Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Biology


Life Sciences
Roehampton University
London SW15 5PJ


andrea.perna at


Scientific research costs money, and much of it could not happen without the support of public and private funding. It only seems appropriate to acknowledge their support here.
However, universities and research institutions often put too much emphasis on securing funds rather than on the value for money of scientific research. If this is understandable from the point of view of individual institutions and in a logic of mutual competition, this is not usually in the collective interest, leading to a system that potentially could push researchers to apply for and to spend money that they do not actually need, and that favours lines of research intrinsically more expensive while equally interesting (and cheaper) scientific questions remain unanswered. I think it is a duty of researchers at all levels to try and promote a logic of accountability for the money (often from public funds) that we receive. This is why, at least for the most recent funders, I try to comment briefly also on what the funding made possible and to flag aspects that could be improved.

The Daphne Jackson Trust funded:
The post-doctoral project of Shannon Leone Fowler, to work with Lewis Halsey and myself, on the movement ecology and ageing of seabirds.
This is an ongoing project that has just recently started.
The Royal Society funded:
A Newton International Fellowship NIF\R1\180238 that covers the post-doc of Giulio Facchini for 2.5 years (2018-2021)
Was the money well spent?
In terms of scientific output it might be still a bit early to tell as most results are still unpublished. So far one of the scientific manuscripts produced by Giulio during his fellowship has been published [link], which is quite novel both in terms of its biological simplicity (showing that a response to local curvature is sufficient to generate a wide range of features) and in terms of its morphogenetic potential: traditional models of accretion phenomena in physics - often described in the frame of Laplacian growth and diffusion limited aggregation- can produce the growth of structures and a rich branching dynamics, but they cannot typically produce re-connections of the growing tips, which the model proposed by Giulio is capable of describing.
In terms of developing the human and scientific potential, the project was successful: Giulio has also contributed to other lines of research in the department (e.g. this publication [link]), animated scientific discussions within the research group, and contributed to the training of PhD students with his practical and theoretical skills. He has also developed many new collaborations and learnt a lot of biology (his background is in physics).
What did we like about this funding programme:
The Royal Society accepted to fund a purely curiosity-driven research project without immediate applications, they provided a budget for both salaries and research costs, including relocation costs for the post-doctoral student and support in the form of overheads for the institution.
We also appreciated the ease of communication and the fact that they provided an extension to make up for some of the research time and opportunities lost during the Covid19 pandemic.
What could be improved:
The salary for the post-doctoral fellow is a bit lower than the typical post-doc salaries attributed by other post-doctoral programmes aimed for UK residents.

The Royal Society also funded:
A research grant RG170282 that paid for laboratory equipment for me to start working on the movement ecology of microorganisms (protists), including in particular a microscope imaging and video-tracking system.
Was the money well spent?
Yes, being able to buy that piece of equipment was incredibly useful: I had recently moved to a new university and I could have been stuck not being able to do any research without that piece of equipment (until that time I had been working mostly with fish, but my new institution did not have fish facilities or an animal licence). I have progressively reoriented my profile towards the study of ecology and I have started a lot of new collaborations around that piece of equipment. Publications resulting specifically from using the equipment are still to come, although I already have a more "ecological" publication [link] with my colleague Dan Perkins. We liked about this funding programme:
The procedure for the application was very easy and only involved a long abstract rather than a detailed project. This leaves researchers more time to focus on research.
Roehampton University funded: A smaller "starting grant", that I used to hire a research assistant for six weeks.
Was the money well spent?
On that occasion, it probably wasn't: I had understimated the amount of administrative work and training that this involved for me, and six weeks really is too short a duration to be worth it in terms of support to research. It was probably a good paid internship experience for the research assistant, though.
The FNRS funded:
One year of my salary after I applied for a permanent position as Qualified Researcher (Chercheur Qualifié) working at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium).
Was the money well spent?
Partly. I had the opportunity to collaborate with a large and very active research group and I developed, or I contributed to some interesting research (e.g. [link], [link], [link], and [link]), however this was mostly out of luck and trying to make the best out of a strange situation: I had applied for a permanent position with a five years research project on fish behaviour, but after ranking first in the competition I was offered a one-year contract instead. One year was too short to really start the large experimental project that I had proposed in the application and so I had to come up with alternative smaller projects!
Was we liked about this funding programme:
The FNRS has a nice range of calls for different stages of career and a timeline that is predictable every year. This really takes out much of the stress of checking for opportunities. I also really appreciated the fact that even if I was applying for the first time and I did not have any co-authored publications or local collaborations I was still fully considered for the position.
The Research in Paris Programme funded:
A six month visiting researcher position in Paris.
The Ile de France region funded:
From the Ile de France region, I applied for fellowships in two different occasions in 2009 and 2013 and I was lucky to receive funding twice for different projects. The first time I worked at the Complex Systems Institute in Paris and the second time in the LIED laboratory (Paris Interdisciplinary Future Research Energy).
This was an international scientific cooperation programme:
It funded a collaborative project in mathematical biology between Sweden and Japan. I was a minor co-investigator and essentially the project funded a visit to our japanese collaborators and the organisation of a workshop that I attended in Uppsala. One review article [link] resulted from those discussions.
The European Research Council funded:
my research indirectly as I was hired as a post-doc on a ERC starting grant to David Sumpter:
It funded a collaborative project in mathematical biology between Sweden and Japan. I was a minor co-investigator and essentially the project funded a visit to our japanese collaborators and the organisation of a workshop. One review article [link] resulted from those discussions.
The ANR funded:
my research also indirectly as I was hired as a post-doc on a research grant (MESOMORPH ANR-06-BYOS-0008)
The Ministero degli Affari Esteri funded:
A fellowship to spend about ten months in France
The MIUR funded all my undergraduate and post-graduate studies.
I was lucky to be admitted to the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa both as an undergraduate and as a PhD student, which offers, among other things, free accommodation and meals to all students.