Daniel StreickerResearch Fellow, University of GlasgowSir Henry Dale Fellowships
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Getting Wellcome Trust funding
What attracted you to Wellcome and to this scheme?
A colleague from the USA who had moved to the UK alerted me to the Wellcome Trust schemes. The opportunities suited me perfectly. They were better than anything available to me in the USA in the level of support provided at an early career stage.
I’m interested in bat ecology and how it affects transmission of viruses to humans and livestock. During my PhD, I’d established a field system in Peru to study vampire bats and rabies. If I’d taken a postdoc in someone else’s lab, it would have been difficult to maintain the work and the international collaborations I’d established. I thought about trying for assistant professorships, but I wanted to stay focused on research for longer before taking up admin and teaching responsibilities. Biomedical fellowships in the USA seemed more aimed at laboratory-based science in traditional fields like cellular or molecular biology.
My work applies tools from ecology and evolution to public health and this often involves fieldwork in low-income countries. I didn’t see many examples of biomedical funding going to people like me. The breadth of science funded by the Wellcome Trust early-career fellowships made them seem like an exception.
What aspects of the Sir Henry Dale Fellowship funding are most useful to you?
The scale and length of funding at an early stage in your career are incredibly useful. I’ve been able to build small teams in Glasgow and Peru, where we generate the bulk of our data. The funding is also very flexible, so you can respond to emerging opportunities. You can use funds in ways that best meet the needs of your research. For example, we bought a truck in Peru, which has transformed the way we can collect data in the field.
What do you think about Wellcome’s application process?
I found it quite straightforward – a pre-proposal, a main proposal, then interviews. I like that the application is strongly focused on science. I was fortunate that Wellcome were willing to be flexible in their eligibility criteria. Because I was based in the USA, I wasn’t eligible for the fellowship I wanted to apply for. But I had strong support from Glasgow and, even though I only had just over one year’s postdoc experience when I applied, Wellcome was willing to let me apply for the more senior Sir Henry Dale.
My mentor and colleagues in Glasgow provided valuable input at all stages of my application. It was helpful to get advice from people who’d been through the process and could help with the nuances.
I got great coaching for my interview. I did multiple mock interviews with different people. My colleagues helped me understand what kinds of questions were likely to come up, and how to deliver concise and effective answers which were key to success in the interview.
How challenging have you found it to secure funding?
Like everyone, I’ve had a few rejections over the years – you win some, you lose some. I had to secure my own funding for my PhD and first postdoc, so I got used to hunting out funds. I applied to the US National Science Foundation for funding to come to Glasgow. I was successful but declined it when the Wellcome offer came through – the US funding was for a shorter period and nowhere near as generous in terms of staff and consumables costs.
What advice would you give to other applicants?
Plan ahead. Take time to find the right location. Visit early on, talk to people, get a sense of how good the fit is between what you want to do and the institution’s expertise. Funders are looking to fund the right person doing the right project in the right place. You need to get all these right, and make a compelling case that you’re proposing to work in the best possible location with appropriate collaborators, resources and infrastructure.
Make sure you get plenty of input into your proposal – ask colleagues to critique it – particularly those in related, but not identical fields. And interviews are crucial, so prepare really thoroughly.
- 2015 National Geographic Emerging Explorer
- 2015 Research Fellow, University of Glasgow
- 2014 Wellcome-Beit Prize
- 2014 Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellowship
- 2013 Science and SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists – Grand Prize
- 2011 PhD awarded, University of Georgia
- 2010–14 National Science Foundation Research Grant
- 2007–10 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
- 2004–06 CDC/APHL Emerging Infectious Diseases Training Fellowship
What have been the defining moments of your career so far?
I majored in psychobiology, studying links between brain and behaviour. I thought the questions were fascinating but didn’t enjoy the day-to-day lab work.
Then I volunteered for a research project looking at gastrointestinal parasites in wild mice. It meant living at a research station in the mountains of Virginia for a summer. It was an amazing experience and showed me that it was possible to do research I enjoyed that had veterinary and public health relevance.
My Emerging Infectious Diseases Training Fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was transformative. The lab I was in gave me the freedom to choose what to work on. It was my first taste of looking at the literature and developing research questions. That’s how I got into bats and rabies.
My PhD and National Science Foundation (NSF) funding helped me develop this. I got interested in vampire bats and rabies in Latin America – they’re a significant veterinary public health and economic problem there, so I thought my work could have more practical impact, while still addressing fundamental questions about how animal ecology and human activities influence disease transmission.These opportunities enabled me to establish a niche early in my career, which really helped with the Henry Dale application.
Research and public engagement
What’s the key question you're addressing?
I study the ecological and evolutionary barriers to viral transmission between species1,2. Bats are an important source of infections of livestock and people. I’m hoping to identify which host species are most likely to share viruses, and to identify bat behavioural or other traits that might allow us to predict the likelihood of transmission.
In Peru, my team focuses on understanding the interplay between the ecology of vampire bats and the evolution and spread of rabies viruses. In the southern Andes of Peru, we’ve discovered that rabies travels in waves through valleys bounded by high mountains that bats can’t fly over. These waves travel at a predictable trajectory and speed, which means local authorities can advise local communities of upcoming risks. Ultimately, we want to answer the questions that until now have led to expensive and ineffective disease-control programmes for bat rabies.
How are you going about answering this question?
Our work combines field studies, lab diagnostics and statistical models.
- We use host and virus genetic methods to characterise and track rabies through bat populations, and in livestock and animal outbreaks.
- We use longitudinal studies in bats to study how bat movement ecology and population dynamics influence rabies exposure.
- We conduct questionnaires to understand the burden of rabies and how to transform national surveillance data on rabies cases into data that can inform epidemiological models. These then are used to simulate the spread of the virus and how different control strategies could be applied.
What public engagement or outreach work do you do?
In Peru, we hold community workshops on the importance of bats to livestock health. We get to understand local perceptions and knowledge gaps, which shapes the way we talk about our work and disease control. I also have close links with National Geographic.
I’ve given TED-style talks at symposia, produced videos and contributed to news features, all of which help to communicate our work to much wider audiences.
1. Streicker DG et al. Variable evolutionary routes to host establishment across repeated rabies virus host shifts among bats. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012;109(48):19715–20.
2. Streicker DG Science & SciLifeLab Prize. From persistence to cross-species emergence of a viral zoonosis. Science 2013;342(6163):1185–6.
3. Streicker DG et al. Host phylogeny constrains cross-species emergence and establishment of rabies virus in bats. Science 2010;329(5992):676–9.
4. Streicker DG et al. Ecological and anthropogenic drivers of rabies exposure in vampire bats: implications for transmission and control. Proc Biol Sci 2012;279(1742):3384–92.
5. Blackwood JC et al. Resolving the roles of immunity, pathogenesis, and immigration for rabies persistence in vampire bats. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2013;110(51):20837–42.