OVERVIEW: Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s (BWF) higher ed support mostly backs individual researchers through competitive awards, as well as boosting the field of science research. They also give a handful of grants to nonprofits working to improve the general practice of science, along with direct support for higher ed STEM programs. Eligibility and application deadlines vary by award.
IP TAKE: Burroughs Wellcome grants go to early-stage and accomplished science researchers, with an emphasis on biology and medical research. Awards are extremely competitive, but the fund’s staff are available to offer feedback and guidance.
PROFILE: While the Burroughs Wellcome Fund itself started in 1955, its eponymous pharmaceutical company dates back to the 19th century. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund name refers to the Burroughs Wellcome Co. and its American, North Carolina-based branch, which started the foundation for corporate giving. That company is now part of the GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical conglomerate. In 1993, the foundation became independent, with no corporate sponsorship.
BWF works to strengthen the overall field of science research by helping early career scientists and supporting fields that are currently underdeveloped. Science education giving is split between a few post-graduate education and training programs.
Within that context, the majority of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s higher ed giving goes to science research, which is mostly directed at researchers in higher ed institutions. The fund also places an emphasis on supporting early career scientists, with some awards restricted to those within a set number of years since earning their post-grad degrees.
This manifests almost entirely in competitive, peer-reviewed awards that are decided on a schedule of cycles by advisory boards, separate from the foundation’s board of directors. Deans or department heads make nominations and receive the awards on behalf of the researchers, who may work in a range of fields as shown below.
In the Biomedical Sciences, the fund supports “the development of the next generation of academic medical scientists” by “providing funding to help bridge the gap between the postdoctoral and early faculty years.” Its Career Award for Medical Scientists gives “$700,000 awards over five years for physician-scientists” to help “bridge the gap” between postdoctoral work and independent research, while Collaborative Research Travel Grants give up to “$15,000 in support for relatively unrestricted travel funds to academic scientists and trainees (postdocs or fellows) at U.S. or Canadian degree-granting institutions.”
In the area of Infectious Diseases, the fund’s Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease award offers “$500,000 over five years to support accomplished investigators at the assistant professor level” who “focus primarily on the interaction of pathogens with their human hosts.”
The fund is also interested in supporting cross-disciplinary efforts. Its Interfaces in Science program offers a Career Award of “$500,000 over five years to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first three years of faculty service” to scientists with backgrounds in “physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering who want to explore the new frontier of biology” and intend to pursue careers as academic researchers.
One unique area the fund supports is Innovation in Regulatory Science, which gives grantees upwards of “$500,000 over five years” towards working on “new methodologies or innovative approaches…[to] inform the regulatory decisions the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others make.”
The fund also supports research in reproductive science. Its Preterm Birth Initiative offers upwards of $600,000 over four years to “increase the understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying parturition and spontaneous preterm birth,” defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
There is, in addition, the Translational Research grant program. Initially geared at mid-career scientists, the program is now dedicated to “providing early-career support for physician scientists” working on research with real-world applications.
In the Biomedical Sciences program, the fund supports “the development of the next generation of academic medical scientists,” which it does by “providing funding to help bridge the gap between the postdoctoral and early faculty years.” Its Career Award for Medical Scientists gives “$700,000 awards over five years for physician-scientists” to help “bridge the gap” between postdoctoral work and independent research, while its Collaborative Research Travel Grants give up to “$15,000 in support for relatively unrestricted travel funds to academic scientists and trainees (postdocs or fellows) at U.S. or Canadian degree-granting institutions.”
Switching gears a bit, another area to consider is BWF’s Postdoctoral Enrichment Program, a diversity-focused initiative that provides $60,000 over three years to underrepresented minority postdoctoral fellows to build their careers in biomedical science. It is worth noting that this “is not a research grant,” but rather “is meant to supplement the training of postdocs whose research activities are already supported.”
One interesting niche program is the foundation’s Institutional Program Unifying Population and Laboratory Based Sciences. This program attempts to bridge population-based study (e.g. stats-related fields like epidemiology) and lab science by pairing medical departments and public health departments to create new training programs or new focus areas within existing programs for Ph.D. Students. Awards are for $500,000 over five years.
There is also a Burroughs Wellcome Student Science Enrichment Program. This program is restricted to North Carolina. It’s designed to get primary and secondary students to participate in interactive and inquiry-based science activities, but its awardees have sometimes included colleges.
Finally, the foundation makes ad hoc, non-competitive grants for nonprofits that are working toward the foundation’s goals. While this category makes up a small portion of the foundation’s support, there were 25 ad hoc science education grants in a recent year.
It’s important to note that, while awards are very competitive and decisions are ultimately made by panels of experts, the foundation is more accessible than some funders. Potential applicants are invited to contact staff directly to discuss likelihood of an award (provided that your question is not already answered in the FAQs section that can be found under each program), and may also participate in scheduled conference calls.
- Alfred M. Mayes, Program Officer, Diversity in Science and Science Education
- Rolly Simpson, Senior Program Officer, Biomedical Sciences and Reproductive Sciences
- Victoria McGovern, Senior Program Officer, Career Guidance, Infectious Diseases, Population and Laboratory Based Sciences
- Rusty Kelley, Program Officer, Interfaces in Science, Regulatory Science, Translational Research
- Contact List