UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship

The UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship offers UCL academics the freedom to explore paradigm-shifting ideas.

The fellowship goes to UCL researchers whose ideas challenge the norm and have the potential substantially to change the way we think about an important subject. The fellowship will go to applicants with exceptionally high potential. Intellectually ambitious researchers employed by UCL from all disciplines and of any status are encouraged to apply.

The scheme is unique in that there are no deadlines and few rules. Thus, the application process is informal and selection will be based on interactive dialogue rather than peer review. Departmental permission or indeed consultation is not required initially. Selection will be based on the intellectual depth of the proposed ideas, their originality and potential for expansion. Initial applications should be short (less than about 500 words), indicate the problem to be tackled, its global significance and the resources required.

Applicants with a possible case for support will be invited to discuss their ideas with a small team from the UCL Office of the Vice-Provost for Research. The UCL President and Provost will make his final decision based on their recommendations. Successful applicants will initially be supported for three years.

Current UCL Provost's Venture Research Fellow Dr Nick Lane (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment) is investigating the origins of life. The latest account of his work, Life: is it inevitable or just a fluke?, appears in New Scientist.

Honorary Professor Donald Braben (UCL Earth Sciences) who leads the selection team, says: "Nick Lane's work has proved to be a perfect example of what we look for in this unique Fellowship. Almost everything we value today came from the work of such great scientists as Planck, Einstein, Avery, Townes, Crick and Watson and perhaps 500 others of similar calibre – the 'Planck Club'. However, few if any of them were famous when they set out on their great works; what they needed was freedom. Few if any of them would be likely to get funded if they were setting out now  as they would be unlikely to satisfy today’s bureaucratic requirements. Many of the advances made by these workers have been recognised by Nobel Prizes or equally prestigious awards. The UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship will go to UCL researchers whose ideas have the potential to be as significant as this but which under today’s rules are unlikely to qualify for support by national funding agencies.”

For more information contact Professor Braben.

Background on Venture Research and its wider significance can be found in Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization, by Donald W Braben (Wiley 2008). The book also offers detailed examples of Venture Research selection procedures in 26 specific cases covering the disciplinary spectrum. Copies of the book are available for consultation in the UCL Library.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), said: “The UCL Research Strategy commits our university to applying its expertise to the resolution of the world’s major problems – what we call the Grand Challenges of Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing. While interdisciplinary collaboration is central to this effort, we recognise that lone scholarship has a crucial role to play.”

“The UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship is a novel mechanism through which truly exceptional thinkers such as Nick Lane will be given the opportunity to transcend conventional research constraints. The outcomes are unpredictable and, for that reason, unusually promising. The ultimate purpose, however, is clear: to transform knowledge into wisdom, and by applying that wisdom, to elevate humanity’s circumstances.”

October 2010: Update on progress

October 2009: Inaugural award

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