Changes to support for early career researchers

August 2016

Following a review we are launching a new set of measures to enhance our support early career researchers (ECRs).

The review was prompted by respondents to our 2015 Strategic Plan consultation who identified support for ECRs as an important issue, particularly provision in the period immediately post PhD. It drew on a range of evidence including a commissioned study of Early career social science researchers: experiences and support needs (PDF, 157Kb) by William Locke and Richard Freeman at the ESRC Centre for Global Higher Education (methodology appendix available below).

Detailed below are the measures we will be introducing. These recognise that there are three distinct ECR stages:

  • Doctoral
  • Immediately postdoctorate
  • Transition to independent researcher

The following measures seek to provide a more integrated support system, responsive to the needs of different disciplines and recognising different career trajectories.

Review careers advice and support provided through the Doctoral Training Partnerships and Centres for Doctoral Training

We will work with our new Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) to ensure they are providing realistic careers support and advice for careers both within and beyond academia.

Support Postdoctoral Fellowships through our Doctoral Training Partnerships

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 (DTPs). The DTPs start in October 2017 and the aim is to fund around 50 Fellowships 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 will be working with the DTPs over the coming months to develop the scheme and further information will be issued in due course.

Commission an international comparative review of the nature of the PhD in the social sciences

We want to work with key stakeholders across the sector to establish the extent to which the UK PhD is providing effective preparation for careers both within and beyond academia and look at how competitive our doctoral graduates are internationally.

Introduce a New Investigator strand of the Research Grants scheme

‚ÄčThis new strand of our existing Research Grants scheme will replace our current Future Research Leaders scheme. New Investigator Grants are specifically aimed at supporting those looking to make the transition to an independent researcher through managing their first major research project. 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.

Encourage the participation of ECRs within other ESRC funding schemes

We will encourage the participation of ECRs through other funding schemes, for example, requiring ECRs to be included as co-investigators as we currently do in our Secondary Data Analysis Scheme.

Require ESRC grant holders to set out how they will support postdoctoral researchers continuing professional development and include this as part of the assessment process.

We will develop a statement of expectations for how postdoctoral researchers on grants should be supported and require grant holders to set out how they will support the professional development of postdoctoral researchers on grants and include it as part of the assessment process. In taking this forward we will consult with key stakeholders including postdoctoral researchers currently on grants, grant holders and those with responsibility for Researcher Development within institutions. We will also build on similar work undertaken by other Research Councils.