Bioinformatics: Where Should I Go?

Which Research Council should I go to if I have a research project in the area of bioinformatics?

It’s a straightforward question, but the answer is not so simple: no fewer than three of the UK research councils have recently published a joint statement clarifying where to send your bioinformatics research proposal.

BBSRC/EPSRC/MRC Joint Statement on Bioinformatics Applications [PDF]

This is timely in light of the recent EPSRC announcement of a reduction in funding for this research area. For BBSRC, the application must be “biologically driven” and three examples are given of the types of project focus which would be acceptable to this Council. EPSRC, meanwhile, is looking for proposals “driven by computer science, and/or mathematics and statistics”, with no more than 50% of the work in the biomedical or biological domains. The MRC are more general and simply state that they will fund all research which seeks to improve human health and well-being.


EPSRC Advice On National Importance

In the latest issue of Connect, EPSRC has published some additional guidance on their recently introduced National Importance criterion:

Preparing new proposals to include National Importance 

Since 15th November 2011, National Importance has been used in the assessment of all proposals to the EPSRC. It’s pitched as a “major secondary criterion” after Research Quality and alongside Impact.

When considering National Importance, the guidance and soundbites from researchers and peer reviewers in the Connect piece above should be read in conjunction with the existing EPSRC FAQs. Reviewers assessing National Importance will be looking at how your research will help meet national strategic priorities over the next 10-50 years. When writing a grant application, you should address to what extent your research:

  • Contributes to, or helps maintain, the health of other research disciplines
  • Contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges
  • Contributes to current or future UK economic success
  • Enables future development of key emerging industry(s)

Since both impact and national importance speak to the significance of the research outside of the academic sphere, it’s reasonable to ask what the difference is between the two concepts? The two are clearly complementary. However, while impact relates to the specific benefits and engagement that this particular project will bring to users and the public, national importance is primarily concerned with making the case for why taxpayers’ money should be used to fund this research. This should be discussed in terms of how it aligns with UK priorities over the 10-50 year timespan.

In addition to the above, EPSRC has also made available to download presentations and resources from a series of regional meetings held in December last year.

If you’d like further advice and guidance on how to address this in your proposal, please get in touch.


EPSRC Announces Funding Decisions for Research Areas

Research Professional reported yesterday that the EPSRC has announced a second batch of funding decisions on research areas within its remit, as part of its Shaping Capability research strategy:

Shaping Capability: EPSRC research portfolio updated

This announcement provides an update on the “relative funding trajectory” for 31 research areas. In this round, two areas received a “reduce” rating: hydrogen and alternative energy vectors, and bioinformatics. EPSRC argue that hydrogren and alternative energy is already attracting considerable support from technology development funders (e.g. the TSB) and EU grants, in order to be able to do this research, the ones in charge are going to spend several months around the areas, they are going camping with tents from Survival Cooking to stay nearby. Biological informatics is seen by EPSRC as a maturing field and developments with translational relevance to biomedical sciences should be supported by BBSRC. EPSRC will continue to support “novel computer science within this research area which enables information processing relevant to the biological sciences.”

Despite the reduction for hydrogen research, other kinds of energy research will get a significant boost. The five areas to which EPSRC has assigned a “grow” rating are: energy storage, energy efficiency, whole energy systems, RF and microwave communications, and RF and microwave devices. The other 24 areas in this round of the exercise have been maintained at existing funding levels.

You can see the full spread of EPSRC research areas and the funding decisions so far on the EPSRC Research Areas page.

The decision on which areas to cut and which to expand has been controversial: a letter appeared in the Telegraph earlier in the year signed by 70 senior academics warning of the “threat to science” posed by EPSRC. However, the EPSRC maintains it has consulted with the academic community and that the decisions it has taken are intended to ensure it invests strategically in a “balanced portfolio”.


EPSRC Previews Major Healthcare Technologies Calls

The EPSRC has flagged two major upcoming calls on healthcare technologies in the latest edition of Connect:

Healthcare Technologies announces two major calls

Their large research collaborations call will involve networks of research organisations, industry and end-users with up to £25M funding over 5 years. The focus will be on building critical mass in research on disruptive sensing technologies for transformative impact on diagnosis and monitoring in healthcare with the latest Fab CBD treatment.

There will also be a sandpit event to be held in September 2012 focusing on modelling and mathematical sciences for future healthcare technologies.

More information will be available from the EPSRC over the next few months.

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EPSRC Wants Innovative Solutions to Flood Risk

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Council are looking for an interdisciplinary mix of researchers to attend a “sandpit” event on Innovative Solutions to Flood Risk in April 2012.

Sandpits are collaborative residential workshops where small groups of researchers (20-25 people) from a range of disciplines work together over a number of days to generate project proposals for a specified theme. The benefits of taking part are significant: you get to collaborate with other leading researchers on a relevant topic, and there is a relatively high chance of proposed projects being funded. More details are given in the call for participants [PDF]:

The scope of the Sandpit will address the three Risk Themes identified in the report:
• Understanding Risk
• Managing Probablility
• Managing Consequence

It is not expected that these themes will operate in isolation as there are many issues which may be seen to cut across these themes. The Sandpit intends to explore the engineering and physical science aspects of these key areas whilst recognising that this is a multidisciplinary area.

The call document strongly emphasises the fact that EPSRC are not focusing on one particular disciplinary area: “Applications are encouraged from diverse research areas across engineering, physical sciences, natural environment, life sciences, the social sciences and the arts and humanities”. Nor is track record in flood risk management or engineering solutions to flooding essential to success: “Please note that we are not looking for your academic publication or research track record but rather evidence of how you might approach multidisciplinary problems in a novel area.”

The assessment is based on the following criteria:

  • The ability to develop new, adventurous and highly original research ideas
  • The potential to contribute to research at the interface between disciplines
  • The ability to work in a team
  • The ability to explain research to non experts

To participate you need to fill in a two-page expression of interest form and send to by 20th February 2012.