Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the career track scientists at the NIMR

  As career track scientists (CT) at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) we wish to provide you with information regarding the discussions about the future of the NIMR.

  Career track scientist positions, which offer six years of support at the same level as established tenured scientists, are designed to allow young scientists to make the transition to independent programme leaders. After six years a decision, based on scientific review, is taken regarding continued support. CT appointments are made on an open and competitive basis. At present there are 17 CT scientists working at the NIMR, of whom 10 are from abroad.

  We have chosen to undertake this crucial step of our scientific career at NIMR over other world-class institutions because we believe that the current organisation of NIMR fosters the careers of young scientists. The organisation of the Institute aids the rapid establishment of independent research programs: senior scientists are supportive, management ensures that science is the first priority and the highly experienced cadre of technicians provides essential support for each lab. Moreover, resources are available to everybody on an equal basis and the coherence and quality of the infrastructure is ideally suited to support successful interdisciplinary projects. Finally, the critical mass of CT scientists (¼ of all programme leaders at present) provides a system of peer support and allows us to participate and contribute actively in shaping the future direction of the institute. We believe that it is critical to consider the value of these attributes when assessing the future of the NIMR—it is of paramount importance that these strengths are maintained and developed at the renewed institute.

  We fully agree that it is useful to look at the long-term future of the NIMR, especially as we will be pursuing our careers beyond the 20-30 year time scale cited. We would like to stress that we are not against change or a move to a central London site per se and have written to the CEO in the past to express this view. However, we do not believe that "a multidisciplinary biomedical research facility focused on basic and translational research" can only be achieved through co-location with a hospital. Indeed, a Task Force member (S Tomlinson, who is strongly in favour of moving into central London) on a recent visit to the NIMR stated that high quality basic and translational research does not depend on co-location with a hospital or HEI. We believe that the Institute in its current location, with adequate investment, is more than able to fulfil the MRC's vision for the future.

  It is our opinion that a decision over the future of NIMR should be based on evidence, however the MRC has yet to provide any evidence to support the need for relocation. We think that the practicalities of finding a suitable single site and the enormous expense of a move to a central London site have not been adequately addressed. It is unclear if a new location will provide the facilities required to support our research, for example, it is uncertain whether sufficient and secure space for laboratory animals and high level containment work will be available. It is also unclear whether large and vibration sensitive instruments including nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers can be adequately sited close to central London train and tube lines. A significant risk of any move is that NIMR's unique qualities and considerable strengths will be diminished. The independence of the institute could be lost, undermining its national role and discouraging collaboration with other organisations. This could seriously damage the important role the NIMR plays in the long-term training and career development of young scientists in the UK. Furthermore, we fear that, should these issues not be properly addressed, this might lead to a loss of senior scientists to institutions abroad, especially the US, reversing the success NIMR has had in recruiting internationally recognised scientists from overseas.

  It is widely acknowledged that establishing independent research programmes is the most difficult step in a scientific career. The disruption caused by the present uncertainty over the future of NIMR only exacerbates these difficulties for us. For these reasons we are dismayed by the apparent lack of reason or evidence to justify a relocation.

  We believe therefore that the risks associated with a relocation should be carefully considered alongside any potential benefits. We fear that by failing to properly consider the potential for development on the current site, the MRC may destroy a valuable national asset, damage UK biomedical research and harm the career prospects of many young researchers—both those already at NIMR and those who would have benefited from the Institute in the future.

James Briscoe
Rita Cha
Alex Gould
Matthew Hannah
Nobue Itasaki
Malcom Logan
Alexandre Potocnik
Kenneth Raj
Andres Ramos
Katrin Rittinger
Iris Salecker
Benedict Seddon
Ricardo Tascon
Ian Taylor
Paul Le Tissier
Qiling Xu
Lyle Zimmerman

22 November 2004

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