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Final call

 Image: JiahuiH [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

The bar is high for the last bids to UKRI’s rolling coronavirus scheme

Hurry, hurry! UK Research and Innovation’s multidisciplinary rolling call for ideas to address the Covid-19 pandemic is winding down. The funder has set its final deadline for business-led applications for 9 December, while the deadline for research applications is 15 December. 

If possible, though, applicants should get their bids in before then: unless they are urgent, bids received very close to the deadline will have to wait until January for review, the funder has said.

After the deadline, Covid-related funding will still be available via the standard response-mode grant schemes of UKRI’s constituent research councils, seed funding for urgent applications and future strategic Covid-related calls.

What is UKRI looking for in applications in the scheme’s final month? We turned to Charlotte Deane, Covid-19 response director at UKRI, to find out.

Are you looking for bids tackling any particular questions before the call closes?

Our priority areas have been refreshed, but I want to stress that the items there are not exhaustive. One of the reasons to have an open call is to say to researchers that if you’ve seen something important and it fits this call, please send it in.

With that caveat, are there areas you are keen to develop?

Yes. One is around deepening understanding of the virus. Ethics is also a growing consideration. A lot of what is being proposed now, be it from a medical or engineering standpoint, for example, will have an impact on how we expect people to live or on behaviour. The research community should build that ethical element into proposals.

What else will you be looking for in the final bids?

It will be important for researchers to explain why they need to do this research now. We are in the middle of a pandemic—it’s slightly harder to do certain things—but the research supported by this call needs to have real impact in a relatively short period of time, preferably within the lifetime of the grant. There are other mechanisms for funding work aiming for longer-term impact. Applicants should ask themselves how they will connect to systems—perhaps in industry or government or the NHS or maybe schools—so their work can have that short-term impact.

Are there important aspects now that might have been less important in earlier bids?

We’re taking a portfolio research approach and you should certainly look at the research that is ongoing. That doesn’t mean you can’t apply in the same area as other projects, but you must be linked up to those research environments or show why you are additive to that research. We’ve created a topic maps tool to make searching for relevant projects as easy as possible.

What else might be different for those applying now?

When this call first started, we didn’t know very much at all about the virus, so proposals could legitimately say they just wanted to research the basics. Now there’s a body of Covid-19 research literature and proposals should be grounded in the existing evidence and be able to build on it.

Do you have any comments on the size of bids submitted?

Overall, the size of bids has been appropriate for the scheme. We are seeing more collaborative grants and I would like to encourage that development. Many projects will tackle a problem that will not be well suited to a single research group.

Could you give an example?

We recently awarded a grant for a project called Track, to simulate infection risk on public transport. This involves several academic groups and had the involvement of the Department for Transport and Public Health England. What made that bid so powerful was that such a problem requires virologists and mathematical modellers, as well as scientists measuring air particles, and all those elements were there. The research was also connected to the Department for Transport so it can have a direct impact on what is done within the transport system. If you’re going to try to solve such a major problem, get your community together to solve it and bid like that. 

Do you have any advice for people whose research may not have the required urgency?

If researchers have strong ideas for Covid-19 research that are longer term in impact than with this scheme, they should apply to the standard mechanisms of the councils. This is obviously a priority area for research. My advice would be not to wait till the rolling call comes to an end and then apply—do it now.

What are your feelings now this call is coming to a close?

I truly want to thank the whole research community who have contributed in some way, including peer reviewers and panellists. This has been a massive community effort and I’m grateful. In fact, one of the reasons we’re closing the rolling call is because we can’t keep working like that forever—it’s unsustainable. The priority now is to get Covid-19 research embedded in the work of the councils, and we need to start that process rapidly.

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com