Burroughs Wellcome Fund: Grants for Science Education

OVERVIEW: Burroughs Wellcome Fund funds researchers through competitive awards and gives a handful of grants to nonprofits working to improve the general environment of science. There is also direct support for science education through grants for K-12 STEM education (mostly in North Carolina) as well as higher education STEM programs. Eligibility and application deadlines vary by award program.

IP TAKE: Wellcome grants support both early-stage and accomplished biology and medical researchers. Access to these awards goes through university deans or department heads, who nominate researchers, but program staff still offers guidance.

PROFILE: The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, originally affiliated with the North Carolina-based Burroughs Wellcome Co. pharmaceutical company, became independent in 1993 and now is without corporate sponsorship. The foundation seeks “to help scientists early in their careers develop as independent investigators” and “to advance fields in the basic biomedical sciences that are undervalued or in need of particular encouragement.” Much of Burroughs Wellcome’s grantmaking supports science research. Science education funding is split between a few unique post graduate-level education and training programs and K-12 STEM education, mostly in North Carolina.

In the Biomedical Sciences, 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 “provides $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 provide 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 provides “$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 also supports cross-disciplinary efforts within the sciences. To that end, its Interfaces in Science program funds “$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.”

The Innovation in Regulatory Science program funds “$500,000 over five years” for grantees working toward “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 through a Preterm Birth Initiative that funds 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.”

Postdoctoral Enrichment Program: This diversity-focused program supports underrepresented minority postdoctoral fellows with grants of $60,000 over three years to build their careers in biomedical science.

Student Science Enrichment Program: Restricted to North Carolina, this STEM education grant program is designed to get primary and secondary students to participate in interactive and inquiry-based science activities. The foundation funds up to $60,000 per year for three years. Past grantees include a combination of after school programs, youth centers, museums, colleges, and K-12 schools themselves.

Career Awards for Science and Mathematics Teachers: These grants support public school, primary- or secondary-level teachers who demonstrate particular flair for teaching science. Grants are $175,000 over five years to expand professional development opportunities and encourage collaboration with other schools.

Promoting Innovation in Science and Mathematics: These are small grants of up to $3,000 over one year to cover expenses related to equipment and supplies incurred during hands-on, inquiry-based science and math projects in K-12 public schools.

Finally, Burroughs Wellcome funds ad hoc, non-competitive grants for nonprofits whose work aligns with the foundation’s focus areas. While this category makes up a small portion of the foundation’s support, past grantees include individual schools, districts, and education professionals associations.

It is important for grantseekers to note that, while the decisions are ultimately made by panels of experts, the foundation is more accessible than some award-focused funders. Potential applicants are invited to contact them directly to discuss the likelihood of an award or to participate in scheduled conference calls.


  • Nancy Andrews, MD, Chair