The assessment process
It's impossible to write a great research application if you're unaware of how it will be assessed. Proposals need to communicate to two audiences: Generalists and specialists, the balance of which, depends on the assessment process. By generalist assume intelligence but don't assume knowledge.
- Preliminary stage (fellowships only): Track record checked by a grants advisor.
- Expert review group: All applications are assessed by one of the 9 life sciences expert review groups (see panel membership). Have you written your application so it can be understood by this group? Only 30-40% of proposals proceed to the next stage.
- External peer review: Only proposals that have made it through step 2 ever go out for external peer review, which means that 60-70% of full submissions are never read by a specialist. Wellcome has a bank of 3500 expert reviewers, from all across the world covering academia, industry and non-for-profit organisations. Reviewers may have no knowledge of your host institution.
- Interview: All applicants that proceed past stage 2, regardless of the peer review comments, are interviewed. The interview panel are generalists (see panel membership). About half of interviewed applicants are successful (15-20% of the initial submission cohort).
Success ratesIn general, a third of all applications make it to interview and a half of those are successful (1:5 chance of getting funded). Success rates by scheme are as follows:
- Seed awards: 10-15%
- Fellowships: 20-25% (after preliminary stage)
- Investigator: 10-25%
- Collaborative: <20%
- Vacation studentships ~50%
- PhD institutional awards: ~5%
- About a third of all applicants speak to Wellcome before applying. You are missing a trick if you don't.
- Track record essentials: Regular, recent and relevant publications and networks.
- A luke warm institutional letter of support can sink a grant. Letters should reference the applicants not just the environment.
- Letters of support are not generally required (apart from institutional ones).
- RA's with 'fees for a PhD' are an eligible cost.
- Costs are not hugely important, as long as they are reasonable.
- Practice, practice and practice again for the interview - leave no stone unturned. The competition will have prepared meticulously, so you'd be crazy not to.
- Independence: It's critical that the applicant shows independence from their supervisor - change of group, department or institution is necessary.
- Publications: A first author Nature paper is NOT a prerequisite for a postdoc fellowship (Sir Henry Wellcome and Sir Henry Dale). The regularity with which you publish is important though.
- Building networks is hugely important in developing a competitive track record. Call/email and offer to give a talk at key groups/institutions. What's the worst that can happen? How would you react if an Early Career researcher from another institution wanted to give a talk?
- Highlight career breaks, if appropriate.
- Gaining skills training abroad is not a mandatory part of an application, but the majority of awardees do this.
- Showcase all activities that demonstrate your research independence and potential, i.e. Publications (key), conference talks, prizes, funding, mentoring of students and where the students have gone on to, career breaks, public engagement, outreach, networks and collaborators.
- Applicants must NOT be in receipt of substantial funding.
- For academics (any stage as long as the above point is valid) and fellows who are in receipt of a salary (Leverhulme, Research Councils, Royal Society).
- Ideal for new lecturers, or those wanting to re-activate their research.
- Idea is everything.
- Must NOT be a stand-alone project. It should be a stepping stone for the applicants career and the research - a seed for a future grant.
- Networks are key.
Institutional PhDThe next call will be in about 4 years time. It is one of the most difficult calls to succeed with. Essential to speak to Wellcome before applying.
Innovator awardsThis scheme has just been launched. Up to £0.5 million per project for responsive mode awards.
Initially there will be three areas: a) Mental health, b) Neurological disorders and c) Neglected tropical diseases.