Applying for the ESRC Future Research Leaders Scheme – Top Tips from the recent workshop

Last week we ran a briefing session in anticipation of the 2014 call for the ESRC Future Leaders Scheme being announced (still saying beginning of September of the ESRC website…). There were presentations from the Assistant Associate Dean for Research and two current award holders, and here I aim to summarise some of the more interesting or surprising tips that came from the session. It goes without saying (?) that applications have to meet the eligibility criteria, have to be thoroughly prepared (with as much feedback from mentors, Supervisors and other colleagues as time allows) and have to be supported by your host institution (in Manchester there will be an internal review process so your application will have to go to an internal panel before being put forward to the ESRC – details tba).

Here are some other less well-known tips that came from the session:

• Take the title of the scheme seriously. It is about identifying and supporting future leaders, not just promising academics. There will be many good applications, so you need to think carefully about how to make yours stand out. You can find some tips on making a strong post-doc fellowship application here

• The application is time-consuming and hard work to complete. However, the chance to design your own career-development opportunity alongside the project of your (research) dreams is a fantastic opportunity that can put you in a prime position for a great academic career.

• The emphasis of the Future Leaders Scheme is on career development as well as the project – they are investing in you as a potential research leader of the future. You need to make the case that you are in a strong position to become a leader and that you are already building up strong networks. You can do this through your nominated mentor (think about who the leading minds in your field are) and other collaborators/advisors that are named in the proposal. Think globally, and, when approaching potential collaborators, think about what they will gain from their involvement. Aim high as the better your network, the better your case that you have the potential to be a future research leader.

• Think seriously about how to (appear to) be a 21st century scholar. Take all sections of the application seriously and review as many successful applications as possible to get a good understanding of how to complete the different sections of the form. Different applications will give some insight into how research can be designed to meet the varying demands of the application.

• Know your strengths and bring them out in the application. Perhaps more importantly, know your weaknesses and show that you have plans for dealing with them. Remember – this is a career development Fellowship so a big part of it is showing that you understand what makes a future leader and how you can develop the necessary knowledge, skills and expertise to become one.

• There is a difference between knowledge transfer and impact. Check the RCUK website for their guidance on completing the ‘Pathways to Impact’ statement (herehttp://http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/ke/impacts/). In general, knowledge transfer does not necessarily guarantee impact – for instance you might inform policy makers of your research but it might not go on to have any impact on policy.

• In previous rounds of the scheme, applicants have had the opportunity to nominate their reviewers. Take this opportunity – it allows you to choose reviewers who understand and are sympathetic to your project and approach. It goes without saying that this will lead to potentially more favourable reviews and more useful feedback, and it is a further opportunity to demonstrate your growing network.

• If your application is received favourably, take the opportunity to respond to any issues raised by your reviewers. This is a good opportunity to show your potential as a future leader since it demonstrates your ability to take criticism and to respond to it.

• Get lots of feedback on your Case for Support – internal peer review will give you some feedback from people who might not otherwise see your application – but ask others to look at it too (especially your potential mentor).

We’ll endeavour to let you know when the call is finally announced, but it might also be worth keeping an eye on the ESRC website and getting on with planning your application in the meantime.

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