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Research Leaders 2025 - A Fellowship Programme developing the Next Generation of Agri-Food Research Leaders

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ResearchLeaders2025 (Research Leaders 2025 - A Fellowship Programme developing the Next Generation of Agri-Food Research Leaders)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-07-31

Agriculture and food research were selected as two of fourteen priority research areas for Ireland’s national Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) in 2011. Since then, there has been an unprecedented national investment in agri-food research. However the position of contract researchers in the system remains difficult. The major national funder in the area focuses its funding schemes on projects which recruit early career researchers, up to junior post-doctoral level. Many researchers find that, after completing a PhD and several years’ post-doc work, they have very limited career options. The lack of career progression for female researchers is particularly concerning. A 2014 report found that while 50% of lecturers in Irish universities are female, only 19% of professors are female. The Irish agri-food sector is vital to Ireland's economic performance, rural development and response to climate change. The current national strategy for the agri-food sector Food Wise 2025 sets ambitious targets for the sector. The successful implementation of this and future strategies relies on the next generation of research leaders.
This fellowship programme will address these issues. It recognises the need to develop the next generation of leaders in agri-food research. Inspired by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Global Fellowships, it focuses on researcher-driven mobility. The programme offers applicants the opportunity to conduct their research in an academic or non-academic organisation of their choice worldwide (outside of Ireland) for 18 months, followed by a return phase to Teagasc (Ireland) for 18 months. The applicant will freely choose the research topic, the outgoing host (and supervisor) and the supervisor for the return phase. In addition, if the outgoing phase is with an academic host, they may choose to incorporate a secondment for up to six months to a non-academic collaborator of their choice.
The need to address the “leaky pipeline” whereby many promising female researchers do not achieve senior positions is a strong focus of the programme. An International Expert Advisory Board, have reviewed all documentation for the programme to ensure that there is no unintended bias against, or discouragement of, female applicants. Remote review cohorts and the final review panel have been gender balanced. Successful female applicants will be facilitated in finding a senior female researcher to serve as a career mentor.

The overall objective of the programme is to foster the next generation of agri-food research leaders to underpin the objectives of the Food Wise 2025 strategy.
Two funding calls for fellowships have been launched, with evaluation and selection completed. Nine fellows are already in place in prestigious host organisations in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, All fellows have career mentors. 11 more fellows will be appointed in the coming months.
This fellowship programme builds on the already excellent Marie Sklodowska Curie International Fellowship model. It gives fellows experience in an international research group, followed by a return phase to Ireland. It also offers an opportunity of a placement in industry or a civil society organisation. This will build up the fellows' network of collaborators, a vital tool for future research leaders. There is a strong commitment to gender balance, with evaluation groups being gender balanced and a target of at least 40% of applications from each gender. Furthermore, each fellow will be allocated a career mentor, who will focus only on career development aspects with the fellow. This has been found to be particularly important for female academics, who often lack senior role models within their organisation. During the return phase, the fellows will each complete a qualification in people management. The aim of all of these activities is to develop the next generation of research leaders.