Support and funding for ECRs – session this Friday

As part of the HR staff researcher development programme, we are running a bite-size session on Friday 26th September for ECRs. It will give early career researchers and academic staff who are in the early stages of a research career an overview of the  research support available here at Northumbria. It will introduce key contacts in Research and Business Services and the Library Research Support team and will give an overview of some of the sources of research funding for ECRs and how to find them. There will also be information available on the Northumbria Early Career Researchers Forum. The session will be held from 12-1. Sign up through the HR research development page.




Northumbria Early Career Researchers Forum

The next ECR Forum will be held on Wednesday 2 July from 1-2.30 at the Mea House auditorium. All Northumbria academics who are in an early stage of their researchers careers are welcome. We will have sandwiches and drinks available.

This will be the third and final  meeting of the Forum this academic year and will be an opportunity to hear about the progress and ongoing activities of the ECR working group as well as ideas for the forum’s activities next year. It will also be a chance for you to suggest activities and events for next year’s schedule.Digital drugs binaural beat by digitalbob8

Professor Ian Postlethwaite, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Alan Reed, Associate Dean (Research and Innovation) in the Faculty of Business and Law and lead for ECRs will attend. We have also invited colleagues from the Faculty of Health & Life Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering & Environment to showcase their research interest groups.

You will also be able to meet the ECR working group representatives from your faculty. More on the working group and the ECR Forum at:

Please let Kerri Jude in RBS know if you plan to attend:


Researcher Development Programme at Sunderland- limited places!

Ready steady go by purplemattfish CC BY-NC-ND 2An event will shortly be held at the University of Sunderland for Early Career Researchers. The programme is titled  ‘The ‘Effective Researcher’ development programme’ and will be held on the 20th and 21st of March at Sunderland.

Places are available to staff from all 5 North-East Universities, but only 8 places are available to each University, and will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. An information leaflet on the event is here: EffectiveResearcher flyer2013’14 (3)

Simply email to book your place!

We would hope that those attending would be happy to feed back what they have learned at the next ECR forum, and with a likely high level of interest I am sure we would all appreciate it for those that couldn’t go!


Early Career Researchers- Fancy being on BBC Radio 3?


If you are in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences the AHRC and BBC Radio 3 are looking for applications for the New Generation Thinkers of 2014.

Up to sixty successful applicants will have a chance to develop their programme-making ideas with experienced BBC producers at a series of dedicated workshops and, of these up to ten will become Radio 3’s resident New Generation Thinkers. They will benefit from a unique opportunity to develop their own programmes for BBC Radio 3 and a chance to regularly appear on air.

The deadline for application is 6th February; more information and the application form is at the following link:



AHRC International Placement Scheme for ECR’s and PhD Students



An event was recently held at the University of Manchester on an International Placement Scheme offered by AHRC and ESRC. Funding is available to current AHRC or ESRC funded students and Early Career Researchers to spend up to 6 months at one of the worlds leading international research institutions accessing their world-class archives and collections.

Fellowships will provide privileged access to the extensive collections at the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C, The Huntingdon Library in California, Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas, The Yale Center for British Art or the National Institute for the Humanities in Japan. (Please note ESRC students can only apply for a fellowship at the Library of Congress.)

Potential applicants are strongly advised to access the online catalogues and research the collections at their chosen Institution. Applicants will need to identify speific collections and documents they need access to, and it is advised to speak to curators. (For some institutions it is essential to speak to a curator prior to applying.)

Application deadline is 14th January 2014, at 4pm and they are submitted via the online Je-s system. Please note you will need to submit the application a few days prior to this as there are internal approvals that need to take place in the system prior to formal submission.

Application tips:

-Research the collections!

-Name the collection/documents you want to access in your application and any academics at the Institution you could benefit from having the opportunity to meet with while you are there

-Match your research interests to the collection you need, and state how access to it will benefit your thesis/research.

-Explain why that collection suits your needs and what is unique about your need for it- is the collection rare or available nowhere else? Is it scattered across multiple sites elsewhere or hard to access?

-Check availability of the collection you need, and outline an itinerary of your time at the Institution if possible



Northumbria University ECR Forum

Magnifying glass by Rafael Anderson Gonzales Mendoza CC BY-NC-SA 2Following the Early Career Researchers Forum held on 30th October, we have now created an ECRs page on the Northumbria University intranet. It provides a space for information on the forum, working group and contact details. We are also looking at putting other resources of interest to ECRs across the university.

The Forum meets four times per year and is currently chaired by Dr Robert Finn from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. It is led by a working group, consisting of two representatives from each faculty.If you have any questions on the Forum, its activities or how to get involved, please contact your faculty representative. Further details at: ECR Forum


EPSRC Council Open Forum: Researchers Wanted!

Committee Rooms by National Assembly for Wales CC BY 2.0EPSRC has today re-opened registration for their Council Open Forum until 20th September.

This is a chance for members of the academic and business communities to:

  • hear from EPSRC Council members;
  • question them about EPSRC’s plans and policies; and
  • debate the issues important to both them and Council

Council members will also be running poster sessions on EPSRC’s Strategic Goals and the science and engineering sponsored, and will hold surgeries with attendees for less formal discussion. This is a great opportunity for any academic who has an interest in EPSRC funding to find out more about their priorities and how the Council works.

EPSRC is particularly keen to engage with active researchers, including early career researchers, and research users. The forum itself will take place on 15th October.


Early Career Researchers’ Forum – 15th March

Keith Wignall Reading by Christchurch City Libraries CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Early Career Researchers’ Forum

Ellison Building, Room EBA004, Friday 15th March, 10.30-12.00


Are you an Early Career Researcher?

Would you like to have a voice in how Northumbria supports the career development of researchers?


If so, please come to the inaugural meeting of the Early Career Researchers’ Forum, on Friday March 15th from 10:30 to 12.00 in Room EBA004, Ellison Building  (Coffee and pastries provided!).


The University has recently produced an Action Plan to implement the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and we have received the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award as a result.  This commits the University to putting various measures into place to support researcher career development.

This meeting has been arranged on behalf of the University’s Research and Innovation Committee as a means of sharing the Action Plan with researchers and getting your input into how the plan should be implemented.  We would like to give you a brief presentation about the Concordat Action Plan, how it links to broader University strategy, and areas of work we are currently undertaking.  We will then throw the floor open for comment and discussion, and will take back any recommendations to help us refine the Plan.  Participants will be free to instigate any other topics for discussion within the time available.


Who should attend?  You are welcome to attend if you are a member of University staff and consider yourself to be an Early Career Researcher.  As a guide, this would mean you are in the process of establishing your research profile and reputation at a post-PhD level.  Staff whose role includes research and teaching and those who are solely researchers are equally eligible to take part.  Unfortunately, the Forum is not intended for PhD researchers if they are not also members of staff.

It would be helpful (but not essential) if you could tell us in advance if you wish to attend.  Likewise, please contact us if you wish to discuss anything about the Forum.   The person to contact is:  Dr Paul Rosen, Research Development Manager in Research and Business Services – ext. 4395, email

Further information about the Concordat and about Northumbria’s Action Plan is available at


Research Councils in 2013, Part 2: Je-S, EPSRC and NERC Priorities

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Read the first part here.

Je-S, the Research Council (RC) joint electronic submission system used for pre- and post-award management was the topic of an open discussion. A number of issues were raised along with suggestions for improvement:

  • Doesn’t allow for ‘soft’ deadlines, to give admin offices time to review proposals before submission – perhaps ROs (Research Organisations) could be given capacity to set own Je-S deadlines
  • Doesn’t allow you to see where academics are involved in proposals as Co-Is with other institutions. This can lead to last minute costings being requested
  • Doesn’t give enough detail about pre-award status – i.e. it just says ‘with Council’ when a bid has been submitted, but this status covers a number of different stages
  • Doesn’t allow for multiple users to edit at the same time and documents can be locked for up to 2 hours by one editor who forgets to log out
  • Some Councils have started using their own online forms for outline bids which reflects a lack of flexibility in Je-S, but can add complexity and confusion for ROs
  • Not all Councils allow ‘joint’ or linked proposals which allow each institution in a multi-partner bid to input their own costs. The reasons for this were that multiple Je-S forms are administratively more complex for the RC, but this effectively transfers the admin burden to ROs

While answers weren’t forthcoming during the event, all the issues will be taken away by the Je-S team in SSC for a feasibility discussion. Despite these problems, the general feeling among the room was that Je-S is a fairly good system overall for managing pre- and post-award activity, especially in comparison to other funders’ electronic systems.

Sam Madden (EPSRC) gave an update on EPSRC priorities over the coming year. Their spending commitment spike in 2012/13 (which we’ve discussed previously) is almost over, which means that there will be a sharp drop in the number of managed calls from now until at least 2014/15. Most of the budget commitment over the next year for research will be on responsive mode applications.

The main priority for EPSRC in 2013 (reflecting the vast majority of their budget commitment this year) is the Centres for Doctoral Training call, which was prefigured in November last year with a short report on priorities, but will be officially released in early February with an April deadline for outline proposals and a July deadline for full applications.

Physical Sciences are prioritising Early Career Resarchers over the next 12 months, through fellowships and other mechanisms. Engineering and ICT both want to encourage more fellowship applications, having received very few bids over the last year. Maths is also encouraging fellowship applications at the interfaces with ICT and the Living with Environmental Change programme.

In terms of peer review, EPSRC will be looking at the numbers of proposals which are returned for amendment, for example where Justification of Resources or letters of support are inadequate.

Avril Allman (NERC) discussed the new NERC strategy which is currently in development. This will be published in Feb/Mar 2013 for consultation. Current proposals emphasise “Discovery Science” (another name for blue skies/responsive mode applications) alongside three ‘societal challenges’ to be addressed by NERC-funded research. These are:

  • Environmental change
  • Environmental hazards
  • Resource security and supply

There are also preliminary discussions underway at NERC about funding impact through a block grant to ROs, presumably based on the amount of current NERC funding, rather than on a proposal by proposal basis as presently the case. As in the other Councils, there will be and end to NERC final reports (though not to Final Expenditure Statements) as they shift to using the Research Outcomes System to capture this data.


Research Councils in 2013, Part 1: Harmonisation, Demand Management and Early Career Researchers

This is part 1 of a 2-part series. I’ll post the second part tomorrow.

Polaris House, Swindon was the location of the latest joint ARMA (Association of Research Managers and Administrators) RCUK “Study Tour” which took place yesterday. We’ve been to these kinds of events before, but this was a little different. All previous Study Tours I’ve attended have been hosted by a single Research Council or funder, whereas this was a joint effort with representatives from all seven RCs, plus the “Shared Service Centre” – the back office for all RCs – and Je-S help desk. There was also a conscious attempt throughout most of the sessions to be more interactive, and the programme was pitched at “senior” research managers with a promise of greater discussion of policy and future strategic directions for RCs.

The key word was “harmonisation“: Peter Hollinswaite (Business Manager at MRC) set the tone by announcing that the RCs have now reached a more or less “stable state”, following a 2-3 year process during which they have moved to a single physical location and aligned pre- and post-award processes (all Councils now use Je-S, for example). However care was taken to distinguish harmonisation from ‘standardisation’. There was a recognition that different RCs serve different academic and user communities with distinct needs, so business models may differ – for example in the way they support postgraduate students, though even here there have been increasingly harmonised moves towards “block grant” models vs the old individual and project grant studentships across all the Councils.

The usual stats and numbers were rattled through first to give some context:

  • RCs processed 14,000 applications in 2012
  • There has been an increase in success rates from 18% to 26% across all schemes over the past 2 years
  • Demand has fallen 5% per annum over the past 2 years

Peter said that the next phase of cross-Council harmonisation would include: further simplification and rationalisation of funding schemes; a review of the process of peer review; scrutiny of terms and conditions and guidance to reduce confusion. As part of this process RCs will be carrying out surveys with various stakeholder groups, including research admin offices in universities.

The perennial topic of “Demand Management” was the focus of Gerald Owenson’s (BBSRC) discussion session. He outlined a number of measures, which he labelled ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’, introduced over the past few years which have led to the reduction in numbers of bids and consequent increase in success rates. Direct measures include:

  • Resubmissions are now generally not accepted by RCs unless invited (NERC is an exception – you can resubmit after 9 months)
  • Use of outline or preliminary stage applications has increased – the rationale is that outlines require less paperwork and so take less time for both applicant and RC to process. However, I’d argue that significant work goes on ‘behind the scenes’, particularly in terms of costing and partnership formation, which although not present in the submitted bid nevertheless take a significant amount of time
  • EPSRC has introduced individual researcher sanctions which limit repeatedly unsuccessful applicants to one bid per year. This has been controversial but has increased EPSRC success rates significantly, though other RCs have been reluctant to follow suit

Indirect demand management measures include:

  • Providing feedback to PI and Research Organisation (RO), including peer review and panel meeting comments. Peer review comments are not currently systematically returned to ROs, but Peter indicated this is set to change
  • Encouraging ROs to undertake internal assessment or peer review  of bids before submission, which most universities do to some extent
  • On this last point in particular, Gerald encouraged ROs to make use of their own internal staff resources, including the “insider knowledge” of people who are on RC peer review colleges and panels. I suggested to him later that it would be useful to offer opportunities for academics and research managers to sit in on RC panel meetings, in order to broaden experience. However he indicated this would be difficult due to limited space in the panel meeting rooms!

Kirsty Grainger and Avril Allman (both NERC) emphasised the importance of PhD studentships and Early Career Researchers to Research Council future plans. Of the annual UK output of 17400 PhDs, 5000 are RC-funded. For some Councils around 50% of funding is invested in PhDs. Increasingly measures to secure fitness for employment is seen as a key part of student training programmes. In addition all Councils now encourage interdisciplinary studentships, although there must be a lead Council. There was a suggestion that there may be specific joint-Council interdisciplinary calls for studentships in future.

Find out what the Research Councils and universities think about Je-S, as well as some insight on EPSRC and NERC priorities for 2013 in Part 2 tomorrow.