Dr Elijah Mak with an MRI scanner

Early career researchers: You are the future of dementia research

Early career researchers have had a particularly tough time in the pandemic, but Alzheimer's Society remains committed to helping you. Find out how.

Alzheimer's Society has supported dementia research for over 30 years, but in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to pause funding new projects.

We weren’t the only ones hit. All over the UK, researchers were locked out of their labs and unable to meet with participants to collect data.

Research is still severely limited – in a recent survey of 55 researchers we fund, 3 in 5 of you told us you’d had to stop some or all of your Alzheimer’s Society-funded work in the lockdown beginning in January 2021.

From this survey, we also found out that you’ve been hugely inventive in making the best of a very difficult situation, prioritising what’s possible and collecting data remotely where you can.

Still, your responses made it clear that you have serious concerns about the future impact of the pandemic on dementia research, especially about funding opportunities and changes in public perception of how important dementia research is.

We don't want to lose you

We know that early career researchers (ECRs) have had a particularly difficult time.

Even before the pandemic, you faced problems like a lack of mentoring and support, and an academic job market in which the number of available posts is far outweighed by the number of people applying. Many of those who’ve started their careers in dementia and could have become world leaders in this field have had to move to other disciplines in order to get funding.

In the last year, these difficulties have been compounded by the practical problems of doing research in a pandemic and the mental health toll that lockdowns can take.

Frankly, we’re worried. We know you’re worried too.

But there is hope.

What we're doing now to support ECRS

Despite everything, thanks to the generosity of the public we’ve been able to fund £800,000 worth of new ECR projects in dementia care and biomedical research this year. We will continue to fund ECRs, because supporting a researcher at the start of their career can protect decades of future work on potentially life-changing discoveries.

You can apply for some of the PhD positions we’ve funded now – summaries of the projects and links to the advertisements are available – and more of these positions will be advertised soon. If none of these are right for you, then keep an eye out for our next funding round, which will be opening this summer.

Some of the challenges for ECRs occur at a policy level, so we’re using our links to the government to highlight the situation you’re in and to fight for a commitment to supporting ECRs as part of the Dementia Moonshot, the Conservative manifesto pledge to double dementia research spending over the next 10 years.

We also coordinate the All-Party Parliamentary Group on dementia, which is currently holding an inquiry into the state of dementia research in the UK. The final session of this inquiry on 27 May will in part focus on dementia ECRs. Find out more about how to tune into and support the inquiry.

The next big breakthrough could come from an ECR - will it be you?

One day, research will cure dementia. For this to happen, we need to keep the pipeline of dementia research talent going – and you make up a vital part of this pipeline. We’re proud to have funded leading researchers like Professor Nick Fox, among many others, from the beginning of their careers.

Every ECR should have the opportunity to make breakthroughs like Nick’s, so we want to make sure that we’re providing the help you need to make that happen.

We’re currently reviewing the support we offer ECRs. Right now, we’re analysing the data we already have. Soon, we’ll be contacting all our current ECRs to ask how Alzheimer’s Society can support you better. We will be building this new, improved support for ECRs into our research funding programme.

You are the future of research and we are committed to backing you.

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