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Being an MQ Fellow: Dr Petra Vértes

MQ’s 2020 Fellows Call opened for applications earlier this month looking to fund the most talented early-career researchers to become future leaders in mental health science.

Dr Petra Vértes is one of our 2017 Fellows. She’s at the University of Cambridge exploring what’s going on in the brain when symptoms of schizophrenia arise, with the hope of supporting the development of new targeted treatments.

We spoke to Petra about what the MQ Fellows Award means to her.

The MQ Fellows Award undoubtedly changed the career paths open to me. I applied as I was returning from maternity leave with only a few months of my contract ahead of me. At the same time, I narrowly missed out on an MRC and a Wellcome Trust fellowship so I was increasingly uncertain what options I had for continuing my career in the UK. The MQ Fellows Award felt like a real vote of confidence at that time.

My work is at the basic end of the translational pipeline. So it was especially encouraging that an impact-oriented organisation like MQ was interested in supporting me. Since starting my Fellows Award, I have had the chance to meet several MQ supporters, including the family of Stephen Palmer who are supporting my own fellowship in his memory, and this has definitely added to the sense of responsibility to use this Award as best I can, and move the needle in mental health research.

MQ have been incredibly flexible in allowing me to use my award to best progress my career. This has given me the opportunity to apply for more permanent positions. I have since received multiple offers and am now starting my own group at the University of Cambridge. I couldn’t be more delighted and I know I would not be in this position without the MQ Fellows Award.

Alongside funding my research MQ have also involved me in a number of events, initiatives and fundraising efforts. This has been fun and incredibly inspiring. MQ has a clear vision to transform mental health through research and I am always impressed by the energy, creativity and drive of everyone involved to deliver on this vision. This experience has made me a proud MQ ambassador wherever I go.

As someone from a physics background, I started out with less experience of engaging people with lived experience. However, I quickly realised that it is easy for a research programme to get lost without the support and involvement of those it is trying to serve. I have since had the opportunity to discuss my work with a number of people who have had first-hand experience of psychosis. I was excited and humbled to discover that even fairly basic research on psychosis can provide much hope and generate much interest. This has been very motivating and has also helped to keep me focussed on the aspects of the research that matter most on the ground.

Mental health science is a relatively new field and is hugely underfunded relative to the unmet needs it aims to address. It is also a highly interdisciplinary science, which compounds the difficulty for researchers in the field. Interdisciplinary research is often encouraged at the postdoctoral level, but the transition to leading an independent research team can be tricky because most faculty positions are recruited for by specific departments.

The MQ Fellows Award is a real boost in launching your independent career. It values interdisciplinary research but is recognised as a prestigious and highly competitive award by a number of departments. In this way MQ is really helping to shape the future of a young interdisciplinary field like mental health science, one fellow at a time.

Apply now

MQ 2020 Fellows call is open for applications

Last updated: 2 March 2020

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