How the IRC can help early career researchers: a case study

Dr Lauren V Hadley, a Senior Research Fellow in the Hearing Sciences department and Early Career Researcher has recently been awarded a prestigious grant of £1.2m as part of a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship. Part of her preparation in the lead up to her interview was to present her research idea at the Health and Wellbeing Interdisciplinary Research Cluster event hosted by IRC lead, Professor Tony Avery. The event was aimed at early career researchers but also involved more senior academics to help with interdisciplinary input to fellowship and grant applications.


We have since spoken to Dr Hadley to find out more about her recent success and to hopefully encourage other aspiring early career researchers.

About the award

The UKRI Future Leader Fellowship, awarded to Dr Hadley in October 2020, will focus on understanding how people make predictions about their partner’s speech when engaged in conversation. It will also address how this differs for people with hearing loss, in order to develop hearing technology that better supports conversation success.

Over the course of the next seven years Dr Hadley will lead a team including postdocs, research assistants, and PhD students, to address how people converse successfully, and why hearing impairment makes it so much harder. Mid-way through, Dr Hadley will spend six months at a hearing aid manufacturer to learn the state-of-the-art of hearing devices, before taking what is learnt to develop new technological solutions in collaboration with colleagues in computer science. The fellowship will provide the opportunity to build a lab to conduct a large-scale research programme and become established as a leader in the field of communicative interaction. 

Advice to anyone getting started

As the work required to put together a good proposal is extensive, it’s critical that you’re passionate about the topic. My advice would therefore be to get really clear about the work you want to do and the questions you want to address, as that enthusiasm will carry you through. It’s in those initial stages that you get to daydream about your ideal research direction – you’re basically defining your perfect job!”

Academic journey

IRC lead, Professor Avery asked Dr Hadley about her journey to date. “My academic journey has taken a somewhat untraditional path, moving between a variety of different disciplines. I started with my undergraduate degree in Musicology at the University of Cambridge, before an MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths College, and then a PhD in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh.  After my PhD, I began an 8-month position at the University of Nottingham’s Hearing Sciences department, during which I ran studies of conversation and learnt about hearing loss. I then went back to a postdoc position at the University of Edinburgh, and whilst writing up the work from my University of Nottingham post heard that my old boss’ job was being advertised. And here I am.”

The challenges

The hardest thing in my academic journey has been the fact that for every success, there have been numerous failures. As academics, I don’t think we’re as transparent about this as we could be. For example, the £1.2m future leader fellowship that I’m thrilled to have won is the culmination of several previous unsuccessful grants (a prior UKRI future leader fellowship, a Henry Wellcome fellowship, a Leverhulme fellowship, and a British Academy fellowship). I have no doubt that these rejections improved my work and my ideas, but it’s always a challenge to shake yourself off, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had the support of my mentors along the way.”

The interview

Dr Hadley, the first to be interviewed virtually by the UKRI panel, commented on the experience. “Interviewing for my fellowship over Zoom was a strange experience and it passed in a flash, but I distinctly remember a couple of points. First, was the warmth of the interviewers, and their attempts to put me at ease with (bad!) jokes. Second, was one of my interviewers disconcertingly getting up and leaving halfway through (a fire alarm apparently – the joys of Zooming from home)! The interview experience was actually a lot more comfortable than I’d expected, with the goal clearly being to allow applicants to demonstrate their passion and expertise, rather than search out their flaws.”

Help to succeed

It was at the Health and Wellbeing IRC Early Career Researcher event that I first tried out my future leader fellowship interview talk. It was really valuable to have a multi-disciplinary group of individuals to share my work with, and the group’s comments substantially improved the clarity of my presentation as well as giving me confidence to take into the real interview. I’m keen to develop the links I made with some people at that event and hope they will lead to collaborations in the future.”

In addition, she noted that support from supervisors, mentors, the head of section, Research and Innovation and operations teams had all been significant contributors to her achievements to date.

Recipe for success

Dr Hadley told Professor Avery, “I’ve always been focused on where I’d like to take my career, and proactive about getting there. That includes being as prepared as possible: for example, by talking to others that have been successful, or who have served on the grant board, when applying for fellowships. It also includes regularly soliciting feedback on how I need to develop my skills to succeed: for example, through 360o feedback with my group and through discussions with mentors. In the end, perseverance is key, but these are definitely things that have helped.”

Advice to others

Talk to someone who has experience with that fellowship scheme!  I also thoroughly recommend getting peer reviews and organising mock interviews once you’ve come up with your proposal – these allowed me to smooth numerous aspects prior to submission and interview.

The IRC management group would like to congratulate Dr Hadley on her UKRI Future Leader Fellowship award and thank her for sharing her insights.

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