The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is to enhance and improve its support for social scientists in the early stages of their career.

Following a comprehensive review, we have launched a new set of measures to support early career researchers in three distinct stages:

  • Doctoral 
  • Immediately Postdoctorate 
  • Transition to Independent Researcher

Ten per cent of the ESRC’s studentship budget will be used to fund Postdoctoral Fellowships through the ESRC’s 14 new Doctoral Training Partnerships. Fifty Fellowships will be funded each year from an annual £4.7 million fund.

The Fellowships will be available to ESRC and non-ESRC funded doctoral graduates who are within one year of completing their PhD and will give them the opportunity to consolidate their PhD through developing publications, their networks, and their research and professional skills. 

We are also introducing a New Investigator scheme, which replaces the Future Research Leaders scheme. This new strand of our existing Research Grants scheme will provide early career researchers with the opportunity to lead their first major research grant and gain experience of managing a research project and team. The scheme has an open date so that researchers can apply for it at any point rather than having to wait for an annual competition.

The review drew on a broad range of evidence including research commissioned from the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education.

Other new developments from the review include:

  • Ensuring that all ESRC grant holders set out, at the application stage, how they will support postdoctoral researchers' continuing professional development.
  • Commissioning an international comparative review of the nature of the PhD in the social sciences – to establish the extent to which PhDs provide effective preparation for careers both within and beyond academia, and whether our doctoral graduates are competitive internationally.
  • Encouraging early career researchers to participate in other ESRC funding schemes, for example, requiring them to be included as co-investigators.

ESRC Chief Executive, Professor Jane Elliott said:

"A key role for the ESRC is to build new social science capability; we are responding to the needs of early career researchers as identified through extensive consultation. The new mechanisms we have put in place aim to respond to the needs of different disciplines and recognise different career trajectories, supporting the very best researchers through the difficult early stages of their careers."