OVERVIEW: Burroughs Wellcome Fund focuses on backing individual researchers and boosting the field of science research. They mostly fund researchers through competitive awards, but also give a handful of grants to nonprofits working to improve the general environment of science. There is also direct support for science education through support for K-12 STEM education (mostly in North Carolina) as well as higher ed STEM programs. Eligibility and application deadlines vary by award program.
IP TAKE: Wellcome grants go to both early-stage and accomplished researchers, with an emphasis on biology and medical research. Access to these awards goes through university deans or department heads, who nominate researchers, but program staff still offer guidance.
PROFILE: While the foundation itself started in 1955, the pharmaceutical company dates back to the 19th century and some of the earliest commercial uses of pills. 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 pharma conglomerate. In 1993 the foundation became independent, with no corporate sponsorship.
The majority of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s millions in annual giving goes to science research. Science education giving is split between a few unique post graduate-level education and training programs, while 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 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.”
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 within the sciences. To that end, 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.”
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 through a Preterm Birth Initiative that 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.”
Postdoctoral Enrichment Program: This diversity-focused program provides $60,000 over three years to underrepresented minority, postdoctoral fellows to build their careers in biomedical science.
Student Science Enrichment Program: This is your more typical STEM education grant program, although it is restricted to North Carolina. It’s designed to get primary and secondary students to participate in interactive and inquiry-based science activities. The fund awards grantees up to $60,000 per year for three years. Awardees are a combination of after school programs, youth centers, museums, colleges, and K-12 schools themselves.
Career Awards for Science and Mathematics Teachers: These grants go to 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, 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 supporting individual schools, districts and education professionals associations.
It’s important 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 likelihood of an award, or participate in scheduled conference calls.
- Alfred M. Maye, Program Officer
- Melanie Scott, Senior Program Associate
- Kendra Tucker, Senior Program Assistant
- Contact List