Apply for that Fellowship – before it’s too late!

I just came across an interesting post on the Vitae Research Staff blog that outlines some of the ‘age’ restrictions on Research Fellowships. You can read the post at:  http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/156431-281261/Age-discrimination-in-funding-bodies.html  

The blogger accurately points out that Early Career or Post-doc Fellowships (where you’re given funding for a fixed period of time to progrss your own research career, rather than working for a PI) are often seen as the best way to progress from a PhD, Research Assistant/Associate or Teaching Fellowship post into a Lectureship, but that many Fellowships are restricted to ‘early-career’ researchers. But it’s a little bit unfair (I think) to accuse funders of age-discrimination since most don’t specify an age limit (although Leverhulme is a bit of an exception). However, they usually do define ‘early-career’ as being x number of years out of a PhD (where x does vary, but is usually less than 5 years for Humanities funders). In reality, that does mean that by the time many potential Humanities academics hit their early thirties they are no longer eligible for many of the early career or post-doc fellowships on offer, so you do need to plan to apply for this type of award pretty soon after getting your PhD. Some also specify that you cannot have held a permanent academic post before applying (perhaps understandably, since they are intended to support promising academics to get their foot in the door), but that can be a problem if you have previously held an open-ended contract as, for example, a teaching fellow, and now want to move back into a more research-focussed position.

As the blogger suggests, there are some exceptions – if you have had a career break (which does not only apply to women who’ve had time out to have kids, but might also apply to anyone – of either gender – who has, for instance, been ill, taken time out to care for relatives or to adopt or raise children among other things), and it’s worth contacting the funder to ask about your specific case if you think your circumstances could be considered as a ‘career break’.

In some ways, the ‘early career’ stipulation attached to many post-doc and early career fellowships are intended to level the playing field so that those newly emerging from a PhD are not competing with established academics for research funding. In this way the limitations work in your favour – as long as you’re aware of them and get your application in before you exceed the time limit. This means that ‘success rates’ for early career schemes can be higher than for many of the larger, broader research grant or mid-career schemes that are open to either the whole or most of the academic community in a broad discipline area.

So, I guess some quick morals of this story are:

  1. Get your applications in to these schemes sooner rather than later.
  2. Some of them only run annual competitions, so if you miss the boat one year, you have to wait another 12 months before you can apply again. Make sure you’re aware of the deadlines!
  3. Don’t rely only on the big funders – look around for other sources of funding and/or smaller, more specialist schemes (see my previous post on a couple of the BA schemes that are about to close) where your chances of success are higher and there are fewer (if any) ‘age’ restrictions.
  4. Check the eligibility criteria for the scheme before applying, but if you have ANY suspicion that you might have taken a ‘career break’, contact the funder to check. Don’t just assume that your time out doesn’t count – you may be surprised.

P.S Once scheme that isn’t mentioned in the blog post is the British Academy post-doc fellowship: http://www.britac.ac.uk/funding/guide/pdfells.cfm

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