Wellcome’s eight-year awards to offer researchers ‘freedom’

Biomedical funder to widen eligibility of early career awards to encompass scholars returning from career break

March 30, 2021
Caring hands representing nurturing policy for research, new Wellcome Trust grant policy
Source: iStock

The Wellcome Trust is to offer scientists funding for up to eight years to “give researchers more freedom, time and financial resources to pursue their ideas”.

Under a plan to simplify Wellcome’s funding schemes, scientists will be able to apply for career development awards of up to eight years of funding, plus salary, which will require host research organisations to provide grant holders with a permanent position or hold a formal review to discuss their progress and opportunities after the award.

Funding for up to eight years will also be available for those who successfully apply for a “discovery award”, designed to support individuals and teams seeking to “make significant shifts in an understanding of a health-related issue”, the trust announced on 30 March.

Early career awards will also be available and will provide funding, plus salary, for up to five years.

The shake-up of funding schemes follows a review in late 2018 that sought to identify the charity’s direction for the next 10 to 15 years. The trust, one of the world’s largest biomedical research charities, has said it wants to focus more of its efforts on seeking solutions to three global challenges: infectious diseases, mental health and global heating.

Building a more positive research culture will be a key plank of the strategy, and the “new, simplified set of funding schemes” are a key part of that. They will open for applications in summer 2021, replacing existing schemes, which will wind down over the course of 2021.

Michael Dunn, director of discovery research at Wellcome, said the new fellowships would give “researchers the freedom to ask the most exciting questions in their research”.

“Advances in health can come from unexpected sources and from any discipline and being open about where developments come from means we help sustain a broad range of research,” he said.

In addition, researchers in disciplines that don’t traditionally have a PhD as part of their academic progression and who apply to the early career awards will not need to hold a PhD, said the trust.

Instead, they will need to demonstrate at least four years of relevant experience. The schemes are also open to researchers who have taken a break from research, for example because of family commitments, and who want to re-establish their careers.

To give researchers more freedom, Wellcome will not hold mid-term reviews and grant holders will be able to take time away from their host institution and adapt their budget to suit their research.

Wellcome will also be changing its requirements so that host institutions have to provide greater support for researchers. This includes allowing all staff on grants 10 days a year for training or continuing professional development.


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