In this article, ERUK Trustee Professor Stephanie Schorge discusses how ERUK grants provide a “lifeline” for people with epilepsy and researchers alike.

Once a year, lifelines in the form of ERUK grants are issued, ensuring research into the causes, treatments and diagnosis of epilepsy is sustained in the UK. Whoever catches a lifeline will benefit hugely and could change the entire focus of research into epilepsy.

It is an uncomfortable truth that most research jobs last only a few years. Upon finishing a PhD, the typical career path involves undertaking a series of three-year postdoctoral positions. Projects, careers and family life depends on getting the next grant.

For younger researchers in particular, there are relatively few funding opportunities, potentially preventing them from pursuing a career in epilepsy research.

This is why ERUK grants are so vital. We researchers all know when the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) meets to determine whether grants will be shortlisted (November). After being invited to submit applications in January we all check in with each other to celebrate being shortlisted or commiserate if not. We try to be gracious when our colleagues make it through and our own applications crash.

But most importantly – once we’ve made it through the preliminary selection and submitted our full applications, we all know to a heartbeat when the SAC will have met again, and when the decision will have been made about which grants will be funded.

A researcher’s salary often evaporates every three years, so being awarded an ERUK grant provides a real lifeline.

Meanwhile, a few very successful early career researchers will be awarded fellowships – the ERUK Emerging Leader Fellowship. These fellowships can transform a career and greatly contribute to the care of people living with epilepsy. Fellowships are also attractive to universities as they get to host the Fellow’s research (and share credit for their discoveries!) while ERUK covers the salary and project costs.

So, every year when the SAC meets and ranks the 20-30 shortlisted applications to select the most promising ones to recommend for funding, those 20-30 research groups (not just the main applicants) but their students, postdocs, colleagues and departmental heads – will be holding their breath, and checking their emails every 15 seconds. Receiving a grant from ERUK can significantly enhance a researcher’s career. More importantly, it drives forward research to increase our knowledge of epilepsy and affect real change for those with the condition.

Professor Stephanie Schorge
Trustee, Epilepsy Research UK
Professor of Translational Neuroscience
UCL School of Pharmacy