Transcript for UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme
Professor Paul Newman, University of Oxford
How can you have a vehicle, a robot, a driverless car, go out into the world and operate for a long period of time without needing any help from humans? I wanted to build something quite substantive in terms of a research presence here in the UK.
I took a sabbatical to write the grant, wrote it and won it and it changed everything after that. It allowed me to engage in something that was way beyond what I would have been able to do if I’d been having a normal academic life, in that we built the UK’s first driverless car and stuck it on the roads back in 2012.
Since then it’s been a rocket ride. From that we’ve got three sites now, we’re exporting that technology around the world and it’s not just the cars, this is really interesting. We’re running it in mines, we’re running it in quarries, we’re running it in ports, we’re running it in fields, we’re running it in warehouses. We’re doing personal mobility and we’ve even got it on Mars.
It’s been a really extraordinary thing that I went from the fundamental research and the time spent in doing that, starting a company and then, in the university, have now started to grow the Oxford Robotics Institute, so that story continues from that foundational period.
If you’re considering going for a Future Leaders Fellowship, do. Do it. It is going to change people’s lives. It’s going to be quite extraordinary, the opportunity that this technology will bring us.
Professor Gert Aarts, Swansea University
As we know the universe started with the Big Bang and has cooled down ever since and during this cooling down, it has undergone a series of phase transitions. In particular I’m interested in the phase transition in which quarks and gluons, making up a new state of matter at a very high temperature, changed into protons, neutrons, kaons and other types of elementary particles called hadrons.
This work is motivated by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is aiming to recreate those conditions and our theoretical work feeds into the experimental work and vice versa.
The fellowship allowed me to make a transition from a fixed term researcher to a full blown academic, giving me the opportunity to delve deeper into the matter and being able to develop an ambitious research programme which takes more time to implement and to deliver.
One of the really nice things of having such a fellowship and the position at the university, is that it also allows you to work together with postgraduate students on deep fundamental problems.
Some of the post graduate students will stay in academia after graduation, but many others will actually go into the wider world and apply the skills they have gained during their PhD to issues and problems which have a more direct impact to society as a whole.
It’s great to see the skills that people pick up during a PhD, then being transferred to actual applied problems that are out there.
Professor Victoria Cowling, University of Dundee
Our research investigates how the cells in our body make protein. So this is important because the cells need to make a balance of proteins to function and in diseases such as cancer, cells become unbalanced in the proteins they make and they produce toxic proteins which make us unwell.
So my research aims to understand how cells control which proteins they make, because if we can understand that then we can begin to develop new therapies to control cancer cells and to stop them growing and dividing.
The great thing about the fellowship is that it gives you complete freedom to follow your ideas to completion and get results. Often you need very specialised, very high-end pieces of equipment that aren’t available where you’re working and the fellowship gives you complete freedom to buy what you need to do the job that you want to do.
The equipment that we brought led to us discovering several new proteins that are involved in how genes are read and controlled by cells and these discoveries are now being followed up by the pharmaceutical industry, who are designing treatments based on these proteins with which they hope to control the growth of cancer cells.
If you have an idea that you want to address this is the fellowship that you should apply for. It’s going to give you the freedom and the funding to really follow the dreams and the goals that you have to make those big discoveries that will launch your research career.
Dr Katie Field, University of Leeds
My previous research was focused on the evolution of these plant fungal partnerships 500 million years ago. It was very much blue skies research looking at how the high Palaeozoic CO2 atmosphere affected how these plants functioned with their fungal partners.
But I really wanted my research to have more of an impact on society and everyday people really. Particularly I wanted to look at the function between plants and fungi in agriculture and whether we could use those fungi to improve sustainability in UK agriculture.
So we might be able to use the fungi that are in the soil at the moment to actually help reduce our reliance on chemical fertilisers. So my research is helping to inform UK crop breeders of novel traits they might want to incorporate into their breeding programmes, which in turn is helping to develop new future proof crop varieties which will help feed a growing population across the world.
If you’re looking to change either the direction of your research or the pace at which you are conducting that research, then a research fellowship is a really good place to start. It provides you with the independence and of course the funds that you need to carry out that research. Potentially it opens up entire other areas to you that you hadn’t otherwise considered.