Professor in immunotherapy - Tim Elliott

Career background

Professor Tim Elliott left the University of Oxford with a first in Biochemistry in 1983. He received a PhD from the University of Southampton in 1986 and completed his postdoctoral training at MIT.

He held a lectureship and later a professorship in immunology (Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine and Balliol College, University of Oxford) between 1990-2000.

He was then appointed to Chair of Experimental Oncology, School of Medicine, University of Southampton.

In 2005 he became Director of Research for the School of Medicine.

The application process

How do you decide which grants to apply for?

In this case, my current grant is a renewal of an ongoing programme award.

Your grant application process and timings

Writing a programme grant is a marathon. Here's what I did for the last one:

  1. I committed my first thoughts to paper in February (these formed the basis of discussions with colleagues over the next month or so).
  2. I spent two weeks over Easter reading the literature (for which I took time off and spent time on my own away from the family) and sketching the first draft of the proposal.
  3. In June I decided on the final format, having lined up all my collaborators in the intervening period. Only then did I start writing the case for support, which took about 100 hours.
  4. I submitted my preliminary costings to the finance office in early June, giving us a good 4-5 weeks to adjust them. I probably spent about 30 hours on this alone.
  5. For the last stretch – getting the grant into a form fit for submission – there’s still a significant amount of time required:
  6. Summary, appendices etc need 20hrs.
  7. The turnaroud time for internal peer-review and comments is 2-3 weeks.
  8. Final checks, and the submission process itself, takes 2 days.

How do you deal with complex things, like costings and ethical approval?

University research support services.

The research

What makes a successful grant?

  • A clear scientific question with an explicit and testable hypotheses.
  • A persuasive and varied experimental approach which is feasible within the expertise of the applicant and resources requested.
  • Clear indicators of success along the way.

Common application pitfalls

  • A project that lacks importance, excitement and/or innovation.
  • Sloppy construction, excess abbreviations, poor spelling and poor use of English language.
  • Over-ambition.
  • “Fishing exercise”.
  • Inexperienced applicants with publications shortfall.
  • Practical unfeasibility.
  • Preliminary data not convincing enough.
  • Similar work being done by others. 
  • Research team not optimal.
  • Lack of power calculation, not optimal trial design, inappropriate controls.
  • Animal Research: models not convincing, failure to apply ARRIVE Guidelines (NC3Rs).

Find out more about this scheme

Tim's advice for new applicants

  • Plan well ahead.
  • Involve many people at all stages – discussing ideas, early drafts and ‘finessing’.
  • Get experienced experts and non-experts to comment.
  • Engage with support at your institution early on.