year period, more than half of awardees were women and about 60% of Fellows were from LMICs. Fellowships were awarded in the following areas of cancer research: epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental chemical carcinogenesis, cancer etiology and prevention, infection and cancer, molecular cell biology, molecular genetics, molecular pathology and mechanisms of carcinogenesis, with emphasis given to interdisciplinary projects. In terms of outcomes, close to 40 publications resulted from the Fellowships and over 50 are in preparation, most them being directly relevant to cancer control and prevention.

The Programme was further developed during the period of the grant, to include new activities to enhance career prospects of Fellows. The Postdoctoral Fellowship Charter was introduced in 2011 as a set of tools to clarify respective roles and responsibilities for all postdoctoral scientists and IARC, as well as to describe the opportunities given. In particular, and in addition to the wealth of scientific seminars and informal learning opportunities available at the Agency, a generic courses programme was set up in order to equip early career scientists at IARC with essential cross-cutting skills (i.e. management, communication, ethics, etc.). Needs were initially collected through the planning tool integrated in the Charter, as well as entrance and exit interviews, conducted respectively a few months after the arrival of the Fellow and upon departure. In addition to internal courses, the grant also contributed to finance attendance at some external courses. Based on the feedback received from Fellows during the first years of this grant and following the recommendation of the Agency’s Scientific Council, IARC supported the creation of an Early Career Scientists Association (ECSA) in 2013 which groups all post-docs and students at IARC to promote opportunities for training, career development, social activities, and regular dialogue with IARC management. Learning needs assessments have been conducted jointly by the Fellowship Programme and the ECSA and the feasibility of a mentoring programme explored, in order for Fellows to get additional senior advice on career paths. Fellows highlighted the quality of the environment provided and the relevance and usefulness of those complementary opportunities for career development. They reported having benefitted from a unique training experience in an international, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary research environment.

Out of the 23 Fellows who have now completed their Fellowship (6 are still Fellows at IARC), 17 have a permanent position. More than 90% of past Fellows are now working in the public sector in several countries. The decision, taken at the beginning of the grant period, to open the calls to candidates from any country, as well as the more recent waiving of the obligation for Fellows to return back to their country of origin, resulted in increased trans-national mobility and contributed to enhancing the career prospects of bright researchers from all regions of the World, including from Europe. Two thirds of Fellows are still active in cancer research, with about a third managing their own group. A good majority of Fellows continue to work with IARC at the end of their fellowship and still maintain other international collaborations derived from their fellowship. Fellows report they can apply either totally (50%) or partially (50%) what they learned at IARC to their research when they went back to their home institute or in their new position.

The five Fellows from LMICs who benefited from a Return Grant (modest seed grant to help the Fellow start up an independent research programme linked to IARC activities upon return to his/her home country), indicate that this benefited their career as well as their institution (promotion, related funding, continuation of the project initiated at IARC, etc.).

More than 80% of Fellows considered the Fellowship to be either decisive or helpful for their career. The areas of their fellowship training and experience that had the most impact on their career were their collaborators (internal and external), the quality of the scientific environment and the opportunities for international collaborations. The reputation of IARC, as a research institution part of the World Health Organization and offering a global perspective on cancer research, was also underlined as a positive aspect of the Fellowship environment. An interview from one of the Fellows highlighting some of the above is available here:

These results further confirm the previously documented outcomes of the IARC Fellowship Programme1 as a unique opportunity for early career cancer researchers to develop complementary skills in preparation for a high-level scientific career, contributing to the production of evidence that may lead to the adoption of cancer prevention and control measures. The extension of support from the EU, through the award of a new EC-FP7 Marie Curie Actions-People-COFUND grant for the period 2013–2018, will further contribute to the growth of the programme and the development of training facilities and capacities in all regions of the World, including Europe.

Additional information:

1Montesano R1, Akroud EE International Agency for Research on Cancer fellowships programme-over 30 years of experience. Carcinogenesis. 1999 Nov;20(11):2041-4