The Wellcome Trust is an independent, global charitable organisation that funds research in medical and health-related fields. The trust’s founder, Sir Henry Wellcome, was a US-born pharmacist, who moved to the UK in 1880, aged 27. In the same year, he co-founded a successful pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome, and Company, with a colleague Silas Burroughs. After his death in 1936, Wellcome bequeathed a large fortune to advancing animal and human health, which was used to establish the Wellcome Trust.
In the most current period reported, (2016-17), the trust awarded 3,436 global grants to the value of £4.4 billion. The five most significantly funded areas include:
- Infectious disease and immunobiology
- Genomics, genetics, and epigenetics
- Neuroscience and mental health
- Development and ageing
- Population, environment, and health
Further information on the subject areas the Wellcome Trust funds grants for are available on its science remit page.
The majority of grant funding (43%) is allocated to personal awards for investigators, fellowships and Ph.D. studentships, with the remainder going towards supporting a number of Wellcome Trust Institutes and team research. The grant funding call normally stipulates where your host organisation needs to be geographically located in order to receive funding. The majority of schemes fund the UK, Republic of Ireland and/or low and middle-income economy countries, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
How to apply for a research grant
Funding calls for grants are listed under the Wellcome Trust’s Scheme Finder. In order to submit an application, you must be registered on the Wellcome Trust’s Grant Tracker. The application can subsequently be completed entirely online on the system. There are currently 53 schemes available – all with their individual eligibility and applicant suitability criteria that need to be followed closely. In this article, we’ll be focussing on the trust’s Investigator Awards in Science, and the key parts of the application process.
Introduction: Investigator Awards in Science
The Wellcome Trust’s Investigator Awards in Science are available for a flexible sum of up to £3 million, to cover a maximum period of seven years of research. Applications are considered three times a year, with submission deadlines in March, July, and November. Eligibility requirements include being employed in a current academic post, with your salary being covered by your host institution. Those who are imminently taking up a post can also apply, as long as they have a written guarantee of employment from a host institution. If successful, they can take up the grant upon starting their post. If you have any queries about eligibility or other criteria, it’s advisable to contact the Wellcome Trust’s information officers via the online contact form before you start your application.
Researchers can apply for an Investigator Award at any stage of their career, from those at an early stage to those who are experienced senior researchers. Less experienced candidates are expected to demonstrate that they have an outstanding research record, relative to their career stage. The latter can include having high-impact publications, patents and having gained prior research grant funding. In addition, early career researchers should show they are on the way to establishing a world-leading reputation in their research area. Joint applicants are also welcomed, where the collaboration is seen to enhance the scope and quality of the project. Note that Wellcome Trust grants do not cover applicant salaries, only the cost of the research proposed.
Investigator Awards require a full grant application to be completed on the grant tracker system from the outset, a sample PDF of which is available on their site. This is in contrast to some of the other grant schemes offered, 14 of which require you to submit a shorter, preliminary application in the first instance, as an initial screen for reviewers. Examples for the latter include the Research Career Re-entry Fellowships and Sir Henry Dale Fellowships.
Application – Researcher career information
The application for the Investigator Award calls for you to complete your education and career history, including what you deem to be your most important research-related career contributions. Your research output, with up to twenty of the most relevant achievements, should also be stated. Further information in this section includes your peer-reviewed publications, other grants you have obtained, individuals you’ve trained and your research history over the past five years. Reviewers will be looking for an exceptional track record in the field of your grant application.
Research proposal and vision
Your research proposal requires two summaries, one for experts and an additional lay summary, that can be easily grasped by lay scientists, working in adjacent fields. Bear in mind that the internal reviewing panel can contain a mix of specialists and non-specialists from your broader field, so clarity and stating the potential for impact is the key.
Following on from your research summary, you need to describe your research vision in less than three thousand words. The latter should encompass the key research questions you are seeking to answer and why, with a clear plan of how you will achieve this. A coherent outline of the research to be conducted should be provided, without going into the detailed methodology. It’s important to highlight any potential problems you envisage that may arise and more importantly, how you will deal with them.
The research vision should communicate how the project will result in significant advances in research in your field. Reviewers will be looking for ground-breaking and transformative research here. You can add up to 2 A4 pages of figures and data, to support your research vision.
Support from your host organisation
A supporting statement from your host organisation is needed for all applications. It should detail why your institution thinks you deserve the Investigator Award and furthermore, how your proposal fits with their aims and priorities. It should also outline how the research institute will support you in achieving the aims of your project. The latter could include ring-fencing resources, providing financial support or other relevant technical assistance. Information with regard to your employment contract should also be included.
Details of your research group
The application requires that you include all details of any research staff that have reported to you over the past two years, and anticipated staff to be supervised for the duration of the grant if funded. This can include Ph.D. students, research assistants, postdoctoral researchers and any other staff, even if their time is split between other research groups.
Costs and budgetary justification
A detailed costing for your project with budgetary justification is an essential part of the application. Reviewers will examine how this section is completed closely, and be seeking good value for money in terms of the research output, versus the amount of funding requested. As such, full justification of all the resources you are requesting, and their relevance to the project is needed. You’ll need to separate all high-level costs out as headings, examples include — equipment, salaries/stipends, materials and consumables, animals and associated costings, and provide clear justification for each one.
Conflicts of interest and reviewer requests
Applicants need to declare any potential conflicts of interest that might arise as a result of the funded research project. Examples would include an applicant holding a consultancy in a commercial firm that would be interested in the research outcome, or an intellectual property right infringement that could arise.
Whilst you can’t formally request who should be included in the peer-review panel that assesses your application, suggestions can be made for who you would like to be included or excluded. These recommendations should be entered in the section entitled ‘confidential information,’ alongside a brief rationale.
Application assessment and review
The online grant submission process allows for you to create a PDF version of your application at any point during completion. It’s advisable to create this and use it to circulate amongst research colleagues for feedback and make corrections before you submit formally.
Once your proposal has been sent, it will be passed to the appropriate internal review group. Reviewers will discuss the merits and weaknesses of each application. They apply a scoring system to rank applications according to whether they should definitely go through, are possibly appropriate or should be rejected.
Those who make it past the first stage of review have their applications sent to external expert peer-reviewers for feedback. Applicants are then invited to interview by a selection panel, which requires the preparation of a short ten-minute powerpoint presentation. Interviews usually take place in the Wellcome Trust’s Head Offices in London. Applicants will receive anonymised comments from the peer-review panel in advance of their interview, which should help give a clear indication of questions that may arise.
Note that the interview panel may comprise a mix of experts in your field and non-experts in adjacent fields. They will use the feedback provided by external expert reviewers for guidance. Be sure to prepare by taking the opportunity to go through a mock interview with research colleagues in advance. Especially any that have been successful with grant funding in the past, and are from adjacent scientific fields.
If you’re successful, you’ll be called by The Wellcome Trust who will discuss the terms of your funding package. Current and former grant holders for the trusts Investigator Awards in Science can be viewed here
Good luck with your application!