Faculty of Medical Sciences

Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund


We benefit hugely from this flexible funding in delivering our aim of delivering cutting edge biomedical and health research.

The Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) provides UK-based universities with an allocation of funding that they are required to match and which they are able to use in a variety of ways to invest and promote strategic areas of importance.

We are encouraged to use the resource in areas of unmet need, for example, early careers, collaborative activities and interdisciplinary initiatives. We are fortunate to be one of 25 UK universities that has been awarded grants through this Fund.

Future plans for the ISSF scheme

In October 2014 we received a further £1.5m award from the Wellcome Trust under their ISSF scheme.  The University has committed to matching this level of resource over two years. The plans agreed with the Wellcome Trust for the use of this resource include the following three key areas:

  • ideas to promote research
  • capturing talent and maximizing success
  • integrating engagement and our activity

Promoting Research

Our principle aim is to support developing researchers in their efforts to further develop their own research niche. Resources are used flexibly through our Small Research Grant Offering to support innovative research ideas through to the next funding step.


It provides opportunities to test a novel idea with the potential to develop into a bid for external research funding or for accessing the Confidence in Concept scheme (funded by Medical Research Council).

It also provides opportunities to complete a piece of work for which funding is no longer available but with the potential to generate significant publications leading to further substantial funding applications. 

In addition the fund provides researchers who have taken a period of leave and returned (perhaps after illness or maternity leave) the opportunity to complete a piece of work.

There are also opportunities to purchase low-cost, but enabling equipment via the Faculty's equipment scheme, where no alternative funds are available (evidence that this would benefit multiple groups through shared access would be strong indicators for support).

How resources will be used 

We have a further aim of broadening our horizons to raise our research aspirations and our international profile. Resource will be used to support and extend our programme of Faculty Research Lectures, Research Group Seminars, Institute/Centre Research Days, Conferences and Symposia, through the involvement of external speakers.

Resource will also be used to support our visiting Fellows and Professors scheme and support the development of our Research Centres in defining and strengthening their research and engagement strategies.

Additionally this resource provides the opportunity for individual and groups of researchers to establish focused workshops with an inter-disciplinary theme. It also provides opportunities for researchers to link up with colleagues with similar or complementary expertise of interest in order to develop ideas and collaborative proposals suitable for bids to external funders,

Grant development support 

Across the Faculty we are looking to improve our research grant success rates through the adoption of grant development support mechanisms and internal peer review. For further information contact: marjorie.holbrough@ncl.ac.uk.

Integrating Engagement

The University's vision is Engagement with Impact. Within the Faculty we have established a clear strategy and several structures that dovetail with the University Framework. These support and enable active engagement and integration of key stakeholders with every aspect of our research. 

Engagement with a purpose

We work closely with local communities and wider public audiences. We foster a community with members of the public as fundamental and active partners in all our activity. 

Within the Faculty, our Public Engagement Co-ordinator supports the development and implementation of our engagement strategy and the inherent drive to maintain a culture that supports public engagement.

Key components include:

  • increasing clarity and understanding about public engagement
  • increasing levels of training and support
  • providing seedcorn resources for supporting engagement activity
  • supporting forums for researchers to regularly meet and share best practice 
  • maximising communication strategies (newsletters, social media, web)
  • developing toolkits for engagement
  • organising and supporting a series of debates, local meetings, high profile public events and exhibitions around our key priorities

Developing innovative cross-disciplinary partnership and collaboration

We continue to place an emphasis on identifying and developing successful partnerships and collaborations across Newcastle University and with local and national organisations and institutions. This is specifically aimed at strengthening links with other universities and research centres and other organisations undertaking complementary activities.

Local community engagement and network development:  Science and Citizens

We are particularly keen to develop an open culture and dialogue where exciting ideas can be simulated, tested and challenges shared to accelerate the creation and use of knowledge. 

We will continue to co-develop and deliver special engagement projects, such as our flagship Research Matters series.

Another focus is work with key audiences who are fundamental to our research but with whom the University has minimal engagement. These include local communities of high socioeconomic deprivation. This marks our commitment to long term grass roots engagement projects.

Engagement for impact

We are keen to ensure that good public engagement practice and of how to translate cutting edge science into innovative, and inclusive, engagement opportunities is embedded in early and mid-stage career development. 

Resources will be used to support a programme of training and engagement opportunities for early and mid-career scientists to facilitate public engagement activities with the intention that this leads to funding bids and activity with a clear focus on engagement, translation and pathways to impact. 

Evaluation and impact

We will use resources to provide support for a short-term postdoctoral role with expertise in PPE. The focus is the evaluation of current and past engagement and involvement projects to identify barriers and facilitators to effectiveness. There is a need for the role to work closely with colleagues in other academic centres including Warwick and Oxford to harmonise evaluation activity. 

We also want to further knowledge and debate, and engage the public in dialogue about biomedical and health research. This will explore the impact it may have on people's lives, the economy and society. 

A key outcome will be to provide the latest evidence and equip scientists with the skills to contribute to public debate about the direction, purpose and implications of biomedical and health research, develop leadership skills and policy development skills, and develop engagement toolkits to evaluate and capture impact.

Capturing Talent

The University's vision is Engagement with Impact. Within the Faculty we have established a clear strategy and several structures that dovetail with the University Framework. These support and enable active engagement and integration of key stakeholders with every aspect of our research.

Newcastle University Fellowship Scheme – science pathway

Our objective is to build a strong base of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) who will go on to become the research leaders of the future.

Tailored mentoring and support is central to our scheme and is available for both internally and externally funded fellows. Limited levels of start-up funding for new internal fellows is included in the scheme.

Clinical Medical and Clinical Non-Medical Support – clinical pathway

We also support medically trained staff, both trainees on the NIHR Clinical Academic Training Pathway and high-calibre individuals outside this pathway, to secure externally-funded doctoral and intermediate level clinical fellowships.

We are exploring with our partner NHS Trusts the development of support for clinical non-medical research career paths.

Researchers for tomorrow

Our objective is to continue to develop and deliver appropriate support, guidance and training opportunities for future cohorts of excellent researchers in science and translational medicine.

Following the success of our first Research Leaders Development Centre in May 2013, we plan to hold a further Centre. The Centre activity kickstarts the long term supported development of Principal Investigators aspiring to become our research leaders of tomorrow.

ECR retention

Our Bridging Scheme for postdoctoral researchers is open. This supports the retention of specialist skills and expertise and which contributes to our commitment to meet the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers in providing an opportunity to ECRs for continued employment.

Knowledge/skill acquisition (ECR/undergraduate development)

Resources are used flexibly through our specialist knowledge and skills offering to enable postgraduate researchers and ECRs to attend training courses to gain specialist research skills and conferences to broaden understanding of a particular area of research.

Resources are also used to enable postgraduate researchers and ECRs to visit other organisations in order to develop potential collaborative links with research groups, NHS organisations or companies (travel and accommodation only supported). In addition to enable postgraduate researchers and ECRs to visit other academic centres outside the UK as part of a sponsored lecture tour (we provide top-up funds to cover travel and accommodation and would expect contributions from the destination organisations).

For our undergraduate biomedical science students, the opportunity for research experience through vacation project work continues to be made available.

Funding to Date

Between October 2011 to September 2014 we received £2.25 million from the Wellcome Trust under their ISSF scheme. The University made a similar contribution making a total resource of £5,182,356 which has been utilised across a number of Medical Sciences infrastructure and support areas.

We have been working according to Athena SWAN principles, achieving Bronze compliance across our academic units.

Post-doctoral scientists

Our bridging scheme helps us support the retention of our skilled researchers. This contributes to our commitment to meet the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. Since October 2011 we have supported 72 research staff: 50 have been retained on further grant awards, 12 have left our employment and the remainder have yet to complete their bridging period.

Our Fellowship Scheme was updated in 2011 to attract external applicants and incorporate mentoring as an essential element. Since spring 2012 we have appointed 11 Faculty Fellows for varying periods up to three years. In 2013-14 we piloted a new scheme to support post-doctoral research independence through start-up grants for 12 early career researchers. These grants provide:

  • consumables
  • access to our shared scientific facilities
  • small pieces of bench equipment
  • training
  • conference attendance

Postgraduate students

In 2013-14 we piloted a scheme that enabled nine postgraduates to gain specialist expertise to improve their research and bring expertise into the team that supports them. A similar scheme opened in 2014-15.

Undergraduate research experience

Since October 2011, 61 undergraduates have been awarded funding for vacation research projects. This opportunity will continue to be made available. This research experience supports our objective to recruit high calibre postgraduates through the provision of relevant experience during the summer vacation. 

Research leaders' development

We held a research leaders' development centre in May 2013 and six academic staff joined. The aim was to gather an understanding of their strengths, development needs and how they might best be supported in attaining leadership positions. A further development centre is planned.

Preliminary data gathering

We ran a scheme for 21 months from January 2012 which supported 61 researchers in gathering preliminary data to enable them to submit grant applications. We evaluated the scheme in June 2014 and found that it had been valuable for a range of reasons, in particular:

  • acquisition of further data (50%)
  • exploration of a novel approach (48%)
  • a new collaboration between PIs (39%)
  • a research technique tested (36%)
  • completion of a research proposal (32%)
  • support for a publication (30%)
  • completion of an existing project (27%)
  • support for a conference paper/presentation (27%)

A similar scheme opened in 2014-15.

Research seminars and lectures

The Faculty supports research group events and an annual programme of research lectures from world leading experts, and opportunities for visiting Fellows and Professors to come to Newcastle University.

Public and patient engagement

We are ensuring that engagement becomes embedded within research through the dissemination of good practice through our support team and local discipline-based champions.

Scientific facilities

The Faculty provides a range of specialist scientific facilities and expertise which have been additionally supported through this funding.

Translational research support

Our core translational research structure is actively supported by a specialist Funding Development Manager who project manages grant applications and interacts between study teams and funders.