Why Investigator Awards are good news for the Medical Humanities
This week sees the launch of our Medical Humanities Investigator Awards. To some, this might seem a small, incremental change to our history of medicine and bioethics funding schemes akin to what has occurred previously. But that would belie what is, in my opinion, a major, hugely beneficial, overhaul of how we fund cutting edge research in these areas.
Having sat through every one of our History of Medicine (now Medical History & Humanities) funding committee meetings over the last 10 years, I can safely say that being ‘competitive’ for a grant has come to mean, to some extent, ‘playing it safe’ – staying within your comfort zone and settting out a neat, compact and focused ‘project’. Writing a tightly focused application was always easier if you’d done a substantial amount of the work already. And with kind peer review and a bit of luck, funds for a research assistant and travel to archives would be forthcoming. But was the ‘project’ approved really what the applicant wanted to research?
In addition, for the last four years, our ‘established’ bioethicists have not had the option of applying for project grants. After one round of Strategic or Enhancement awards (which established research groups in several universities), the Trust’s funding in bioethics has focused instead on our fellowship schemes for humanities or social scientists, and healthcare professionals and scientists.
Here’s where the changes begin. From now on, researchers with fixed posts in universities will be able to compete for longer-term funding. And they can do so through a process considering the work they will do, not work they have already done. Established researchers in bioethics will also be able to apply for funds in their own right as well as sponsoring fellows.
What we are interested in is not what you think will get funded, but the researcher’s bold vision – what you really want to do, what you really believe is important. If that changes over the lifetime of a grant, as a result of what you unearth, then great! The flexibility is there to follow the direction your research takes you.
But the good news doesn’t stop there. We are also expanding our biomedical ethics scheme. The new Ethics and Society scheme will include research examining the ethical and social aspects of biomedical research, as well as health interventions that enlighten pressing challenges to their effectiveness.
Crucially more funds will be available than are currently on offer for the biomedical ethics scheme, enabling us to fund Investigator Awards in addition to our humanities/social science fellowships, clinical fellowships, University Awards and small conference grants. The eligibility for this scheme will also be expanded to include researchers in low- and middle-income countries, including India.
So knock your CV into shape, discuss your big ideas with your colleagues and make the most of the opportunities on offer.
Tony Woods, Head of Medical History & Humanities Grants, Wellcome Trust