Last Friday I attended a Study Tour of the Wellcome Trust, organised by the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA). Study tours allow research administrators to gain useful insight into a funder’s vision, values, goals, policies and funding opportunities currently available and planned.
What follows below are the notes I made as part of the various sessions I attended throughout the day. The research office is also planning information and workshop sessions specifically focusing on Wellcome funding over the coming year, in particular highlighting the significant possibilities for non-science disciplines. If you have any questions about any of the schemes in the meantime, please contact us.
The Arts Awards and public engagement with science are only one potential route. There are also opportunities for researchers from humanities and social sciences disciplines which engage with medical research, understood in the broadest possible sense, through the Wellcome Medical History and Humanities and Bioethics funding schemes.
Wellcome Trust Overview
- Many of the sessions started with the Wellcome Trust mission statement, and since this informs their vision, values, all of their funding schemes and future direction, it’s worth quoting in full here:
Our vision is to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. Our mission is to support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities.
- Wellcome invests approximately £600M annually in funding research. They have assets of approximately £13B.
- Of the £600M, approximately £435M is invested in biomedical science research; £60M in technology transfer; £35M in medical humanities and £105M in capital spend on a Genome Campus.
- Their focus is on funding the very best researchers. The Trust seeks to invest in the highest quality researchers at various career stages and nurture them.
- There are 5 key research challenges which the Wellcome seek to address through their funding:
- Maximising the health benefits of genetics and genomics.
- Understanding the brain. Within this challenge they stress that they want to include perspectives from social science, humanities and the arts.
- Combating infectious disease.
- Investigating development, ageing and chronic disease. Here they stressed public engagement and policy development as key sub-challenges.
- Connecting environment, nutrition and health. The Trust has less profile in this area, but it is something they are seeking to develop.
- Staff were keen to point out throughout the day that they are contactable if you have any questions about the organisation or any of the funding schemes.
- Investigator awards were introduced last year across all Wellcome Trust subject areas (biomedical science as well as medical history and humanities). This scheme replaces the now discontinued Project Grants, Programme Grants, and Equipment Grants, among others.
- The emphasis here is on longer-term funding for greater impact.
- There is potential here for funding of up to 7 years for Investigator Awards in the Biomedical Sciences. Previously researchers with Wellcome funding felt they didn’t have the time or security to commit to major research projects.
- There must be a compelling, long-term vision for research.
- There are two types of award:
- Trust staff did emphasise that the level of experience would be taken into account for “senior investigators” – i.e. if a researcher is 6 years from their first academic position, although they will fall into the Senior Awards bracket, their relative level of experience will be taken into account when assessing their application.
- The awards provide between £100K – £425K / year for up to 7 years.
- They fund the direct costs of research – not full economic costs.
- The costs awarded are to be finalised after the decision has been made. The early applications need only include “ballpark figures”. However, by this they don’t mean that applicants shouldn’t cost projects – they just don’t need to see the breakdown until later in the application process.
- The suitability of the research environment is an important criterion – there should be a suitably supportive letter from the Head of School or a senior university manager if appropriate to support the bid and the researcher.
- The first stage is a CV details check which takes roughly 2-3 weeks. Trust staff will advise potential applicants whether the scheme is suitable for them on the basis of a submitted CV.
- It is possible to have joint investigators.
- There were 200 applications for the first round (60% senior/40% new), but the Trust refused to be drawn on likely success rates or numbers of applications to be funded.
- The deadline for the second round is early April 2011, but the Trust would like to move to rolling deadlines as soon as practical.
Grant Writing Tips
- Good grantsmanship will not make bad science fundable; but bad grantsmanship will make good science unfundable!
- Key considerations are:
- Excellent knowledge of area, current state of the art and how to move beyond it
- Clear research plan and robust methods
- Convincing preliminary data collection
- Appropriate expertise
- Bear in mind that reviewers are not necessarily experts in your field, so you should write for a non-expert audience.
- Costs must be fully justified.
- Submit relevant evidence including letters of support.
- Don’t just rely on your track record – you must put together a convincing case and well-written bid.
- Practice interviews for the investigator awards process.
- Medical history is now embedded in mission statement, whereas before it was important but not made explicit.
- Here, as in biomedical science, there will be the same division between new and senior investigator awards (see above).
- The research question drives the duration of these awards.
- They plan a May 2011 launch of the Senior/New Investigator schemes in the Medical History and Humanities strand, with a Sept 2nd 2011 first round deadline.
- There may not need to be a CV check in these disciplines because they anticipate fewer applications.
- As in the biomedical sciences, the focus is on fewer and larger grants.
- Investigator Awards in the medical humanities must be historically-grounded: driven by historical methodologies and/or in consultation with an historian.
- Fellowship Awards are largely unchanged: as before these include an interview stage and a potential award holder may apply before the end of his/her PhD.
- University Awards are highly competitive and very prestigious.
- Strategic Awards in the Medical Humanities are flagship projects for established groups with strong track records.
- There are still a number of smaller grants available within these disciplines though the Trust are looking to “homogenise” these. The “historical ground” component (above) doesn’t necessarily apply to small grants: Research expenses; Travel grants; Support for conferences, symposia or seminar series.
- Research Leave for Healthcare Professionals/Scientists apply to those from clinical or veterinary backgrounds, though the historical grounding aspect applies here. They provide up to 6 months of support for clinicians or scientists to undertake a short-term period of full-time research at a centre or department with academic expertise in medical history.
- PhD studentships – the preliminary stage applications here are due by 15th March 2011.
- Training and mentoring can be explicitly built into applications for research fellowships, e.g. to jump into different or related disciplines.
- Finally, they emphasised the broad applicability of these schemes: any subject that intersects with medicine/healthcare from an arts/humanities/social sciences perspective is eligible.
- The focus here is on using art – in a broad sense – to engage the public with medical science.
- Most of the presentation was devoted to showing the entertaining and informative video (embedded below) about the scheme, but unfortunately this session was lighter on in-depth analysis of the available schemes and additional insight.
- We did learn that 50% of applications to this scheme are from universities.
- Where artists want to apply to produce, e.g. an animation, they are required to work with experts from a university.
- All research papers funded in whole or in part by the Wellcome Trust must be made freely available in PubMedCentral and UKPubMedCentral as soon as possible and within 6 months of date of publication.
- Depositing the author’s final manuscript is the least favoured option because there are no re-use rights on this version.
- Wellcome Trust will fund costs of open access deposit in WT-compliant journals.
- Compliance with this policy is currently just under 50% but has improved over the last few years since its adoption.
- Barriers to higher levels of compliance have been identified as: clarifying publisher policies and reminding researchers of their obligations.