ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship – FAQs

Background

Why are postdoctoral fellowships (PDFs) only available through the Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs)?

The Postdoctoral Fellowship call forms part of our strategy to provide additional support for early career researchers (www.esrc.ac.uk/skills-and-careers/postgraduate-careers/early-career-researchers). They are available through the DTPs and CDTs as they have been through a robust peer review exercise, ensuring that the fellows will be embedded within a high-quality environment for research and training, and be supported in their continuing career development.

Where should applications be submitted to?

Applications must be submitted directly to the DTP or CDT where you are planning to hold the fellowship. Please see the ESRC website and call specification for contact details: https://esrc.ukri.org/funding/funding-opportunities/postdoctoral-fellowships/.

The ESRC website says that the closing date is 23 March 2020 but the DTP I want to apply to had a different deadline – why is that?

Each DTP or CDT will have their own procedures in place to peer review the proposals and make funding decisions on behalf of ESRC. This might include an Expression of Interest (EOI) stage where only those applicants shortlisted at the EOI stage will be eligible to submit a full proposals by 23 March 2020.

Where the DTP or CDT has an Expressions of Interest (EOI) stage, potential applicants must apply by the deadline for the EOI and abide by the deadlines specified by the DTP/CDT to which they intend applying.

Can I apply at more than one DTP or CDT?

When considering where to apply potential applicants should carefully consider which institution would offer the best fit of their area of research and career aspirations and limit their application to those. Applicants must make the DTP or CDT aware if they have applied to another DTP or CDT.

How many fellowships are available at each DTP and CDT?

The actual number allocated to each DTP and CDT will differ so please see individual DTP or CDT information. Around 90 awards will be available across the network as a whole.

The call specification says that each DTP must allocate at least one fellowship that is aligned to the Industrial Strategy, can you clarify what that means?

Each DTP has a ring-fenced award for a fellowship that is aligned to the Industrial Strategy. Alignment can be demonstrated in terms of addressing the skills gaps of advanced quantitative methods or data science, or where the proposed programme activities involves collaboration with a private sector partner such as a placement or a co-designed research activity.

Can I be considered for this ring-fenced award if my project is relevant to the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges?

Yes but you would need to clearly articulate the alignment of your planned programme of work with the specific grand challenge within your application.

Can I be considered for this ring-fenced award if my research is on a specific private sector partner i.e. a named company?

No, there’s a difference between research on a company and research with a company. You can be considered for the ring-fenced award if you are collaborating with a named company.

I don’t have a private sector partner but I think that the topic of my work is relevant from a policy perspective, can I be considered for the ring-fenced award on that basis?

No, for the purpose of the ring-fenced award you must be collaborating with a private sector partner.

Eligibility

At which research organisations can I hold a postdoctoral fellowship?

Fellowships can only be held at research organisations which are part of a DTP or CDT and eligible to participate in this initiative. In addition, fellowships must be aligned to accredited pathways. A list of eligible DTPs and CDTs can be found here: www.esrc.ac.uk/funding/funding-opportunities/postdoctoral-fellowships

Do I have to have completed my PhD at the DTP or CDT I intend to apply to?

No, but you must have completed your PhD at a research organisation that is part of a DTP or CDT. A list of these eligible organisations can be found here:

DTPs: www.esrc.ac.uk/skills-and-careers/studentships/doctoral-training-partnerships

CDTs: www.esrc.ac.uk/skills-and-careers/studentships/centres-for-doctoral-training

Do I have to have to have been an ESRC-funded student?

No, you don’t have to have been an ESRC-funded student in order to apply.

Can I apply if I have completed a professional doctorate?

Yes, you can apply if you have either a PhD or a professional doctorate.

The eligibility criteria says that I have to have submitted my PhD and passed the viva voce by the call closing date of 23 March 2020. What does this mean?

If you haven’t yet been awarded your PhD, you must have at least submitted your thesis and passed your viva voce, or passed subject to minor corrections, by the call closing date (i.e. 23 March 2020). We would expect that any minor corrections would be addressed within a three month period and that all applicants will have been awarded their PhD by the start date of the grant (1 October 2020).

Please note, the offer of an award will lapse if the PhD is not awarded by 1 October 2020. Start dates cannot be deferred because an award has not been confirmed.

I have a fixed-term contract ending before the fellowship start date. Am I eligible?

The call is not open to those who are established, permanent members of staff in an academic position with a research component. If you have been employed on a fixed-term contract you are eligible to apply, provided you do not have more than 12 months of active postdoctoral experience since the viva pass date and before the closing date for the competition.

Does ‘active postdoctoral experience’ just refer to periods within academia?

In the majority of cases this will relate to periods within academia however some potential applicants may have been employed in research-related posts in non-academic organisations that would have to be taken in to account when considering their eligibility.

The specification states that career breaks will be disregarded from the 12 months postdoctoral experience – how are you defining ‘career break’?

Career breaks include periods of maternity, sick leave, or unemployment, and will be disregarded from the 12-month period. Relevant information must be clearly presented on your CV.

Is the 12 month period of postdoctoral experience calculated from the closing date for the competition or the start date of the fellowship?

The original closing date of the competition i.e. 23 March 2020.

Can I apply for a fellowship on a part-time basis?

You can only apply for a fellowship on a part-time basis if that reflects your usual working hours. You cannot apply for a part-time fellowship if your contract is for full-time employment. These fellowships are intended as full working-time opportunities and cannot be held alongside any other employment.

Why can’t I apply if I have a permanent post?

The call is intended to support early career researchers in their career development, which could include gaining a permanent position. As such, those who already have a permanent post are seen as already on a path to career development.

Funding

Who can advise me on costs?

You will need to speak to your research organisation’s research office for advice on costing the proposal.

How much can I apply for?

There’s no maximum limit but fellowships can only include the following costs:

  • salary costs of the fellow
  • indirect costs
  • estate costs
  • up to a maximum of £10,000 for all other costs.

Eligible costs under the ‘other costs’ heading could include mentoring costs, travel and subsistence, conference attendance, networking, training, and fieldwork, etc but the total amount requested must be within the £10,000 maximum.

Where an RO costs infrastructure technicians separately to estate costs, these will not be counted within the £10k limit on other costs.

Can I include a co-investigator or any other research staff on the proposal?

No, only the fellow can be included.

Will proposals be assessed for their value for money? Are there any guidelines to conform to ‘value for money’?

We expect costs requested to be appropriate and fully justified for the fellowship activities. Costs should be reasonable, and reviewers will assess how appropriate these are based on the proposed work plan.

Can I request a laptop as part of my application?

Any proposals requesting items that would ordinarily be found in a department, for example non-specialist computers, should include justification both for why they are required for the project and why they cannot be provided from the research organisation’s own resources (including funding from indirect costs from grants).

Costs for laptops may be requested if they are not provided by the host organisation and can be clearly justified in terms of the programme of work being proposed. Costs that have not been clearly or adequately justified may be reduced or removed from the award.

Applicants should liaise with their host organisation to identify the most cost effective laptop essential for their fellowship.

Focus of the fellowship

The call says the fellowships must start on 1 October 2020. Is there any flexibility on the start date?

We expect fellows to start as close to this date as possible but recognise there might be exceptional circumstances which require a later start (for example, due to illness or parental leave). Start dates cannot be deferred to reflect delays in the PhD being awarded.

You are advised to discuss this with the DTP or CDT you are applying to. Any request for a later start date will be considered by ESRC on a case by case basis.

Can I carry out new research as part of the fellowship?

As these fellowships are specifically designed to build upon your PhD experience and develop your skills for a future career in research, only limited additional research activity directly linked to the PhD can be undertaken. New research is limited to 25% of the time commitment of the fellowship.

Does my work plan need to include all of those activities listed on page 1 of the specification?

No, they are examples of the types of activities you could undertake. The activities included in your proposal should be specific to you and your career development. It is important that you articulate a realistic and achievable programme of activities; proposals considered to be unrealistic or overambitious are unlikely to be competitive in this process.

The specification states that the fellowship should be based on PhD work. Does this make work based on current postdoctoral research ineligible?

The fellowship is expected to be related to the focus of the PhD. If the postdoctoral research is related to the PhD focus, then this would be acceptable. If the postdoctoral research is not related to the PhD, then it would not be suitable for these fellowships and you may want to consider applying to our New Investigator scheme instead (https://esrc.ukri.org/funding/funding-opportunities/new-investigator-grants/? ) or early career schemes offered by other funders.

 

Can we use funding to visit international academic organisations or other research organisations?

Yes ­– if the organisation would be suitable to collaborate with, will help broaden your networks, or provide training, access to data or resources not available at your host organisation. Extended visits to other organisations must be accompanied by a letter of support outlining the organisation’s support of the visit in principle.

Mentors

Why do I need a mentor?

As an early career researcher, your learning stands to be enhanced by the expertise and contacts of an academic mentor who can guide you in achieving the goals and activities of your fellowship although it will be important for you to demonstrate how you are actively managing your own career development in your application. You are required to have one to two hours’ contact time with your mentor every week, where they can advise on the progress of the fellowship.

Does my mentor need to be from the same RO and pathway as me?

Yes, ideally the applicant will have a single mentor based at the same research organisation as the fellow.

Can I have more than one mentor?

Yes, for example secondary mentors can be permitted if the focus of your fellowship is on the borderline between social sciences and another disciplinary area, or to draw on specific expertise beyond your institution. However your primary mentor must be based in your host organisation.

How can I identify a mentor?

Contact the DTP or CDT you wish to apply to, as they may have mechanisms in place to identify and match mentors to applicants.

Can the mentor by my PhD supervisor?

To encourage your development in this next career stage, we recommend that the mentor should not be your PhD supervisor. This is to broaden your network and be challenged by a wider group of academics than might have been engaged with through the PhD. We do however recognise that this may not be possible in all cases, therefore in exceptional circumstances the PhD supervisor can be the mentor; however, this needs to be fully justified in the proposal.

If I choose to have two mentors, how do I present this in the proposal?

The need for more than one mentor must be fully articulated in the proposal. A CV will be required for both mentors and the mentor statement should be completed by the primary mentor, but should cover the input of the secondary mentor.

Can I include costs to cover the mentor’s time?

Costs for the mentor’s time can be included under the ‘other costs’ heading. Along with the other funds requested under this heading, there is a maximum limit of £10,000.

Attachments

For the Head of Department statement, does it need to be the Head of Department/School / Faculty, or can it be the Head of discipline area?

You can speak to the DTP or CDT as to who would be most appropriate to provide this, but it should be someone at the department, school or faculty level who can guarantee their commitment and support for the fellowship.

Can you explain the ‘list of publications’ attachment? The guidance suggests this should be a bibliography but as this is not a research proposal, where do you envisage applicants referring to literature?

There is still place for a bibliography in this type of proposal, and it is also relevant given it is a standard attachment for ESRC funding. In particular, the case for support and workplan may include references to literature. This attachment is simply a reference list, not a bibliographic essay. Speak to your research office if you are unsure.

Is the ‘referee statement’ referring to the mentor?

No, the referee statement is to assist in the assessment process. The referee statement should not be provided by the mentor. The referee can be the PhD supervisor, but if the PhD supervisor is the proposed mentor then the referee statement should be provided by another academic.

The call does not clearly mention the pathways to impact, could you explain how to complete this section?

Impacts of your research achieved so far and planned impact should be covered in the case for support and the mandatory question in the application form. There is not a separate pathways to impact attachment, as impact should be at the heart of the proposal and woven through any planned activities as the focus of the fellowship is on consolidating the outputs of the PhD.

Assessment process

What happens to my proposal once I have submitted it?

Your proposal will be assessed by the DTP or CDT that you have applied to, by a procedure approved by ESRC. The final date to confirm decisions to applicants is the end of June 2020. Successful applicants will then be required to submit their proposal in Je-S by mid July 2020 at the very latest (applicants can, and should be, submitted sooner if possible). Guidance for this will be provided nearer the time.

Why do I have to submit an application through Je-S if the DTP/CDT has offered me an award?

Whilst the DTP/CDT will determine who should receive an award, in order to receive the funding applicants must submit an application to ESRC who will issue a grant to the host institution.

Does that mean that there’s a further layer of assessment?

No. ESRC won’t reassess the application but will check that it abides by the call guidance. This will include that all other costs don’t exceed the £10k maximum, and have been clearly and adequately justified, as well as that attachments do not exceed page limits.

What happens if my costs exceed the £10K maximum or my attachments exceed the page limit?

If your application exceeds the page limits it will be returned to you to make the necessary amendments. If your costs exceed the £10K limit, they will be reduced to be within the limit. Not adhering to the guidance may result in a delay of a formal offer letter being issued by ESRC.

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