Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Clinical academic research partnerships

Apply for funding to develop your research interests through a collaborative partnership. Your research can focus on any area of MRC’s or NIHR’s remit.

You must:

  • be a registered healthcare professional
  • have a PhD, MD or equivalent
  • be working at a senior level with specialised knowledge and demonstrable capacity for professional independence and leadership
  • have a research partner based at an eligible research organisation.

MRC will fund 20% to 50% of your salary and project costs for one to three years. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

This is an ongoing scheme. Application rounds open once a year, closing in November.

Who can apply

You can apply if you:

  • are a member of NHS staff, staff contracted to the NHS or working in the care or public health sectors. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • nurses
    • midwives
    • allied health professions
    • healthcare scientists
    • pharmacists
    • clinical psychologists
    • doctors
    • dentists
    • registered public health practitioners
    • others, in either primary care, secondary care, community care or public health
  • are working at consultant level or in other senior roles, for example Agenda for Change Band 7 or above
  • are working at a senior level with specialised knowledge and demonstrable capacity for professional independence and leadership
  • hold a PhD, MD or equivalent, for example three years’ consolidated research time where you have been the intellectual drive behind a project and achieved strong outputs from your research experience
  • are not undertaking any substantive research activity.

There are no eligibility rules based on time since applicants obtained their PhD or MD. However, applicants without a significant break in research activity will need to articulate the added value of the award, for example:

  • how this scheme will put them on a research trajectory they were not currently on
  • why this scheme is a more suitable option compared to other schemes they are eligible for.

Applicants without a significant break in research activity are encouraged to investigate other existing schemes, for example, MRC’s clinician scientist fellowship or NIHR’s advanced fellowship.

Applicants will usually have limited or no research funding. We expect you will have less than half a day per week dedicated to research within your current contract. For example, one programmed activity (PA), a week within your current job plan.

We welcome proposals from applicants with more dedicated research time, but you should ensure that you articulate the added value of the award. For example, to support you in working in new environments or with new research partners.

Eligible research partners

You must have at least one research partner. The research partner must have a proven track record of securing funding and delivering high-quality research. The research partner must be able to provide a suitably stable environment for the duration of the award. This is typically evidenced by holding funding for the duration of the planned partnership, from funders such as:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • NIHR
  • significant third sector research funders.

They must also be based at an organisation eligible to hold research council funding. This includes but is not limited to:

Your research partner must hold a contract of employment with the host research organisation for the duration of the award.

You must include the research partner within the application as a co-investigator. The research partner must provide a letter of support indicating how they will support you throughout the duration of the award.

Support you need from the host research organisation

You should hold a contract of employment or an honorary contract with the host research organisation for the duration of the award. Please note there is no requirement to relinquish your NHS (or equivalent employer) post in order to take up the award. The host research organisation must:

  • be eligible to hold research council funding (this includes NHS bodies)
  • be registered in the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S)
  • accept responsibility for administering the award, including making local arrangements where necessary to, for example, make payments to the NHS Trust to support backfill appointments
  • demonstrate appropriate support (such as access to facilities) to enable you to successfully undertake your project.

All applications must be approved by the appropriate administrative authority on behalf of the host institution. Administrative authorities are responsible for ensuring salaries and resources cited in the proposal are enough to undertake the proposed research.

Find out more about eligible organisations.

You must include a letter from the host institution confirming its support and approval as part of your application.

Support you need from your employer

The NHS organisation (or equivalent, such as a local authority, care organisation, Public Health England) that employs you must provide a letter of support. It must:

  • confirm that you will have protected research time and will therefore be released for the proportion of time funded by MRC and the NIHR
  • include clear and feasible plans for your time to be backfilled, especially for applicants from niche specialties where this will present challenges
  • guarantee that you can re-enter the clinic full-time without any loss of career progression or status at the end of the award if you choose to do so.

As a condition of the award, we will ask for a copy of your NHS job plan to confirm the number of research PAs.

What we're looking for

The aim of this scheme is to provide research-qualified healthcare professionals, not currently undertaking any substantial research activity:

  • the opportunity to form a collaborative high-quality research partnership with established leading biomedical and applied health researchers
  • with protected time and funding to enhance their research skills and experience.

You must be able to:

  • describe how you will extend and develop your research skills and experience
  • demonstrate that the partnership has a clear value to both you and your research partner
  • explain why this award is the best way to support a step-change in your research career.

We welcome project proposals across all remit and interest areas of MRC and the NIHR. Your project can range from basic discovery science to translational and applied health research.

You can address research questions from disease-specific mechanistic hypotheses through to research in priority areas such as:

  • primary care
  • population health
  • public health
  • mental health
  • molecular pathology
  • multimorbidity
  • other areas.

Browse MRC’s areas of investment and support.

Read UKRI’s five-year strategy.

Read NIHR’s strategic plans.

We welcome applications proposing interdisciplinary approaches or research that will address global health issues and be of benefit to those living in low and middle-income countries.

Your proposed project should be tailored to your interests and expertise and those of your research partner and designed to provide a mutually beneficial collaboration. The awards are flexible so you can tailor the support to your individual collaborative plans.

Awards will be for at least one year and no more than three years. Each award will provide between 20% to 50% of your salary to support protected research time, and costs to undertake the project.

Recognising that you would be delivering the research proposed at less than fulltime alongside clinical commitments, you may wish to request funding for technical, research or other staff to support delivery of the project. If requested, their contribution to the project should be detailed in the justification of resources.

The research partner (co-investigator) is not expected to request funds to support their time as part of the application. In exceptional circumstances this may be appropriate, if requested, their contribution to the project should be detailed in the justification of resources and the request should not exceed 5% of their time (or a total of 5% full-time equivalent across all research partners if more than one is named).

Support for students may not be requested.

MRC will typically fund 80% of the full economic cost. The research organisation must agree to find the balance of full economic cost from other resources.

How to apply

Transition from Je-S to TFS

From January 2024, research council opportunities will be launched and managed through the new UK Research and Innovation Funding Service (TFS).

Responsive mode opportunities (such as this) will gradually transition from Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) to TFS during 2023.

Please revisit this opportunity page during August 2023, when we will be able to confirm how you are able to apply.

How we will assess your application

When we receive your application, we will check it to make sure it is within remit. It will then be peer-reviewed by at least three independent experts from the UK and overseas.

You can nominate up to three independent reviewers. We will invite only one to assess your application and may decide not to approach any of your nominated reviewers.

Assessment criteria

Peer reviewers will assess your application and provide comments. They will also score it using the peer reviewer scoring system against the following criteria.


How important are the questions, or gaps in knowledge, that are being addressed?

Scientific potential

What are the prospects for good scientific progress?

Resources requested

Are the requested funds essential for the work?

Do the importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested?

Does the proposal represent good value for money?


We will review these scores and comments at a triage meeting carried out by a sub-committee of members of the clinical academic research partnership panel.

We will continue with the highest quality applications with potential to be funded. If your application passes the triage stage, we will send you copies of the external reviewers’ comments and give you the chance to respond to the comments.

A panel meeting will then discuss your proposal and decide if it is suitable for funding. We aim to make a decision within six months of receiving your application.

We will assess your proposal on:

  • the track record of your proposed research partner, including their funding and current productivity, and their ability to provide you with a suitable research environment
  • evidence of your research capabilities, shown by your productivity and the skills you have gained during your PhD or medical degree, and any other past research experience
  • how well the proposed project aligns with your research strengths and interests and those of your research partner
  • how well the project will provide a mutually beneficial collaboration, enhancing your research experience and the contribution you can make to your research partner’s existing team
  • the strength of institutional support provided, including the facilities and experience your research partner is able to provide, and the strength of support from your employing NHS organisation.

We will share proposals with our co-funders, the NIHR, as part of the review process.

Find out more about the MRC peer review process.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Clinical academic research partnerships team


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