International Research Scholars: a new way of supporting research outside the UK
Today the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, launches a new program for early career scientists who have trained in the UK or US but want to continue their research in country outside the G7. The International Research Scholar program is one of many ways that Wellcome supports early career researchers working outside the UK, as Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of Research Careers at the Wellcome Trust explains…
When Gordon A. Awandare was a student at the University of Ghana, he made a decision to go to the United States to do his PhD. For promising young scientists in lower and middle income countries, moving abroad to continue their training is common and understandable. What makes Gordon stand out is that after completing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh he returned to Ghana to set up his own lab, thanks to initial support from the National Institutes of Health and the Royal Society, and later funding from the World Bank and a DELTAS Africa award. He’s now recognised as an outstanding malaria researcher and recently won the Royal Society’s early career scientist award.
For every Gordon there are many more researchers who go to the UK or US for further scientific training and stay for the remainder of their careers. There are many reasons for this, but important contributory factors are fewer career opportunities and unclear career structures for scientists in many non-G7 countries. The resulting ‘brain-drain’ is a problem because researchers have a crucial part to play in addressing the health issues in the country they live in and without embedded in-country research the goal of better health for everyone is harder to reach
However, as most PhD students know, science is a competitive business and establishing your own lab is difficult – whether you’re in Bristol, Buenos Aires or Beijing. But we recognise that for most scientists the early stages of an independent career are a time of maximum creativity and productivity and, like other funders, Wellcome have prioritised early career funding for scientists establishing independent laboratories.
At Wellcome, we also have a long track history of funding researchers at all career stages outside the UK. We have five successful overseas programmes across Africa and Southeast Asia, we have recently been involved in setting up the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) to bring the centre of gravity for major research funding decisions to Africa, and we support clinical fellows across the world.
But there is always scope to do more and explore how we might address this problem in different ways and with others who share our goals.
That is why we have decided, with our partners the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Gates Foundation and the Gulbekian Foundation, to trial a new International Research Scholarship program for researchers trained in the UK and US who want to set up an independent research lab.
Between us we hope to fund up to 50 scholars, 15 of whom will be Wellcome funded. We’re looking for applications from early career researchers in any area of basic biological, biomedical and public health research including chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering where they relate to biology or medicine.
These scholars will be a small part of a larger focus that Wellcome has on providing opportunities and support to researchers in lower and middle income countries. We are continually thinking about how we can work together with our partners towards a common aim of better health around the world. Identifying excellent researchers who will benefit from the scholars program is another step along that road.
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