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Sana Suri and Liliana Capitao discuss their experiences of securing support from the Returning Carers Fund and the difference it made to them and their research.

The Returning Carers Fund is a non-competitive fund for any member of research staff (of any gender or type of caring leave) who has taken a break for caring reasons to help with your return to your research career. For leave of 3-6 months you can apply for up to £3,000, and those taking over six months can apply for up to £6,000. The fund has a deadline every term in the fifth week.

B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. D.Phil. (Oxon) Sana Suri - Associate Professor | Alzheimer's Society Research Fellow

Associate Professor Sana Suri

BSc, MSc, DPhil Liliana Capitao - NIHR Project Manager/Research Coordinator

Dr Liliana Capitao

When did you apply for the RCF?

I applied six months after returning from maternity leave and I am just coming up to the end of the year's support.  

I applied for the RCF right after coming back from maternity leave, in October-November 2021.

How did you hear about it?

I knew about it from my role on the Athena SWAN Committee but was reminded about the award through the Psychiatry mailing list.  

Some of my colleagues had applied for it, so I heard about it through them. 

How was the application process for you?

It was a very straightforward application process with a quick turnaround. There is a short form which asks why you need the money, what for, and how it would be helpful. There was lots of grant writing support from the Medical Sciences Division who recommended being very specific about what I wanted to do with the award, and why other sources of funds couldn't cover it, and to be very explicit and open about any barriers I would face if I didn't have this fund.

The application process went very smoothly. The actual application form is short and straightforward, which really helped.  I also received support from different people. One of my colleagues, who was previously successful in her application, shared her experience with me and gave me useful advice.  I then approached my line manager, Catherine Harmer, who was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to apply. I also received practical support from Katherine Corr, Athena Swan Advisor from the Medical Sciences Division, who was always very kind in answering my questions and encouraging. I should also mention that Moira Westwood was also very positive and supportive throughout the whole process. 

What did you do with the funding?

I used it to support IT/computational costs for my lab for a year, and to hire a Research Assistant for 6-8 weeks to finish writing a paper. I had a plan with what I wanted to do with the fund, but I ran it past Katherine Corr to check that it was within the remit.

I requested funding for a variety of purposes, including funding to cover participants costs for a research study, as well as financial support to attend one course and conferences.

Has it helped your career? How has it impacted on you?

The award gave me the funds that are typically crucial but also very difficult to source for a junior PI like myself. It allowed me to fund my lab’s IT bills for a year, and make significant progress on a senior author paper, both of which have impacted my career progression. 

This funding was instrumental in facilitating my return to research, after being on maternity leave for nearly one year. The transition back to work can be challenging, but having the financial support to conduct one of my first studies as an independent researcher, as well as having the opportunity to expand my network and knowledge through courses/conference attendance, has been invaluable. Beyond the tangible benefits, this funding also helped boost my self-confidence as a newly “working mother”, reaffirming my commitment to research.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone applying for a RCF?

Be as detailed as possible as to how the period of parental leave has delayed a body of work. And explain how the award will contribute to your future goals, .e.g. how it may provide pilot data for a future fellowship, or help wrap up a paper for a major conference - the outcomes of the award should be clear. 

I encourage anyone applying to reach out to colleagues who have previously applied. Their first-hand experience can be incredibly helpful in navigating the application process. Your line manager can also help you through this experience and help you think about ways in which this funding can support your career. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions, the team responsible for this fund is really committed to helping researchers throughout this whole process.

Anything else you’d like to add...

I would like to thank the University for this fantastic opportunity and everyone who helped me throughout this process. I wish the best of luck to any applicants who are considering applying.

If you have any questions, want to apply or if you’re not sure if you are eligible drop a message to your divisional representative Katherine Corr

Find out more about the Returning Carers Fund.