How do we fund science that could save sight? Understanding our grants process.

26 July 23

written by:

Press Office

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Fight for Sight is a grant-making organisation, which means we give funds to some of the UK's top emerging and established researchers to conduct vision research.

A lot of rigour is involved in ensuring that the money we invest contributes to saving sight. Some grants are smaller than others in terms of the amount awarded but can provide impact in different ways.

This page on our website will allow you to browse all past and current approved grants - a brilliant showcase of all the amazing developments in eye research our applicants make.

PhD Studentships

Grants to support a supervisor and their student pursuing a career in vision research, leading to a PhD qualification. This scheme is all about building capacity to undertake research for the next generation because we always need a pipeline of researchers coming through!

How big are the grants and how long are they for?

Supervisors outside London can apply for up to £135k; for those within London, the figure is £143k. This year we have extended the length of these grants from three years to four to allow more time for students to complete their research, write their thesis, share their findings and hopefully get their next post in vision research.

What’s the process?

Over the summer and early autumn, applications will be reviewed by external research experts alongside members of our RGAP (Research Grants Assessments Panel), who will meet in November to decide which are fundable.

Our Social Impact and Scientific Research (SISR) Committee will discuss the RGAP recommendations in late November. Trustees will then ratify the funding of the successful applicants in December. Once the supervisor has recruited a student, the project will usually begin at the start of the academic year in September 2024.

Royal College of Ophthalmologists / Fight for Sight Zakarian Awards 

These awards are for early-stage ophthalmologists to gain experience and undertake vision research by providing funding to 'buy out' time from clinical duties. 

It means ophthalmologists, doctors that specialise in eye health, can use this time to do research or innovative projects, some of which might have been inspired by work in a clinical setting. Research by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) found that retention levels are higher among ophthalmologists that conduct research, so there are other benefits too. 

“Over half (54%) of ophthalmology trainees say they’d like to be more involved in research than they are currently.”

How big are the grants and how long are they for?

A grant of up to £25,000 is available for up to one year for ophthalmologists to conduct research. The funding is split equally with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

Why are these awards important?

It is critical to have clinician scientists undertaking research. This is known to improve the quality of health services and patient outcomes, and that’s what we’re here for!

For example, Dr Abdus Samad Ansari, a recipient of the Zakarian Award, hopes to make it easier to identify people at risk of glaucoma and dementia and prevent or delay the onset of symptoms. Dr Ansari, Academic Clinical Fellow at King’s College, London, is investigating the role of mitochondrial dysfunction and healthy ageing within the eye.

What’s the process?

All applications will be scored by a panel made up of RGAP (Research Grants Assessment Panel) and representatives of the RCOphth. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an online interview with the panel in the first week of September, which will be discussed by SISR. The Trustees will then ratify the funding of the successful applicants at their September meetings.

A woman being examined by an ophthalmologist

Project Grants

This scheme will enable researchers to carry out original, standalone projects that could ultimately help improve the lives of people affected by various sight loss conditions.

Discover more about the Project Grants we recently awarded.

How big are the grants and how long are they for?

Up to £250,000 over three years is available to successful applicants. A large part of this funding typically covers laboratory consumables and salaries for those conducting the research or offering their time for specific parts of the project, such as a statistician.

What’s the process?

First of all, 'outline' applications will be reviewed and scored by our RGAP. A small group of the RGAP will rank these, and this list is taken to the SISR followed by the Trustees, to ratify which applicants they would like to submit a 'full' application. This is then reviewed by experts from across the world and applicants will have a chance to 'rebut' their comments. All of this information is considered again by our RGAP, whose decisions will be taken back to the SISR and Trustees.

To give you an idea of the length of this process, applicants first apply from April and the successful candidates will be ratified by Trustees the following March.

How is the money transferred?

Invoices from grant holders are paid quarterly in arrears, as this is the most efficient way for us to monitor spending. Then, if successful applicants don’t spend all the money that they’ve been awarded, we can absorb it back into our budgets and fund more projects.

Small Grant Awards

Often, we award Small Grants in partnership with other funders. It could be anything up to £15,000 over one year. While the amount is smaller than some other grants, these awards are vital because they allow early-stage researchers to build a proof of concept and, often, lead to other grants.

They are critical in pump-priming research that could lead to new treatments for and future leaders of sight loss. 

This year, government funders in Scotland (through the Chief Scientist Office) and Wales (through Health and Care Research Wales) have agreed to partner with us to fund grants in Scotland and Wales and support our ambition to increase vision research across the UK.

What’s the process?

As the grant assessment process is proportional to the scheme, the review process is lighter for Small Grants than it is for our other grants. At our end, we focus on collecting scores from the RGAP, our College of Experts and partner representatives to sense-check viability. The RGAP don’t have to meet to discuss grants of this size, so scores are taken directly to the SISR Committee in November.  Trustees will then ratify the funding of the successful applicants in December 2023 and any successful reserves in March 2024.