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EPSRC Fellowships - a new approach

EPSRC's Strategic Plan committed us to providing greater support to the world-leading individuals who are delivering the highest quality research to meet UK and global priorities. We will develop the next generation of researchers with the greatest potential across the postdoctoral, early and established career stages. The changes in our Fellowships schemes are the first steps in this process.

Our new approach to fellowships has arisen from extensive discussions carried out in 2009. This faster, more streamlined and flexible process has been introduced in July 2011 and merged several existing schemes. Our financial commitment to this type of support is broadly similar to recent years.

To maintain the UK’s global research standing in the context of increasing international competition and with limited funding available to us, we must focus our support on those individuals who have the most potential to deliver the highest quality research which meets UK and global priorities. The support also needs to be linked to our strategic priorities and we will expect a greater proportion of our fellows to be focused on areas where growth is required and where developing leaders can integrate their work into the wider landscape. Consequently fellowships will not be open in all areas, at all career stages, at all times. We have gone through an initial exercise of identifying the first areas linked to our Shaping Capability goal in which fellowships will be offered. This will be an ongoing process and priority areas will be updated throughout the Delivery Plan period. To begin with, we expect these priorities to be valid for a year (although new priorities could be added) and we will give advance notice of any new priorities before they change. There are other organisations that provide fellowships across the engineering and physical sciences. We are in discussion with other organisations, such as the Royal Society, to look at how our respective fellowship support activities can complement each other.

Other principles for the fellowship framework include:

  • Specification of the desired qualities, experience, achievements or attributes, and providing flexible support
  • At transition points we will put in place mechanisms to re-focus our support on those who have the most potential, through a competitive and outcomes driven review process
  • We expect to work in partnership with universities and business to both identify candidates and enhance the research environment for established and emerging leaders. Our expectation is that Universities should take more responsibility for matching candidates to the fellowship specification. We will be developing and releasing a 'statement of expectations' for our fellowships
  • To accelerate the development of leadership skills, we will encourage exposure to different environments and ideas, for example by encouraging mobility between different organisations and exposure to creative techniques
  • Development of leadership cohorts by networking and provision of access to skills and experience

What has changed?

  • There will be no closing date for the submission of applications
  • An outline stage will not be used - applicants will submit a full application
  • Eligibility conditions based on years of post-doctoral experience or permanent academic tenure will no longer apply; as this doesn’t allow for variations of career paths across the EPS disciplines
  • A person specification will be used to describe the desired attributes for each career stage, shifting the focus away from eligibility defined by years of post-doctoral experience towards a competency-based approach with an emphasis on the skills and attributes that leaders (and aspiring leaders) need to be able to demonstrate
  • Under this new fellowship framework, fellowship applications will be invited only in specific research areas that are linked to our strategic priorities
  • There will be a single 'EPSRC Fellowship' scheme under which three career stages will be supported (postdoctoral, early career and established career). This will consolidate Challenging Engineering, postdoctoral, career acceleration and leadership fellowships into a new framework which addresses the principles outlined above
  • We will extend our support beyond the 'leadership fellowship' career space to those currently working in the more established 'senior fellow' space
  • We will be more flexible on the amount of investigator time a fellow dedicates to their fellowship (in the past we expected fellows to devote 100% of their time to the fellowship) thus allowing the fellow to apply for a level of support that suits them and gives them the option of staying active within their department or undertaking some consultancy as a route to impact
  • Fellowships may focus on public engagement with research by, for example, seeking to examine, develop and apply the range of methods and skills appropriate to involve the public with scientific research. Public engagement should be interpreted broadly to include dialogue with the public concerning research issues and decision-making on the scope of projects; consultations on emerging research results and issues; the demonstration and explanation of research results and the dissemination of project outcomes to a non-technical audience. The fellowship must relate public engagement activities directly to current or contemporary research. This does not include general science education nor outreach to a university’s local community.