Briefing for research organisations

This further guidance for Research Organisations is intended to supplement the information on EPSRC Fellowships available.

Why have you changed your approach to fellowships?

In 2009, EPSRC conducted a Balance of People exercise, where, for the first time we looked at our portfolio from a people perspective across all research programmes. The feedback from our advisory bodies indicated that breadth, an outward looking perspective and creativity should be encouraged throughout the career. EPSRC's Council endorsed that fellowships should be reviewed to see whether the scheme could be tailored to provide more flexible support across different disciplines and career stages.

What has changed?

Our support for leaders and fellows will be linked to our strategic priorities (and we will expect a greater proportion of our leaders to be in areas identified as 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.

There will be a faster more streamlined process which is open throughout the year. There will be no outline stage, applicants submit a full proposal.

We have removed eligibility conditions based on years of post-doctoral experience or whether an applicant does/doesn't hold a permanent academic position. These constraints didn't allow for variations of career paths across the Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) disciplines. Instead a person specification will be used to describe the desired attributes for each career stage.

We will be more flexible on the amount of Principal Investigator(PI) time a fellow dedicates to their fellowship thus allowing the fellow to apply for the support that suits them and gives them the option of staying active within their department or undertaking some consultancy as a route to impact.

What is a person specification?

We expect those benefitting from our new approach to have followed a variety of career paths. For our new fellowship framework we have therefore removed the previous eligibility conditions based on years of post-doctoral experience or whether an applicant holds a permanent academic position (as this doesn't allow for variations of career paths across the EPS disciplines). Instead we will be looking for the appropriate balance of research ability and personal qualities in much the same way as employers look at the attributes of job candidates.

The attributes leaders will need to demonstrate are:

  • Research excellence and international standing
  • Setting the research agenda
  • Strategic vision
  • Profile and influence
  • Ability to lead and inspire
  • Excellent communication and engagement skills

These will be weighted depending on the career stage of the applicant (postdoctoral, early career and established career).

How do we know if an applicant is eligible?

Applicants are expected to hold a PhD or have equivalent research experience (for example a number of years in a research position outside of academia), however there are no eligibility rules based on years of post-doctoral experience or whether applicants hold or do not hold a permanent academic position. EPSRC has defined three career stages and the attributes expected at each stage. Applicants in conjunction with their host university are expected to evaluate their track record and specify which career stage they are applying against (if open to applications).

In the case of postdoctoral awards, we expect that fellows have gained their PhD by the start date of the fellowship but consideration will be given to applicants who have taken a non-standard career path after their primary degree.

Can former fellowship holders apply for an EPSRC fellowship?

Yes, there is no restriction around former fellows (e.g. Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Advanced Research Fellows (ARF), Career Acceleration Fellows (CAF), Senior Fellows or other non-EPSRC fellows) applying for an EPSRC fellowship, provided they fall within a research area/career stage that is open for applications. We would expect that current fellowship holders would apply towards the end of their fellowship as they cannot simultaneously hold 2 fellowships. In the case of former Advanced/Career Acceleration fellows they should carefully consider against which career stage they apply against; it would be expected that having already held a fellowship aimed at supporting early stage researchers, that they should be able to demonstrate how they have progressed beyond the early career stage.

What does EPSRC expect of the host university?

EPSRC will be developing a statement of expectation for fellows which will outline our expectations for both fellows and organisations hosting fellowships.

It is expected that eligible Research Organisations who wish to submit fellowship applications to EPSRC will identify a number of suitable applicants as specified by the guidelines and within the defined research area and career space. Research Organisations should only put forward the most able applicants.

Research Organisations are expected to:

  • Ensure that applications are aligned to a fellowship priority area
  • Assist applicants to identify how they fit to the person specifications
  • Ensure that applicants have selected the most appropriate resource packages for their career stage and intended project

In the case of applicants not holding an academic position, the host organisation must be prepared to give the individual all the support normal for an academic member of staff and put in place appropriate mentoring mechanisms to enable them transition to an academic position.

There will be an expected level of support that the Research Organisation would provide to its successful fellowship applicants, for example infrastructure, laboratory and office space, release from teaching and administrative duties, mentoring and equipment where appropriate.

Research Organisations may wish to show their commitment to applicants through additional support and resources. For example, provide a PhD student should the applicant be successful. For applicants without suitable supervisory experience, a PhD student should only be provided with the co-supervision of a mentor or other suitable senior academic.

Host organisation statement

The Head of Department (through consultation with colleagues as appropriate) at the host organisation must complete a statement (two sides A4) in support of the application. The statement should be on Departmental or University headed paper, should be dated, and should clearly state the position held by the author (For example Head of Department of Electrical Engineering and so on).

The statement must include details of the following considerations:

  • The process that the host institution has used in order to identify which applicants it would be entering into the competition, why the applicant in particular has been chosen and why the career space for that applicant has been selected
  • The statement should identify the key characteristics and skills that the applicant has, which the institution feels highlights the applicant's ability to succeed as an EPSRC fellow
  • How the institution feels that the applicant fits to the various aspects of the person specification
  • The level of support that the host institution will be giving the applicant both as a standard career development package that is open to all staff and additional support as part of the institution's backing of their applicant to be successful in the competition

The level of institutional support offered as evidenced through the Host Organisation Statement will form part of the assessment process.

Will institutional quotas be applied?

In the spirit of openness and flexibility EPSRC will not be initially setting quotas for the number of applications that can be submitted by an organisation over time. However EPSRC will be monitoring the number and quality of applications received from institutions across the career stages and the priority research areas and it reserves the right to discuss ongoing submission behaviour with individual institutions and enforce a quota if necessary.

We expect that universities maintain an overall view of total number of applications submitted at both an institutional level and at a departmental level.

I have an applicant whose area is not an EPSRC priority, what options do they have to pursue a fellowship?

EPSRC is not the only organisation that funds fellowships in the engineering and physical sciences and we have been discussing with the Royal Society how our respective fellowship support activities can complement each other.

How have you chosen the areas that have been highlighted for fellowships?

The parts of our research landscape that will be subject to shaping have been determined as part of the process of Balancing Capability. We have been working closely with our strategic advisory teams and other members of the community to identify areas where support for people, through fellowships, is required.

How long will these priorities be valid?

In the first instance, we expect the priorities to be valid for a year. Where priorities are removed we will give advance notice. We expect new areas to be highlighted towards the end of 2011.

How will Universities know what EPSRC's fellowship priorities will be?

We would encourage individual heads of departments to become familiar with how EPSRC is developing the shape of its portfolio and to engage with EPSRC's Theme Leads to understand individual themes' fellowship strategy.

If you are unsure whether a particular research area falls within an area open for applications, please contact the most appropriate portfolio manager.

Applicants can submit a fellowship application at any time, how does this fit with Universities' 'sift selecting' applicants?

The decision to remove closing dates was motivated by a desire to be able to allow applicants to apply when the time was right for them rather that when a call happens to be open. Missing out on a closing date can mean that applicants will have had to wait up to a year before the opportunity arises again.

In terms of sift selection, we did not want to impose a submission quota on universities. However we are aware that a number of universities have internal fellowship schemes and a selection process in place already which could be applied to external fellowships. We believe there is an advantage to applying the same process to external fellowships to make sure the best candidates are applying for the most appropriate support.

The detailed mechanism of how universities select their most able applicants is up to individual universities.

In the past when universities have been left to self select candidates internal politics have come to the fore and affected who is put forward. How do you ensure the best are selected?

EPSRC will be clear about the research areas and type of individuals we want to support and universities should ensure that the applicants they put forward meet these specifications; they will then be assessed in open competition against all other applicants.

It is in the best interest of both the applicant and the university that only the most able applicants are put forward.

When should we submit fellowship applications?

Applications can be submitted at any time and will be processed on a rolling basis. Fellowship applications will be prioritised twice a year in approximately January/February and July, at our standard-grant panel meetings. We would recommend that universities work with potential applicants to identify when they can present the strongest possible case, this may perhaps mean waiting until a pending paper is published etc.

What will the peer review process be?

The peer review process that fellowships undergo will reflect the changes to peer review that will be made as part of our Balancing Capability goal.

Challenging engineering is viewed as being really successful- why stop it?

Challenging engineering has indeed been very successful. That is why the new fellowship framework has been constructed to incorporate the best elements of challenging engineering such as embedding early career researchers in their department while encouraging them to work with other disciplines, building relationships amongst cohorts and so on. The scheme has therefore not so much been stopped as absorbed into our support structures in a way that continues the aims of the old scheme, applying them to all areas.