Fellowshopping around

I’ve haven’t written anything on here for a while, partly because I’ve been doing, you know ‘actual’ work (though I’m pretty sure this counts), and partly because I’ve been at a loss for anything useful to say. To make up for that, here’s a post so big, you’d think it’s the result of a selection program designed to find the biggest blog post in the country and then put through an intensive training programme to be Great Britain’s representative at the Massive Blog Post Olympics.

Anyway, in January I started a new job (yay me, etc). After two post-docs over 5(ish) years, I’ve moved to the University of Stirling on a scheme called an Impact Fellowship. Despite this slightly expectation-raising-and-then-ending-in-inevitable-disappointment-when-you-actually-meet-me name, this is a very good thing. The department of Biological and Environmental Sciences is pretty small, but very diverse and with plenty of people doing the evolutionary-ecology-type stuff I’m into. You should come and do a talk for us, maybe? Also Stirling is bang in the middle of Scotland and (weather aside) a pretty sweet place to live. There’s a golden castle, a huge phallic monument to William Wallace, and Monty Python’s Holy Grail was filmed down the road. Also, there’s no(ish) traffic and it’s close to all the mountains and stuff. But anyway. I digress.


Look, Stirling has hills and stuff. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can leave the office and be on top of Dumyat in under an hour!

This new job, then. It’s a small step up for me- I’ve gone from a post-doc being paid by someone else, to a sort-of principal investigator (PI) who won their own money. The fellowship includes a salary (hooray!), a small amount of research money, and two years in which to create something more substantial. Which means….I have two years of trying to get more money in order to make that happen. As a sort-of PI, there are two sources open to me: fellowships and grants. I thought it would be useful to make a kind-of list of the things I am (thinking of) applying for, here in the UK.

First, a distinction. A fellowship is a pot of money provided by a research council, which will usually include your salary as well. As such, you can take it (I think by handcuffing yourself to a large briefcase) to any University you choose and say ‘I have all this money and a salary. Can I sit here?’ They’ll say yes, and probably rip your shoulder out of its socket in the process, because they’re getting you and your science and the benefits it brings. A downside is that most don’t allow you to employ anyone else (e.g. a lab/field assistant or post-doc). Meanwhile, a grant can provide money for research and research assistants (depending on size) but usually not your own salary…so you need a permanent job (or the promise of one) to apply for them. As a sort-of PI without a permanent job, but with the promise of one if I get loads of money, I’m eligible to apply for both grants (usually not available to post-docs) and fellowships (usually not eligible to faculty). Happy days (of the least exciting possible sort)!


Trying to decide which grant/fellowship to apply for. Here, funding opportunities are represented by large piles of elephant shit.

The enormous, hopefully at least slightly helpful, but by no means exhaustive, list follows at the end. I’m not going to go for them all, but they’re on my radar. It’s worth noting that you can (and probably should, if advice is to believed, which it is!) send related applications to multiple places. By related, I mean pretty much the same, but with the questions framed to suit whichever research council you’re applying to, and one or two aspects of the work altered or swapped around. The application processes range from a preliminary application which will get sifted, a whole application which consists of a couple of sides of A4, or reams and reams of forms and ten-page proposals. They’re all broadly similar though: the scheme will stipulate a timeframe and a budget, and you will say what you’ll do, why it’s interesting/essential, what you’ll spend the money on, why you need to spend the money, what sort of scientific/industrial/practical/public impact it will have. Wish me luck…




Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Independent Research Fellowship:  I have to confess that I went for one of these in the 2014 call and though I got an interview, I just wasn’t good enough to get it. A ton of other people also didn’t get them; a few excellent people did. That’s the way it goes. The odds are stacked against you, unless you’re exceptional. I’m not, hence applying for as many things as I can!

Funding: Five years

Application deadline (2015): 1st October

Eligibility: 0-8 years’ post-doc experience. Happily, they take career stage into account when assessing applications. Apparently. No-one with a permanent contract can apply.

Remit: Large. Environmental science, geosciences, ecology, conservation, genetics, evolution, behaviour.


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Future Leader Fellowship: At the same time as NERC stopped funding three-year fellowships for people relatively soon out of their PhD (booooooo!), the BBSRC started this scheme (yaaaaaaay!).

Funding: Three years, up to £300,000

Application deadline (2015): 4th June

Eligibility: 0-5 years’ post-doc experience

Remit (among others): Biotechnology, energy, climate change, agriculture, food security, health, disease, ageing.


BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship: The BBSRC’s equivalent of NERC’s IRF. A tough choice for some (e.g. me) with five years’ post-doc experience to decide whether to apply for the three- or five-year BBSRC fellowship, because you can only apply for one of them. Ultimately will depend on ambition of the project!

Funding: Five years, up to £1 million

Application deadline (2015): 21st October

Eligibility: 3-10 years’ post-doc experience

Remit (among others): Biotechnology, energy, climate change, agriculture, food security, health, disease, ageing.


Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellowship: These are pretty ginormous: five years of funding, PLUS you can apply for three more if you haven’t discovered everything by the end. The Wellcome Trust will also give you £7,500 per year on top of your salary, so you’ll be loaded (for a scientist)!

Funding: Five years (plus three)

Application deadline: April 12th 2016 for the preliminary application, June 21st for the full. BUT, there are three deadlines a year! So if (like me) you’re going away on fieldwork for most of the spring, you can wait for the next one!

Eligibility: 0-7 years’ post-doc experience

Remit: Biomedical sciences, including epidemiology, clinical research, public health, evolutionary medicine, immunology, disease ecology.


Wellcome Trust Sir Henry Wellcome Post-doctoral Fellowship: OK, so I’m (long) not eligible for this, but it’s a pretty good option if you’re just out of your PhD and looking for a job or to kick-start your own lab. You’re also expected to spend time in more than one institution, so perfect if you have collaborators elsewhere (including abroad).

Funding: Four years and £250,000

Application deadline: 2nd May 2016 (preliminary); 4th July 2016 (full)…but they run two calls a year!

Eligibility: 0-2 years’ post-doc experience, or in the final year of your PhD.

Remit: Biomedical sciences, including epidemiology, clinical research, public health, evolutionary medicine, immunology, disease ecology.


Royal Society University Research Fellowship: This provides less money than the likes of NERC or BBSRC, but they tend to award over 30 each year. Still, the success rate of 8% isn’t exactly stellar.

 Funding: Five years, with the ability to apply for three more. Salary, plus £11,000 research expenses per year.

Application deadline (2015): 3rd September

Eligibility: 3-8 years’ post-doc experience

Remit: Natural sciences, which apparently includes agriculture, mathematics, biotechnology and engineering science. For biology, anything except clinical or basic biomedical stuff is good.


Others include the Daphne Jackson Fellowship for people who have had a career break of at least two years; the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for people who require flexible funding; the Society in Science Branco Weiss Fellowship which funds early-career researchers for all sorts of science with a focus on societal benefits.




 NERC New Investigator Grants: This is the same as NERC’s Standard Grant scheme, but if you’ve never had a grant before, you can apply as a New Investigator! You can have as many collaborators as you like, but you must be the sole principal investigator.

Funding: Up to £800,000

Application deadline: January and July 2016

Eligibility: Slightly complex: within three years of being eligible for a Standard Grant, and never having had a grant on which a post-doc was employed. So perfect for a new lecturer, for example.

Remit (among others): Environmental science, geosciences, ecology, conservation, genetics, evolution, behaviour.


BBSRC New Investigator Scheme: As with the NERC New Investigator scheme, the proposals are assessed more on the ‘potential’ of the applicant as the track record. This should allow early-career researchers a fair shot when up against the big names when applying for money from the same pot.

 Funding: Up to £800,000

Application deadline: 11th May 2016

Eligibility: As with NERC, you’re fine as long as you’ve never employed a post-doc before!

Remit (among others): Biotechnology, energy, climate change, agriculture, food security, health, disease, ageing.


Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant: The Leverhulme Trust is quite a small organization that funds all sorts of research in the arts, humanities and sciences. They’re especially keen to fund stuff that falls between the gaps in the remits of other research councils which makes them great for cross-disciplinary work.

Funding: Up to five years and £500,000

Application deadline: None: submit a preliminary application at any time.

Eligibility: Anyone with a permanent role or the promise of one.

Remit (among others): Anything, except biomedical stuff, policy-driven research or research with an immediate commercial application.


European Reseacrh Council (ERC) Starting Grant: The ERC funds researchers across Europe and has three schemes which cover researchers at all different careers stages: Starter, Consolidator and Advanced. Like many of these starting grants, the focus is on researchers who are on the verge of establishing a research group and making their first steps in truly independent research.

Funding: Five years and up to €1.5 million (£1.1 million)

Application deadline (2015): 17th November

Eligibility: 2-7 years post-doc experience.

Remit (among others): Pretty much any scientific research

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