AHRC Launches Expanded International Placement Scheme

Are you an AHRC-funded postgraduate or early-career researcher? Now you have an opportunity to apply for a short-term fellowship at one of four internationally-renowned research libraries and institutes.

The AHRC has just launched an expanded scheme which offers 3-6 month placements at one of four destinations in 2012/13:

This provides an excellent opportunity not only to take advantage of the world-class research facilities on offer, but also to expand your academic network overseas.

Here are more details on the awards and eligibility from the AHRC:

The scheme is open to UK postgraduate students and early career researchers funded by the AHRC and successful applicants receive an award from the AHRC to contribute towards their flight costs and a monthly allowance in additional to their normal stipend/salary paid as part of their AHRC funding.

Applicants can apply to spend from three to six months at the overseas institution with dedicated access to their world-class research facilities, expertise and networking opportunities.

For the purposes of this scheme, “early career” means you need to be within 8 years of the award of your PhD, or within 6 years of your first academic appointment. And note that ESRC award holders are also eligible to apply to the Library of Congress placement scheme, but not to the other destinations. Further information is available in the detailed call guidance notes available at the links above.

As we reported last month, this is part of the AHRC’s wider international strategy. The focus on early stage researchers is significant as the AHRC believe international links made at this stage of an academic career usually last longer and are more productive in terms of stimulating future research collaborations and impact.

The deadline for applications for the International Placement Scheme is 15th March, 2012. Please contact us for advice and support with your application.

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AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions

This is part 1 of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour: First up was Professor Mark Llewellyn, AHRC’s new Director of Research with a wide-ranging talk covering most of what AHRC currently does as well as future directions for the funder.

And when we say “new”, we mean it! It turns out Mark had only been in the job 20 days when he delivered this presentation – he was formerly Professor of English Studies at Strathclyde. Phil Ward, Research Funding Manager at Kent, has already offered his own useful analysis of what Prof. Llewellyn’s appointment might say about the AHRC’s underlying goals. In any case, Prof. Llewellyn did a good job of summing up the state of play at the research council as well as giving some reasonable indications about what AHRC will be interested in over the next year or so. In what follows I’ve picked out some of the key points from the session. You can also take a look at the presentation slides, available on the AHRC website. And remember to leave a comment if you’d like to ask a question.

“Commissioned” Research

One of the points Mark made fairly early on was that AHRC’s remit is wide – over 50 disciplines are represented and supported by the funder. As with other research councils, this support is primarily channelled through their “responsive” mode: a no deadlines, open all year funding stream for anything within AHRC’s remit. After briefly covering the AHRC’s “emerging” themes (which will be the subject of tomorrow’s more detailed post), Mark briefly mentioned the possibility of a new “commissioned” research funding mode which would respond flexibly to priorities raised by the research community. Not a lot was said about this in the presentation – suggesting it is still at an early stage of development – but the presentation (slide 5) shows that it is clearly separate from the emerging themes as well as the cross-council priorities. This is speculation, but perhaps it is one way of the AHRC responding to criticisms last year over the perceived introduction of the “big society” into their research agenda (an issue on which both Mark and the audience were noticeably silent).

The issue of forming longer-term partnerships with the research community was clearly at the forefront as Mark began his presentation with the observation that “grants don’t just stop”. Of course the funding ends, but there are many more events and activities which outlast the duration of the grant. There was a clear indication that the AHRC intend to take an increasing interest in longer-term outcomes and outputs of the research they fund, not just through the RCUK Research Outcomes System, but also in the nature of the relationship between funder and researcher. This may well signal a subtle shift towards the “funder as sponsor” model adopted by the EPSRC.

“Embedded”

One of the words of the day for Mark and other AHRC presenters was “embedded”. The significance is this: although the AHRC has and will continue to have separate strands of activity devoted to, say, Knowledge Exchange and International research partnerships, the expectation is that these activities will be embedded and integrated across the AHRC’s research themes and schemes. Mark made the point that funding for Knowledge Exchange doesn’t just have to be chanelled through specialist KE themes. This shouldn’t be too surprising, especially since research councils have been hammering on about including costs for impact activities within grants for quite some time now. The picture is of  longer, larger research grants (see below) which also make time for international and industrial engagement, and of researchers who are prepared to be leaders both within and outside academia.

Demand/Expectation Management

Mark wants to work with research organisations and research offices to share best practice on this issue, both processes and user experiences. From “our” perspective, he suggested that demand management might be better framed as expectation management, although whose expectations wasn’t made clear (research managers’ or academics’?) – and who is doing the managing?

One specific point is worth highlighting here: many institutions understandably call on members of the AHRC Peer Review College to act as internal peer reviewers. Mark acknowledged that this is a good way of sharing peer review expertise but cautioned that institutions shouldn’t overburden PRC members. One suggestion was that PRC members could focus on reviewing applications by early career researchers only. Another was to ensure that membership of internal peer review groups included a mix of PRC members and more junior colleagues, giving the opportunity for those who have not had the benefit of working as a peer reviewer to gain an insight into this process.

On the issue of peer review, Mark also indicated that he wanted members of the PRC to feel more like a community. Peer review is therefore to be given its own section on the AHRC’s new-look website, and there is likely to be some investment in online training for the 1300+ member College.

“Longer and larger”

This was another of the key phrases of the day, along with the corollary – “fewer” – which was mentioned slightly less often. In common with all the other research councils, the AHRC are strategically positioning themselves to invest in a smaller number of longer, larger grants which deliver greater impact. None of this is new, of course, having been highlighted in the Delivery Plans published at the end of 2010. However, Mark was keen to point out that it did not necessarily mean calling for projects worth £4M. He insisted that it was also about engaging with researchers in development of research activity and suggested that AHRC would start running EPSRC-style research “sandpits” to do this.

Mark acknowledged that the calls announced to date for the four existing “emerging” themes (Digital Transformations, Translating Cultures, Care for the Future, Science in Culture) might have given the impression that longer and larger was not the priority – there have been a number of small scale research development calls as well as highlight notices on the £45K max Research Networking scheme. These were designed to scope the research area, and would be followed by a larger scale call, in much the same way as has happened in Connected Communities.

There will be more from the AHRC Study Tour tomorrow.

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Leverhulme Trust steps in to fund British Academy Small Grants

Good news for early career humanities and social science researchers! The British Academy Small Research Grants scheme has secured funding for at least the next three years following an intervention by the Leverhulme Trust.

British Academy and Leverhulme Trust announcement

Yesterday it was announced that the Trust has stumped up £1.5M to ensure the popular funding scheme’s continuation. This will provide welcome reassurance following a rather turbulent year for the Academy and small grants in particular.

You may remember the announcement by the British Academy in January 2011 that it planned to discontinue small grants. This was in the context of research councils such as the ESRC also terminating their own small grants scheme, and announcing a concentration of cash in longer, larger awards. Things looked bleak for the future of small grants in the humanities and social sciences, until British Academy reviewed their decision in July 2011. Now this latest announcement ensures more small grants will be available in these disciplines in the future.

Both the Academy and the Leverhulme Trust are keen to point out the benefits and impact of research funded by small grants, with the example given in the press release of Academy-funded work forming the basis of a recent BBC 2 series, Mixed Britannia. Leverhulme’s intervention will likely also take some pressure off their own funding schemes and those of the ESRC and AHRC by providing an alternative route for early career researchers and those who want to run a pilot research project.

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Funding Calendar Now Available

The blog now sports a lovely colour-coded calendar of forthcoming funding opportunities, courtesy of Research Professional and Google Calendar. It looks like this:

The colour key to the different types of events is as follows:

  • FP7 Funding
  • Non-FP EU Funding
  • RCUK Funding
  • Postgraduate Funding
  • Travel Funding

You can click on the individual funding opportunities to find out more information and you’ll need to click through to Research Professional to get the full details (you’ll have access to a free account if you’re a member of staff at Northumbria University). You can also choose to display the calendar in three different ways, with week, month and agenda views available.

At the moment this calendar takes an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach, with thousands of funding opportunities listed. However, if you think your School or Research Group would find it useful, please contact us and we’d be happy to produce a calendar which is more tailored to your own research area. These can be useful for planning research bids up to a year ahead.

A note on how this was done for those interested:  I created several Google calendars – one for each type of funding deadline I wanted to display. I made all of them publicly available on the web to ensure I could embed them in the blog. I then ran several searches on ResearchProfessional, and imported the resulting .ics calendar files into Google calendar. So, for example, I ran a search on EU Funding opportunities and imported the .ics file into the Google Calendar I’d created and titled “EU Funding”.

Once this is done you can click on calendar options and then calendar details within Google Calendar and customise how your calendar will appear when embedded into web pages. You can use this function to display several separate calendar files within a single calendar – this is how you get the colour-coding you can see on the calendar above. This also gives you an embedding code which you can use to put the calendar on your website.

However, because this is currently a WordPress.com hosted blog I couldn’t simply paste the resulting code into the page I wanted to use. WordPress.com hosted blogs block all but a small subset of approved html code for security reasons.  To get around this, I needed to first paste the html code generated by Google Calendar into a Text Widget in the sidebar, as per the official WordPress.com instructions on embedding calendars in blogs. WordPress then automatically converts this into WordPress-friendly shortcode which looks a bit like this, in [square brackets]:

googleapps domain="www" dir="calendar/embed query="title=...

I copied this, then pasted it into the page I wanted and tweaked it to display the calendar at width=800, height=600 (the shortcode defaults to 200×200 pixels, which isn’t ideal for displaying a calendar with lots of deadlines). Et voila!

UPDATE 4th Feb 2012: Since we’ve recently moved to a hosted WordPress installation, much of the above explanation is no longer relevant. However, I’ll leave it up since others may be interested in embedding a Google calendar on a wordpress.com site.

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