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Dr Joana Faria

Sir Henry Dale Research Fellow

The Fellowship

I am a recipient of a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship, funded through a partnership between the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust. The scheme provided support for postdoctoral researchers who aimed to become independent scientists leading their own groups. The scheme usually funded up to £1.3 million, including salary and research expenses for a period of 5 years – it closed in 2021 and has since been replaced by the Wellcome Career Development Award.

My background

I did my PhD in Microbiology between the University of Porto (Portugal, where I’m originally from) and the Institut Pasteur Korea (Seoul, South Korea) and graduated in 2016. I then took a postdoctoral position at the University of Dundee to work on genetic mechanisms underpinning antigenic variation, using African trypanosomes as a model system. I’m fascinated by this subject and more broadly by gene expression control in divergent eukaryotes.

Choosing the Scheme and the Host Institution

The work I developed during my postdoc provided a solid foundation and inspiration for my fellowship application. The Sir Henry Dale Fellowship was a very attractive option, as my research is well suited within the remit of their funds. It provides fellows with a realistic opportunity to become independent. Also, being part of the Royal Society Community is a great privilege and comes with so many opportunities for career development.

When I first started writing applications, I contacted several Universities to give departmental seminars. This allowed me to have one-to-one meetings with several members of the Department and learn about their research interests. Also, that gave me the chance to have a tour of the facilities and assess whether I would have easy access to the technology I needed.

The University of York rapidly became the obvious choice for me:

  • Vibrant research community in multiple areas related to my research and therefore fostering ample potential for collaboration;
  • Access to state-of-the-art technologies;
  • Opportunities for career progression: good track record in having fellows securing faculty positions before the end of the Fellowship;
  • Strong support to prepare the application.

Preparing the Application

The application process was daunting, but alleviated by the extreme generosity and support by several members of the Department, not only senior PIs but also other fellows and members of the various facilities, etc.

I had discussions with many people about the hypotheses, the feasibility of the experimental approaches, and very importantly whether I was communicating my science as clearly as possible. Also, I had precious help defining the budget, which is a real struggle for the uninitiated.

After my interview was confirmed, I was subjected to a very rigorous mock interview, which scrutinised my proposal and all its potential weaknesses. The panel included people who were experts in various aspects of my research and/or familiar with the funding bodies I had applied to. It was stressful, but in the end, I was so much more prepared, and so grateful that without any guarantee that I would be successful, people took so much of their time to dissect my proposal and help me prepare. It gave me a sense that I was already part of the Department.

Where I am now

I’m currently in the early stages of setting up my lab. So far, I have been so impressed by how welcoming and helpful people are. I have had immense support by my mentor and other fellows; my neighbour labs have showed great generosity in allowing me to use their equipment and reagents as I get started.

Moreover, I have been allowed to order equipment and apply for PhD positions as a supervisor ahead of the start of my Fellowship so that such things did not cause major disruptions to my proposed work.

I have also received a measure of matched funding from the Department of Biology, shall I need it at the end of the Fellowship to complete my research programme. I recently secured a Lectureship position in the Department, which I’m thrilled about – this will allow me to effectively build my lab as I will be eligible to apply for more grants and PhD positions.

Read our case studies to find out more about Research Fellowships.