Case study

Clare LloydProfessor of Respiratory Immunology, Imperial College LondonSenior Research Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Science

Getting Wellcome Trust funding

What attracted you to Wellcome and to this scheme?

I was based in the States when I applied to the Trust but wanted to return to the UK. I’d identified Imperial as the place I wanted to go and they already had various bits of Trust funding. The Trust also seemed to be funding people in my area of science, so I sent my CV. The people at Wellcome suggested I apply for a Senior Research Fellowship, but warned me it was highly competitive.

What aspects of the Senior Research Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Science funding are most useful to you?

The funding eased my transition back into the UK system. With the security of funding, I was able to get up and running quickly and appoint a small team. The funding provides realistic costs. This was important as I was planning relatively expensive in vivo studies. The flexibility is good too – you can go where the science leads you. 

Senior fellowship funding suits me perfectly – I’ve renewed three times now. As long as you’re competitive, you can now renew till you retire. I had the option of going for an Investigator Award, but opted for another senior fellowship renewal instead. It’s enabled me to maintain some independence from my university - I can say no to things. My salary’s underwritten by Imperial and I’m on a 50:50 contract. This means I have a range of responsibilities, including being head of division and supporting Imperial’s early-career fellows. 

Five years’ support is pretty good and true tenure is a rarity these days. I can make long-term plans for my research. And the five-yearly cycle imposes discipline on my project management.

What do you think of the application process?

My first application was difficult – it was in the days before electronic submissions. Everything is much easier now. Wellcome's application forms have always been quite short, but now they’re even shorter with a strong emphasis on your scientific vision. I found that quite hard. It’s challenging to describe what you want to do succinctly but also provide enough detail to be convincing. 

You don’t have to complete a pre-proposal for renewals. The Trust talks to you about a year in advance to find out how things are going and give you a green light to apply. That’s important – it wastes everyone’s time if you apply when you’re unlikely to be competitive. 

Interviews have always been traumatic, but the latest was even worse. You have ten minutes and three slides to sell your whole package. It’s so different from the presentations you normally have to give. And you always get a grilling – the questioning can be pretty aggressive.

How challenging have you found it to secure funding?

I put all my eggs in one basket and only applied to the Trust. In retrospect that may not have been wise. Now, as a Wellcome fellow I can’t apply to other funders’ fellowship schemes. But, fortunately, I’ve been successful with my Wellcome funding. I’ve also been successful obtaining charity and industrial funding, but for some reason I’ve never managed to get anything out of the Medical Research Council.

What advice would you give to other applicants?

Start early. You have to think about your entire application. Make sure you’ve built up your CV - Wellcome will be examining you as an individual, not just your project. Choosing where to go is key. You need to make a convincing case that where you want to work in the best place for the research that you want to carry out. 

Make sure you get honest feedback from colleagues. Ideally, this should be people who’ve been through the same process or have been funded by Wellcome. I gave my renewal application to a trusted colleague and she said: “I think you should start again.” That was wounding but she was completely right. 

Some of the reviewers may not be familiar with your exact field, so get comments from someone outside your immediate area of research, too. And don’t make mistakes in your application form –a no-brainer, but it's surprising how often it happens.

Career path

Career summary

  • 2015–present Senior Research Fellowship renewal
  • 2010–15 Senior Research Fellowship renewal
  • 2006 Personal Chair in Respiratory Immunology
  • 2006 Second child born
  • 2004–10 Senior Research Fellowship renewal
  • 2003 First child born
  • 1999–2004 Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Science
  • 1996–99 Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, USA
  • 1995–96 Postdoc, Harvard University and Boston University Medical Centre
  • 1991–95 National Kidney Research Fund Junior Research Fellowship, Guy’s Hospital
  • 1987–91 PhD in immunology, King’s College London

What have been the defining moments in your career so far?

Shortly after I moved to the States, my boss decamped to industry and I went with him. I never intended to work in industry, but the opportunity was there and it sounded interesting. It was a biotech start up in the mid-1990s and a very dynamic company.  I had exposure to lots of different technologies and learnt many new skills. It was good experience, and a lot of fun. 

I was quite content in the States and would happily have stayed, but my husband was sick of commuting into New York. The senior fellowship gave me the opportunity to get back into UK science.

Since our return, we’ve added two children to the family, which has brought a new set of challenges. Fortunately, science can be quite flexible, as so much of it is involves thinking and writing. I’ve stopped doing practical lab studies though.

Research and public engagement

What’s the key question you’re addressing?

I’m interested in interactions between immune cells and cells lining the respiratory tract, and how inflammation’s controlled in the lungs. The lungs must constantly defend against invading organisms while ignoring harmless environmental contaminants. Yet sometimes innocuous materials like pollen or animal allergens trigger damaging inflammatory immune responses. If we could understand why, we might be able to prevent potentially deadly asthmatic responses.

How are you going about answering this question?

We use mouse models to look at inflammatory reactions following exposure to allergens or infections. We use cell-specific knockout mice to look at the roles of particular molecules in specific subsets of immune cells. In collaboration with paediatricians at the Royal Brompton Hospital, we’re looking at how the results of animal studies relate to findings in young children with severe asthma.

What public engagement or outreach work do you do?

As part of our quest for Athena recognition, I helped to organise a ‘bring your child to work’ day, arranging lab activities. With my paediatric colleagues, I’m hoping to develop an outreach programme for pre-school children with asthma. It will be quite challenging.

References

  1. Saglani S et al. IL-33 promotes airway remodeling in pediatric patients with severe steroid-resistant asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013;132(3):676-685.
  2. Snelgrove RJ et al. Alternaria-derived serine protease activity drives IL-33-mediated asthma exacerbations. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014;134(3):583-592.
  3. Castanhinha S et al. Pediatric severe asthma with fungal sensitization is mediated by steroid-resistant IL-33. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2015;136(2):312-322.

More information

Find out more about Clare's work on the Imperial College website