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MRC/AHRC/ESRC Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind: Engagement Awards

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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Call for funding


Engagement Awards are awards of up to 12 months aimed at building and strengthening a cross-disciplinary community in the research area of Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind. These are flexible awards focused on establishing new collaborations, exploring innovative new research directions and building relationships with key stakeholders. This £1.6M call is intended to underpin the development of larger scale research projects and collaborations, as well as build capacity and networks that will add value to future investments to be made through this new £35M UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund programme.


Since its establishment in April 2018, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has sought to promote ground-breaking national programmes in multidisciplinary research. This major new cross-council partnership in Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind is funded through UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund and will support multidisciplinary research and innovation that addresses an area of strategic importance aligned with governmental policy research priorities. The £35M programme will be jointly delivered by the Medical Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council. 

Adolescence is a critical, poorly understood period in the life course, when the brain is highly sensitive to external influences at a time when a young person’s interaction with his/her social and cultural environment is also changing rapidly in the transition to adulthood. 75% of mental health problems emerge before age 18, and 1 in 8 children and adolescents have a mental disorder, with overall rates continuing to rise. The overarching aim of this initiative is to deliver an integrated multi-disciplinary approach to better understand the developing adolescent mind, accelerate innovation in policy and practice, and generate evidence-based solutions for changing models of mental health provision and the education environment for adolescents.  Activity supported through this programme is intended to help provide a better understanding of how genetic, physiological, psychological, social and cultural factors across the lifecourse shape the adolescent mind; of how they interact to influence, both positively and negatively, lifelong mental health, educational attainment, identity, social relationships and behaviour; and of the key concepts and values involved in these explanations, such as mental health/illness and autonomy.  

The complex, multifactorial problems to be addressed through this initiative cut across a number of policy domains, requiring engagement of wide-ranging stakeholders and active coordination. An integrated approach will generate better interventions to promote positive mental health and wellbeing; accelerate translation of research into policy and practice in areas such as education, healthcare and other public services; promote young people’s life chances; and strengthen young people’s involvement in research and innovation.  Adolescence is a key time point to intervene to address the wider determinants of mental health. In particular, the education sector is increasingly a setting for provision of mental health early intervention and support – through provision of resources regardless of income, promoting inclusion, raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing, and enabling resilience.  

This call for Engagement Awards is the first investment to be made through this new programme. Engagement awards will support the formation of new multidisciplinary collaborations, pilot funding for novel multidisciplinary research and methods development, and enable knowledge exchange between researchers, stakeholders, practitioners, policy makers, young people and those with lived experience of mental health problems. A facilitated workshop is being held in parallel with this call to engage the breadth of relevant research communities and stakeholders and support the development of networks (attendance at the workshop is encouraged but is not a prerequisite for funding under this call). Both activities are intended to underpin the development of larger scale research projects and collaborations in this important area, as well as build capacity and networks that will add value to future investments to be made through this cross-Council programme. 

Please note, involvement in an awarded Engagement Award is not a pre-requisite for eligibility to apply for future funding under this Programme.

Remit and scope

Engagement Awards can be used by a multidisciplinary applicant team to fund pilot projects, strengthen existing collaborations and create new ones, build partnerships with key stakeholders and facilitate knowledge exchange. It is expected that this call will support a range of awards that are focused on key research challenges in Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind. This may include:

  • Exploration of the dynamic and complex interaction of factors that impact during adolescence, to understand the high degree of inter-individual heterogeneity and the consequences of genetic, environmental and social interactions for life.
  • Understanding the conditions that mitigate risk as well as enable resilience, both during and preceding adolescence.
  • Identification of vulnerable young people in school and other settings, including health services and the youth justice system.
  • Exploration of novel cross-cutting methods, tools, measures and multimodal datasets, and the basis for an open-science data infrastructure.
  • Data collection and the evidence base for mental health support in schools, including understanding and enhancing the education environments that promote learning, healthy behaviours (and reducing antisocial behaviour), positive mental health and wellbeing, executive function and social-emotional skills development.
  • How the digital environment influences brain development and function, mental health and mental health problems, risk behaviours, bullying, loneliness and social isolation. How digital technologies can be harnessed to promote positive behaviours and mental wellbeing.

Funding will be provided to establish new, high-value collaborative activities/capabilities, including those that add value to high quality scientific investments that are already supported by the funders. It is not designed to fund stand-alone, hypothesis-driven research projects, or continuation/extension of existing grants, which may otherwise be eligible for standard research grant type funding from the partner Councils.

Funding to support studentships is not eligible.


£1.6M is available to support a number of engagement awards, each of which will receive an award of up to £100k UKRI contribution and will have a duration of up to 12 months. Awards will have a fixed start date of 1st April 2020 and applicants must demonstrate in their proposal that they have plans in place to ensure an efficient start up.

Funding is intended to cover the operating and supporting costs of the award as well as the pilot studies. Funding will be awarded at 80% FEC and can be requested to cover:

  • Investigators Salaries – Investigators can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent managing the award. Co-investigators may be included in the application where individuals will have a clearly definable leadership role. Investigator costs should be reasonable and not constitute a significant proportion of the costs of the award. Estate and Indirect costs appropriate to the investigator time on the award can be claimed.
  • Administrative support – dedicated resource for administration and coordination of the award may be requested. Costs should be reasonable and not a significant proportion of the total requested resource.
  • Organisation of Activities –Funding can be requested for costs involved in running activities such as networking events, working groups, seminars, symposia, short term placements and visits, or people exchange.
  • Travel and Subsistence – travel and subsistence enabling collaborations across organisations and geographical locations to develop, this could potentially include internationally and with policy makers, health, social and education sectors, young people and those with lived experience of mental health problems or industry (however, where possible industrial collaborators should meet their own travel costs).
  • Pilot research – Pilot projects exploring innovative cross-disciplinary research and methodology ideas. Funds can be requested for post-doctoral and technical staff salary costs, consumables, travel and subsistence and any other costs usually under ‘Directly Incurred’ headings. We would expect, given the short duration of the award and the fixed start date, that many of these projects will be defined at the application stage. However, a reasonable level of flexibility should be incorporated to enable novel research directions to be developed and pursued during the course of the award. Pilot funds will be funded at 80% FEC by the funders and should be allocated at 80% FEC by the host institution where the project will be conducted at a different institution. The institution where the research is to be undertaken will be responsible for the 20% shortfall. As these are research-based projects, they can include a component to cover estates and indirect costs for the relevant institution. Costs for pilot funds should be requested within the Je-S form (‘Other Directly Incurred Costs’). No pilot projects can extend beyond the lifetime of the overall award, all funding for pilot projects must be allocated and spent within the lifetime of the award.


We welcome proposals from a broad range of researchers with interests related to adolescence, mental health and the developing mind, including health and life sciences, social science, economics, arts and the humanities. MRC is administering this call on behalf of the three Councils, therefore proposals do not necessarily need to fall within the remit of the MRC.  

Standard MRC eligibility criteria apply for Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators. The Principal Investigator must be an eligible UK-based applicant from an institution eligible to receive UKRI funding.

Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs) are also eligible to apply. If PSREs wishing to apply have not previously applied for UKRI funding and are not currently designated IRO status they will be required to complete an eligibility form to ensure they have the required research capacity, systems and controls in place to manage the research and grant funding. See Eligibility for funding for further information.

Individuals may be the Principle Investigator on only one application, however individuals can act as Co-I on any number of applications.

Applications may be single or multi institutional.

How to apply for funding

Applications should be submitted through the Je-S system by 16:00 on 17 December 2019.

Applicants should select the following from the Je-S menus:

  • Select New Document
  • Select Council: MRC
  • Select Document Type: Standard Proposal
  • Select Scheme: Research Grant
  • Select Call/Type/Mode: MRC/AHRC/ESRC Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind: Engagement Awards 2019
  • Select ‘Create Document’

Applications involving two or more research organisations should be submitted via a single Je-S form.

The proposal Case for Support (8 page limit) should include:

  • Clear objectives and an explanation of how Engagement Award funding will enable those objectives to be met.
  • Proposed range of specific activities that will be undertaken in order to develop cross-disciplinary working, foster new collaborations and networks and explore new research directions.
  • Details of the novelty and innovation of the collaborations and research challenges to be explored, particularly in the context of existing activities.
  • Details of planned pilot projects. Due to the short timeframe we expect the majority of these to be pre-determined, with some flexibility incorporated for opportunities that emerge during the course of the award.
  • A description of how young people, carers and those with lived experience of mental health problems will be involved in development of the research and throughout the award.
  • Proposed plans for engagement with key stakeholders, including (but not limited to) policy makers, health, social care and education sectors.
  • Governance arrangements for the pilot funding and a description of how these will be awarded where not defined in the application.
  • Outline of how the award will be positioned to start efficiently in April 2020.

Applicants are advised to visit the MRC website, for guidance completing the remaining Je-S proposal sections that are not detailed within this call specific guidance document.

Call specific guidance for applicants completing the Classifications section of the Je-S Proposal:

  • Board or Panel Portfolio
  • Applicants are advised to select the Neurosciences & Mental Health Board as the ‘Board’ option from the selectable list.
  • Panel section: Please select the indicator adjacent to ‘Mental health and addiction’
  • Grant type
  • Applicants should select the option ‘Research Grant’.


Applications will be assessed through a single stage panel assessment process involving an expert panel consisting of experts from across medicine, biology, social science, arts and humanities disciplines as well as representation from key stakeholders (policy makers, health, social care and education sectors), young people and service users.

Applications will be fully assessed by the expert panel. Applicants will not receive reviewer comments and there is no PI rebuttal stage, however feedback will be provided to all applicants following the assessment process.

Assessment criteria

The panel will assess the applications against the criteria for assessment (see below) and provide the funders with a recommended rank-ordered list of applications.

Fit to scope

  • A clear focus on adolescence, mental health and the developing mind
  • A multi/inter-disciplinary approach

Research quality

  • Potential for enabling novel, high quality multi/inter-disciplinary research through new or strengthened collaborations
  • Innovative pilot projects that demonstrate high potential for research and/or methods development


  • Appropriateness of proposed activities to create and strengthen multidisciplinary collaborations and lead to new avenues of research
  • Engagement and knowledge exchange with key stakeholders and research users, including young people, carers and those with lived experience of mental health problems
  • How the participation and development of Early Career Researchers will be supported
  • Potential for economic and societal impact


  • Justification of resources requested
  • Appropriateness of the leadership, expertise of the core team and effectiveness of proposed management plans
  • Suitability of governance structure to manage the resources, and the planned approach to their deployment including awarding of the pilot funding.

Key dates



Engagement Awards key dates

Launch of call for Engagement Awards

October 2019

Closing date for Engagement Awards call

16:00 17 Dec 2019

Expert panel for Engagement Awards call

Feb 2020

Engagement Awards start

1 April 2020

Workshop key dates

Workshop announcement

October 2019

Workshop Expression of Interest (EoI) deadline

16:00 31 Oct 2019

Applicants notified of outcome of EoI

08 Nov 2019


22 Nov 2019

Frequently Asked Questions

Are overseas partners eligible to participate in this call?

Overseas investigators can be included in an application as a project partner or as an applicant. In the case of the latter, the PI must discuss their involvement with us in advance and make the case that the expertise they offer is not available in the UK. Overseas investigators cannot lead an application. However it is expected that the outputs of these awards offer a potential route to impact of benefit to young people in the UK. While we are keen for generalisable knowledge, understanding and benefits to other countries, we expect that where evidence based impacts have the potential to emerge from the research that these should have applicability to the UK. This is not a funding call under the Global Challenges Research Fund at UKRI, therefore it is not specifically aimed at addressing challenges in developing countries.

FAQ document.


For general enquiries, please contact MRC Adolescent Mental Health

For specific queries the relevant contacts are: