PoLNet will be delivering a call aimed at Post-doctoral Research Associates (or those on an equivalent position) working on research aimed towards improving our understanding of living systems, through combining novel interdisciplinary perspectives and expertise from physics and the life sciences (biological, biomedical or both). This call is funded by UKRI's Physics of Life Strategic Priority Fund and Wellcome. Apply for funding to run feasibility experiments, develop theory, learn about another discipline and/or develop a new collaboration, to help you to play a more leading role in shaping research and progress your career.
Access mentoring will be offered to all those considering submitting an application, please indicate your intention to apply by submitting an Expression of Interest.
Up to £25,000 (80% full economic cost) is available per award for projects of up to 6 months.
Who can apply
You can apply if you have a PhD or have worked in a relevant field for at least four years by the start date of your award.
You must have a current post-doctoral research associate (PDRA) or equivalent position on a UKRI or other funded grant held at a UK institution.
You must not currently hold or have previously held** a significant grant (usually defined as those which included PDRA time, capital equipment or were in excess of £100,000 (FEC)).
We encourage applications from across the UK in particular those who come from under-represented groups within STEM subjects and may have had a career break prior to their current PDRA position.
Applicants may only submit one application.
**currently hold or previously held means a named recipient of an award which would include the PI and co-I. This would not include being a postdoc employed from an award even as a "named postdoc" or "Researcher co-I".
Requirements of Host Organisation
Applicants will need to demonstrate that they have:
Support from your line manager at your current institution.
Confirmation from your line manager and, if different, the PIs of any grants you are working on, that this work can be accommodated alongside existing plans, for example by extending contracts.
Your line manager should be eligible to apply as a primary investigator on a UKRI grant.
Support available for undertaking the proposed project
This should confirm arrangements within the host organisation(s) where the work is to be undertaken, such as supervision, an environment for you to continue your professional development, and training where relevant.
Confirmation from head of department or school of access to any facilities required for the proposal.
There are no limits on the number of applications that an academic or host department or school can support.
What we're looking for
Awards should enable applicants to progress their careers and play a more leading role in shaping research. Applicants should describe how this award could help them develop their research and career.
Work should be aimed towards improving our understanding of living systems, through combining novel perspectives and expertise from physics and the life sciences (biological, biomedical or both).
Grants should last no more than 6 months (FTE), and a maximum contribution to each from this PoLNET fund will be £25k.
Funds can be used for applicants’ salary, travel, subsistence, consumables, lab access, but not equipment.
These awards are intended to enable applicants to run feasibility experiments or develop theory, learn about another discipline and/or develop a new collaboration, to help progress their careers.
Applicants can apply for a grant to undertake independent research or to visit a lab to develop ideas for a new collaboration. The key for these visits is that they have the potential to catalyse new collaborations or research. Labs visited could be in the UK or overseas, they could be part of a research organisation or owned by a stakeholder (including relevant industrial and public sector collaborators).
Work that is a continuation of existing research will need to demonstrate that it either testing a new approach or building a new collaboration.
We recommend that hosting institutions consider applying any overheads costs (Estates and Indirect Costs) appropriately to reflect the fact that this is a pump-priming initiative.
Work should be aimed towards improving our understanding of living systems, through combining novel perspectives and expertise from physics and the life sciences (biological, biomedical or both).
Awards should enable applicants to progress their careers and play a more leading role in shaping research.
Proposals will be assessed against the following three criteria:
1. Vision (joint primary criteria): Please describe what are you hoping to achieve with your proposed work. Explain how your proposed research:
is of excellent quality, high value and importance within or beyond the field/area.
has the potential to advance our understanding of living systems or generate new knowledge, thinking or discovery within this field, through combining novel interdisciplinary perspectives and expertise from physics and the life sciences (biological, biomedical or both).
is timely given current trends, context and needs.
2. Approach (joint primary criteria): Explain how your plan to deliver the work you are seeking funding for:
is effective, appropriate and transparent in its methodology and/or approach
is feasible and identifies risks and how they will be managed
if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
3. Career Development: Please describe how this award will help you to gain more independence as a researcher and contribute to your professional development.
What level of risk will the panel accept?
The scheme intends to have a high tolerance for risk – it will use bespoke assessment criteria designed to embed a positive review culture in supporting ‘high-risk’ ideas. The assessment will focus on the potential of the idea rather than a detailed assessment of preliminary data or track record. However, the panel will be looking for evidence that you have considered the broad feasibility of the project, any potential risks involved and the learning potential in the result of negative results.
Is there a requirement of preliminary data?
There is no requirement for preliminary data. However, we will expect applicants to provide relevant background and reasoning for why their research idea might work as well as a risk assessment to demonstrate that the research is well thought out.
Optional support with developing your application
Applicants are offered the option of access mentoring to support them in preparing applications to this call. This mentoring will include a Webinar on how to approach writing a proposal and follow up information after the Webinar. It will also include at least one small group session with an established researcher in the physics of life field to discuss good practice in preparing an application. PoLNet, UKRI and Wellcome hope the mentoring scheme will give applicants greater insight into the grant application process and funding system and make the process of applying for an award more accessible.
Please note, mentor allocations have already been assigned (linked to the EOI stage). We are delighted to have the following mentors helping with this call: Dr Carina Dunlop, Professor Martin Howard, Dr Rivka Isaacson, Professor Mark Leake, Professor Pietro Cicuta, Professor Steve Smye, Professor Graham Leggett, Professor Simon Hanna, Professor Olwyn Byron, Professor Peter Weightman, Professor Andrew Tuberfield, Professor Jamie Hobbs, Dr Susan Cox, Dr Diana Fusco, Dr Peter Adams, Professor Mark Wallace, Professor Massimo Vassalli, Professor Michelle Peckham, Dr Margarita Staykova, Dr Chiu Fan Lee, Dr Marco Mazza, Dr Bartek Waclaw, Dr Alice Pyne, Dr Davide Michieletto.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
We are committed to ensuring fairness is fully reflected in this funding process. As part of this we will work to uphold fairness in peer review as described at Evolving and upholding fairness in peer review – UKRI. All applicants will be offered the option of access mentoring with this call to support them in preparing their application. If you have specific requirements and would like to discuss reasonable adjustments, please contact email@example.com at PoLNET to highlight personal circumstances as soon as possible. This information will be used for administrative purposes only: the details will not be sent to panel members.
How to apply
Proposal Stage - Deadline 07 Nov 23 Application formoutlining the proposed research from the applicant and addressing all three assessment criteria (see assessment criteria above). The application form (provided below) should be converted to a PDF and submitted via a google link (see submission link below). Application forms should additionally include a letter of host support which includes: 1. Support from your line manager at your current institution. - Confirmation from your line manager and, if different, the PIs of any grants you are working on, that this work can be accommodated alongside existing plans, for example by extending contracts. *Please note: Your line manager should be eligible to apply as a primary investigator on a UKRI grant.* 2. Support from head of department which confirms: - Arrangements within the host organisation(s) where the work is to be undertaken, such as supervision, an environment for you to continue your professional development, and training where relevant. - Access to facilities required for the proposal.
For any queries regarding the application process, please email Karis Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How applications will be assessed
Eligibility Check Initial remit checks will be made to verify that the proposal is in scope (defined in the ‘Scope’ section) and the eligibility of applicants (as outlined in the ‘Who can apply’). They will also include checking that applicants have the required support from Host Organisations (as described in ‘Requirements of Host Organisation’ sections above).
PoLNet will office reject proposals for which any of the following apply:
the proposal is out of scope.
applicant is not eligible to apply.
the required support from the Host Organisation has not been provided.
more than £25k has been requested.
a duration of longer than 6 months has been requested.
Assessment of Proposals
Eligible applications will be considered by an expert panel. This will be a group of researchers representing the disciplines covered by physics of life research.
The panel will be observed by representatives of all funders.
Wellcome is an independent, global charitable foundation (registered charity number 210183). Like all registered charities in England and Wales, Wellcome is regulated by the Charity Commission.
Both Wellcome and UKRI will have access to the proposal and grant documents for this call. This will include relevant personal data of applicants from grant applications which will be shared with UKRI and Wellcome as observers of the panel. It will also include grant information shared with UKRI and Wellcome as co-funders, for the purposes of monitoring and evaluating the impact of the Physics of Life programme.
Therefore, in addition to UKRI terms and conditions, Wellcome’s grants privacy statement will also apply.
Evaluation Survey after the grants have been awarded
The survey will include optional questions about participants’ demography.
Survey data will be anonymised and participation in this exercise will have no impact on how applications to this call are assessed.
Your personal data will be handled in line with UK data protection legislation and managed securely. If you would like to know more, including how to exercise your Rights, please see UKRI’s privacy notice.
The anonymised survey data (which will include EDI data) will be shared with Wellcome.
If you have further questions about this survey, please contact Sarah Newman at email@example.com
PoLNET3 will nominate a dedicated contact or contacts. The PoLNET contact (s) must have access to all documentation of Governance and Reporting bodies, in so far as it relates to the administration and application of the grant. If the documentation is subject to commercial confidentiality the PoLNET contact(s) will be required to sign non-disclosure documents.
Grant should start by 1 April 2024, no slippage of the grant start date beyond this date will be permitted unless under exceptional circumstances.
The duration of the grant will be 6 months and must end before 31 March 2025, inclusive of any extensions.
Grant extensions or delays to the start date may only be requested in exceptional circumstances (for example, maternity/paternity leave). The grant holder is responsible for minimising any extensions and risks must be managed accordingly. Delays must be reported to the PoLNET contact.
A brief final report summarising the outcomes of the grant will be requested by PoLNET. The reporting requirements will be provided to successful applicants when awards are made.
Additional financial or non-financial information may occasionally be requested outside of the standard reporting cycles. The grant holder agrees to comply with these requests in a timely manner.
UKRI reserves the right to add additional grant conditions at the point that the grant is awarded.
Applicants' data relevant to the grant shall be shared with the Wellcome Trust and UKRI.
The Wellcome Trust must be acknowledged as a funder of the scheme alongside UKRI.
The Wellcome Trust's charitable status must be acknowledged.
By accepting this Grant you acknowledge:
The Wellcome Trust's contribution to this grant, UKRI's Privacy Notice and the Wellcome Trust's Privacy Notice, That Personal Data will be shared with the Wellcome Trust and retained by them in line with their Retention Schedule as required by the purpose of the processing, and shared with third parties in accordance with the Wellcome Trust's Privacy Notice (to include without limitation work contact details career history salary information including pay grades full name and email addresses of investigators; Research Organisation; Value of the award; start and end dates; Title and Abstract; Orcid ID).
I did not submit an expression of interest (EOI) form, nor did I take part in the mentor scheme. Can I still apply? Yes absolutely - you can still apply! It doesn't matter that you didn't take part in the mentor scheme - this was in place to give those who wanted it the option of additional help/advice for applying to the scheme.
How much money should I cost for in my application? The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be up to £31.25k. PoLNet will fund 80% of the FEC (£25k at 80% FEC) according to the usual UKRI standard.
Regarding establishing collaborations - is there a possibility of co-applicants being named on the application? e.g. a visiting post doc to a host post docs lab. Each application should only cover one applicant.
Will there be a grant call for this next year? There will not be another call for this scheme, so if you are eligible to apply and have an idea then you are enthusiastically encouraged to take up this opportunity.
When’s the earliest date I can start the grant? If PoLNET can get decisions out before the end of year (by 20 Dec 2023), then in principle the grant can start any time from that point up until 1 April 2024. There may be requests for extensions as indicated under certain exceptional circumstances but any funds including extensions must be spent by 31 Mar 2025. All funded grants must start by 1 April 2024, no slippage of the grant start date beyond this date will be permitted unless under exceptional circumstances.
Can you claim a salary at less than 100% FTE and the rest of the salary be made up by other funding? Yes you claim a salary at less than 100%FTE for the 6 month project and make up any additional salary costs from any other grants that you are on.
Are there restrictions on the proportion of different expenses can be claimed? There are no restrictions on how you spend the funding, it should just be clearly costed and justified in the application.
If a large part of the salary is being covered by another source, can the funding be mainly used for a research visit in another country? Yes absolutely, you could use the funds for research visits abroad. You may want to think about any consumable costs you incur during your visit and cost that into your application.
If I fulfil all other eligibility criteria, is there a limit to the number of years that have passed since receiving my PhD? As long as you fulfil all other criteria, then no.
I am currently employed at an institution and will be eligible to submit an application? However, my contract ends before the deadline. Could I still be eligible? You could be eligible if you have a contract in place from a host institute (as a PDRA or equivalent position) before you were to start your grant. However, you would have to have letters of support from any future HoD and line manager. A grant condition would be that you would have to have a contract in place by the grant start date. The key is that whilst you do the research, you are employed by a university and that you satisfy this criterion for the duration of your award, so that you are hosted by a RO and can be supported by them for the duration of the award, as described in ‘Requirements of Host Organisation’.
The 4 years of working in the field - does that include your PhD period? Yes – your PhD would qualify as time working in the field.
Do you need have a current PDRA position or equivalent at the start of the proposed project? Yes, because you need institutional/department support to agree to pay 20% FEC, which is standard for grants.
I have a fellowship that is less than £100,000 pounds which pays research costs and a stipend. Am I still eligible? You need to think about the full economic cost of your fellowship and whether you are a named grant holder. If your fellowship includes your salary plus research expenses (depending on the duration of the fellowship) it may be that this exceeds the £100k threshold which would then make you ineligible. You would have to check the specifics on the grant you are on. The basic principle that behind this call in terms of eligibility is to support people who don't have a major fellowship right now.
Can you apply to do collaborative experiments that haven't previously been costed within the context of a larger project, but would allow only experimental costs to be claimed (since salary is already paid for on another grant?) You don’t have to cost in your own salary. You can use the grant entirely for research costs, however the research should be new, not experiments planned to be run on an already funded grant. If you are requesting funds to extend work on a current project or new ideas that have come about from a current project, then that would be fine.
I am starting a postdoc in January next year – will I be eligible to apply? As long as your new host institution and PI agree and are willing to provide a letter of support which will confirm you meet the employment criteria.
Can I use the money to pay the salary of a Research Assistant linked to an external grant that I do not receive more than 100k @ 80% FEC for? Yes – you can pay the salary of a research assistant, as long as the primary applicant hasn’t received a grant as a grant holder (see eligibility section above for definition) which has received more than £100k@80% FEC then this would be fine.
Can the funding be used to pay for research assistant costs? Yes, we have flexibility on what the costs can cover and if these help you to deliver on your research objectives then absolutely.
Can part of the funding be used to attend a conference? Yes - if you can justify why it's important to attend the conference as part of your application - e.g. skills building/career development/idea generation then go ahead!
Would a part time timeline be acceptable? It should be remembered that the timescale of this project is very specific – the work needs to be completed within a strict 6-month period and requested funds spent, extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Bearing that in mind, it may be wise to formulate a clear time plan for reviewers.
If applying for a collaborative research project with an overseas lab, then would the current institution need to be the host as well? Your current institution (UK based) would need to be the host, but of course as part of the application you can request overseas research visits to other labs.
If you plan to make an application building on work you have not yet published (but plan to), should this be included as preliminary data in the grant? Preliminary data isn’t required, but that doesn't mean that preliminary data can’t be used, especially if such data supports the research ideas you are proposing to explore. You can make it clear that the data is unpublished, and this can provide reviewers with additional context.
Does the proposal have to be targeting improve understanding of living system? How about interdisciplinary research to provide better patient outcome? Interface between the physical and life sciences includes medicine. In terms of patient outcome, bear in mind that the aim of this call is to answer something fundamental. If the proposal is addressing a fundamental biomedical question integrating physics and a by-product is there is better patient outcome – then that should be within scope.
Can we have multiple mentors? The scheme will allocate you one mentor per applicant (if requested). If you have specific requests regarding mentoring, we may be able to fulfil these, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Outside of our own mentoring scheme, you are welcome to approach your own institutional academics for mentorship help.
Can we have other collaborators/mentors from the host institution but different departments? Yes absolutely, the aim of this call is to form new collaborations and ideas so definitely.
Am I allowed to have additional mentors? We're not stopping you from having any mentors that you want. For example, the local institution may have a very good mentorship scheme, and that's fantastic. We are trying to give you added expertise from the PoL perspective (many of the mentors will be from our own steering group).