Dr Alison Simmons is the Senior Research and Policy Manager at The Medical Research Foundation, the charity of the MRC based in CAN Mezzanine Old Street.
The Medical Research Foundation funds scientists to advance medical research and improve human health, in areas of low research investment and high unmet need.
Prior to this position, Alison did a PhD and postdoctoral research in immunology, and worked in portfolio management of infectious Disease and immuno-biology team at the Wellcome Trust.
1. Your typical day
I always start the day with the same breakfast – muesli and espresso – but after having a predictable breakfast I always have an unpredictable day at work!
On a typical day, I will work on one of the funding schemes we are running in different scientific areas – currently, we are running competitions for scientists in hepatitis and pain research. This might involve scoping out the current research in the area, reading applications, or working with our team to set up a panel meeting to assess the science.
I am always thinking about how we can best support our funded scientists, and often I will meet with other funders such as the MRC or the Academy of Medical Sciences to discuss what we are doing in this area. I will often spend a lot of my day talking to the other teams at the Foundation in Governance, Finance and Development, to think about how we can continue our high standards of grant-making and continue to get the most impact from our donations. Because of my background in immunology research and infectious disease, I’ve recently also been talking to people about what to believe in all the headlines about coronavirus, and what guidance is worth listening to.
2. You’re responsible for…
I lead the Research Funding Team at the Medical Research Foundation.
We are a team of five and we are responsible for hitting the Medical Research Foundations target of spending £5 million per year on medical research for the next five years.
I am responsible for developing and implementing the strategy for investing in the research areas of high unmet need, low research investment, that our Trustees have agreed on.
Currently, we are funding scientist working on areas as diverse as anti-microbial resistance, adolescent mental health, and stroke in young adults amongst others, and I try to stay up-to-date with scientific advances in these fields and keep in regular communication with our funded researchers.
3. How do you feel working at Medical Research Foundation?
Very proud to be a part of a charity with such a unique mission, and which despite its small size, has a strong reputation because of our longstanding links to the MRC.
4. Your greatest achievement
I hope that my greatest achievement will be contributing to medical research in a number of ways – both my previous work in the lab as a PhD and postdoctoral scientist and my work since funding other researchers - to make a big difference!
5. Your greatest challenge
Our greatest challenge is ensuring we can continue to invest in our researchers to push forwards medical research and to do this our Research team needs to interact really closely with our wonderful Development and Fundraising team, to tell them about all the exciting research results we have funded to ensure we continue to have donations from the giving public.
My greatest personal challenge is a cliché to all working parents – but it is the challenge of being present and able to commit enough time to both my work and my two little girls, and combat the feeling of being pulled in two directions: I feel lucky that I love both aspects of my life in this way!
6. What have you learnt so far?
That it is not always the amount of money spent on research that makes the difference but being careful and thoughtful about how it is spent.
7. Your plan B…
I’ve always loved science, and apparently I told my parents when I was three that I was going to be a “lady doctor”, so hopefully I have achieved plan A and plan B is whatever comes next!
8. Coffee or Tea?
I am afraid I am a horrible person to go for a coffee with as I am a real coffee snob: a terrible combination of needing a baseline level of caffeine to get through the day yet turning my nose up at most coffee offered to me!
9. Your favourite quote…
When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Winnie-the-pooh, to the extent of never being without my “Pooh” toy which I still have to this day.
I have since realised he was actually very wise, and of his many words of wisdom I like both “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart” and also “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?”
10. Your inspiration?
I am constantly inspired by people!
Regularly, by the scientists we fund – having a background in medical research myself I know first hand how difficult it is to sustain a career in this area: it is their incredible passion and determination that gives us the exciting results I love reading about.
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