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Wellcome Trust Collaborative Awards – enabling the partnerships of the future

20 Jan, 2015

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After time spent listening to members of our community – Trust staff, grantholders, and researchers from around the UK and the globe – the Wellcome Trust has updated its funding schemes to make them simpler and more flexible for applicants. Today we launch our new Collaborative Awards, enabling teams of researchers to apply together and bring new perspectives to the work they are doing. Wellcome Trust Director of Strategy Clare Matterson explains more about these grants, and looks at the importance of team work…

Working as a team is a key skill that we learn throughout our lives, starting as children. Last year my 11 year old daughter’s football club frequently lost 10-0 or even 15-0 – a dispiriting experience for the cold parents on the side-lines, let alone for the kids. They were not lacking talent at the game, but experience of how to work as a team. This year they have changed tack and have spent time understanding each other’s roles, and how to let others flourish. Now, they are winning and playing exciting matches.

And it’s not just 11 year olds. Examples of incredible team work are everywhere. Last week a pair of extraordinary climbers became the first to scale a sheer 3,000-foot rock face in Yosemite. Meanwhile, even further afield, Russia, America and Europe crossed boundaries of politics and language on the International Space Station to keep each other alive against the threat of a potentially deadly ammonia leak.

The more complex the issue, the more team work can lead to results that are more than the sum of their parts. This is especially true where our greatest challenges require solutions that bridge the divides between disciplines – biology, physics, chemistry, engineering, social science, humanities and more. Recently, the global health community has faced an unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa. From supporting clinical trials to scrutinising the ethics of how research is done in an epidemic, partnership, flexibility and team working have been central to the response.

Our collaborative awards are a new category of funding that recognises the importance of teamwork in research, bringing together people from within or across disciplines to inspire new ideas and new ways of thinking. It’s just one part of our refreshed funding framework, which is structured around five broad categories of response mode funding – people, seeds, teams, places and resources.

4598283411_94256d1189_zCollaborative Awards are an alternative route of funding for those that may previously have thought about applying for our strategic awards. We are taking a fresh approach to how we fund work of strategic importance to the Trust’s mission, by identifying areas where we believe there is an opportunity for a step change, a priority need or sustained development of a new area.

For example, our fast-track funding for research on Ebola and our support for the Francis Crick Institute are prime examples of our strategic approach. We will work with our partners and with researchers to develop strategic opportunities, and we continue to encourage researchers with ideas that do not fit our response mode schemes to come and talk with us.

The key idea behind the response mode categories is that they complement each other. Our existing Investigator Awards and Fellowships are still available for individuals with curiosity, ideas and ambition wanting to ask questions and find answers. Similarly, we recognise that it’s often unexplored intersections between different disciplines where the most creative ideas are born.

We want to exploit these crossovers, but we know this often means people working outside their comfort zones. This is where our new Seed Awards come into their own: small awards for developing original, innovative and risky ideas or for generating preliminary data or resources towards a larger, possibly collaborative, research application.

Collaborations can be with existing partners or new ones. They could be within disciplines, across institutions, with those from other countries, or by mixing disciplines. There are endless possibilities, from novel partnerships between academia and business, for example in this new project investigating mood disorders by looking at the link between immunology and mental health, to projects where the humanities meet clinical science and neuroscience, such as the Hearing the Voice collaboration to understand the experience of voice hearing.

Wellcome Trust Collaborative AwardsWe have spent a long time listening to our community, who have told us that support for team projects is a key way we can support research. We are not specifying what a team should look like in terms of mix of people, disciplines or experience. What we are interested to understand is why they have come together, and what the benefit of the collaboration could be.

So, it’s over to you. What makes a great team? What challenges in health and science would be better approached by new groups of people? I hope our collaborative awards will encourage teams to consider these questions, look at our website, come and talk with us, and consider applying for funding.

To find out more about our collaborative awards visit the new grant pages on our website, where you can also find out more about our other updated funding schemes.

Image credits: Teamwork 5 by D I via Flickr – CC-BY-NC-SA; Collaboration by AJ Cann via Flickr – CC-BY-NC-SA

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