Teaming academic expertise with organisational knowhow is at the heart of innovation. For young researchers in Wales, Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2) can open the door to a job in industry, bringing benefits all round. Dr Manon Pritchard, Research Associate in the School of Dentistry, is one of scores of Cardiff University academics who took their first step towards innovation through KESS. But how does it work? The Home of Innovation blog began by asking Manon how she first became aware of KESS funding – and why she applied for the scholarship.
‘Whilst working as a dentist, I became aware of our reliance on antibiotics and this sparked my interest in antimicrobial therapies. An opportunity arose to apply for a KESS PhD scholarship in 2011, working with AlgiPharma AS, a biopharmaceutical company from Norway. The initial aim of my project was to determine the antimicrobial potential of their novel compound derived from seaweed.’
‘What did the KESS funding allow you to do in personal career terms?’
‘Collaborating with the appropriate centre of excellence led to innovative translational research. Further small grants were also obtained which enabled me to learn new techniques e.g. small angle neutron scattering (ILL; Grenoble) and increase our knowledge about the compounds mechanism of action. The funding gave me the opportunity to work with colleagues from many different academic and clinical backgrounds. Many of these successful collaborations have helped me further my development in academia. Following completion of my PhD, I obtained a post-doctoral research associate (PDRA) position through a programme grant funded by the Norwegian Research Council in conjunction with AlgiPharma AS.
‘During my PhD and PDRA post, I presented a number of abstracts on my research at local and international conferences. This not only enhanced the portfolio of my industrial partner but also increased their global visibility. Our research group in the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences also prestigiously won the Cardiff University Medical Impact and Innovation Award in 2017. We attended the “black tie” awards ceremony at the Glamorgan Building in Cardiff Civic Centre and enjoyed the evening celebrating a very successful collaboration, focused on translation of laboratory findings into the clinical setting, all for the ultimate long-term benefit of patients.’
‘How did the KESS funding help the company grow success and expand research?’
‘The funding helped me to establish a number of new research collaborations for the company, and over the years, the work presented (at National and International conferences) and published in peer-reviewed journals, has contributed to multiple third-party funding support for the research (>$10M). I now co-supervise my own KESS 2 PhD student working with the same industrial partner. The continued, on-going success of the industrial partnership (after nearly 10 years of my first working with them) has now led to further industrial partner collaborations on my Sêr Cymru II Precision Medicine Research Fellowship, which I was awarded in 2018.’
‘Securing a Sêr Cymru II Precision Medicine Research Fellowship in 2018 was a huge success. Did the KESS funding provide the foundation and kudos for that award?’
‘My KESS scholarship gave me the opportunity to gain an understanding of how a mutually beneficial collaboration between academia and industry can lead to success. My experience working with an industrial partner, and seeing a product develop from bench to bedside, undoubtedly provided me with knowledge on how to approach the development of novel therapies and establish new industrial collaborations.’
‘What advice and tips would you give to a young postgraduate researcher who might be thinking of applying for KESS funding?’
‘I would recommend applying for KESS funding as it gave me a strong foundation to establish myself as an academic. Anyone given the opportunity to work across the academic-industry boundary will have the opportunity to learn how collaborative efforts from individuals from a wide range of disciplines can drive change.’
Supported by European Social Funds (ESF) through the Welsh Government, KESS 2 links companies and organisations with HE academic expertise to undertake collaborative research projects, allowing a young research to work towards a PhD or Research Masters. Led by Bangor University, KESS 2 involves all universities in Wales. Following the highly successful KESS project (2009-2014), KESS 2 will provide 645 scholarships over the course of six years.
For more information, and to apply, visit http://kess2.ac.uk/
For more details about Manon’s award-winning research, click here