We’re launching this funding because we believe that diversity of people and expertise leads to richer understanding and more impactful discoveries.
If we help underrepresented groups fulfil their potential in science, we benefit everyone.
Why are we doing this?
From our data and insight work, we could see that researchers of Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage are underrepresented in research in the UK. This gave us an opportunity to help in a practical way.
We believe that this targeted funding will help underrepresented researchers to progress their careers in research and contribute to life-saving discoveries.
We'll continue to work towards becoming a more inclusive funder because we need people from all backgrounds to contribute and share their insights and expertise if we are to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone.
There will be one funding round for the awards per year, for an initial four years, with an allocation of approximately £4.5 million per year. The awards will be for up to £200,000 per researcher, for up to two years.
The funding will open in spring this year. Researchers at a UK higher education institution can apply at any stage of their career from postdoctorate onwards, up to but not including professorship.
The awards cover any discipline, but the research area must align with our Discovery Research remit – encompassing research into life, health and well-being – or in our Climate and Health, Mental Health, or Infectious Disease research programmes.
Barriers for racially minoritised communities
Researchers who identify as being from a Black, Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage background are underrepresented in UK research.
Career paths vary, but key stages can include becoming a postdoctoral researcher, gaining a fellowship to lead a research programme and progressing to an academic post.
The data shows:
- Black or Black British researchers in the UK made up 2.9% of the UK academic research population in 2021/22. By comparison, Black and Black British people made up 4.4% of the working age population of England and Wales in 2021.
- Researchers of Bangladeshi heritage in the UK made up 0.5% of the UK academic research population in 2021/22. By comparison, people of Bangladeshi heritage made up 1.1% of the working age population of England and Wales in 2021.
- Researchers of Pakistani heritage in the UK made up 1.1% of the UK academic research population in 2021/22. By comparison, people of Pakistani heritage made up 2.7% of the working age population of England and Wales in 2021.
- White researchers made up 79.5% of the UK academic research population in 2021/22. By comparison, White people made up 80.7% of the working age population of England and Wales in 2021.
“The world of academia is precarious. The ‘hidden’ requirements for connections and support in order to get ahead have a greater impact on racially minoritised researchers,” says Shomari Lewis-Wilson, Senior Manager, Research Culture and Communities at Wellcome.
“Researchers of Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage are not adequately represented in scientific research in the UK,” he adds. “If we are to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone, we need the creativity and expertise of people from all backgrounds.”
In the initial consultations with Wellcome, researchers spoke about a lack of access to connections and support. They said this made it difficult to build up the track record in research which is needed to gain positions and funding.
“Talented researchers are being locked out of progressing their career, or being forced to leave," Shomari says. "They are not progressing to the stages where they would lead teams and set the research agenda. This means that we are missing out on their ideas which could transform our understanding of how to improve health for everyone.”
How will this targeted funding help?
The awards are designed to provide researchers with flexible funding. This will put them in a stronger position to build up their track record and make their next career transition.
The funding can be used for research or research-adjacent activities. This might include, for example, writing books or articles, or taking up research skills opportunities. At the end of their awards, researchers should be in a better position to attract more funding, gain promotion and recognition, and develop their professional profiles.
“We need the brightest ideas from everyone to make scientific breakthroughs and change lives,” says Dan O’Connor, Head of Research Environment at Wellcome. “We hope these awards will help talented researchers break through barriers in the system and fulfil their potential.”
What else is Wellcome doing to become an inclusive funder?
In 2021, we published our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy which outlined our commitment to being an inclusive funder.
Achieving these goals is about ensuring that the broadest range of people contribute to, and benefit from, science's potential to change the world and improve health.
From spring 2024, Wellcome is introducing positive action in its competitive open funding calls and schemes.
For those calls and schemes that include a shortlisting stage of full applications, consideration will be given to creating additional places for competitive applications from groups which are underrepresented in UK academic research – researchers in the UK who are disabled and/or identify as being from a Black, Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage background. This will be alongside other strategic considerations, such as research area and geographic location.
Applications will then be further evaluated through a decision interview or final panel consideration. There will be no change to this part of the process.
In addition, we are exploring how to support institutions and networks to improve their support to researchers from underrepresented communities.
Wellcome appointed our first Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer to our Executive Leadership team in 2023 to ensure we further embed and accelerate inclusive practices within the organisation.