Early Career Researcher Network: key information for ECRs

What is the British Academy doing to help Early Career Researchers (ECRs)?

The British Academy is creating a new network for researchers who represent the future of the humanities and social sciences to support and strengthen their skills and networks and ultimately compete in a challenging job market. Through this new network the Academy wants to foster the best talent to pursue a future within research by encouraging and supporting those from diverse backgrounds across the UK.

Who is eligible to take part in the Early Career Researcher Network (ECR Network)?

The ECR Network is being piloted in the Midlands, Scotland and the South West region of the UK and is for researchers who identify as ECRs. Although the Academy does not have a strict definition of an ECR it is anticipated they will be within 10 years of their PhD experience but recognise this will not be the case for all, given career breaks for MAT, PAT, Sick leave and other exceptional circumstances. To join the network at this stage of the Pilot we are asking ECRs to meet 4 eligibility criteria:

  • Humanities and social sciences researcher
  • Recently or currently affiliated with a Research Institution within the pilot regions
  • Researchers currently based in the UK
  • Identify as an ECR
  • At this time, the network is only for researchers who have completed their PhD qualification (or equivalent)

If you are an ECR affiliated with a Research Institution within either of the pilot regions, we welcome you to join the network regardless of which institution you are affiliated with. This includes ECRs affiliated with institutions outside of those involved in the Midlands or South West Hub consortium and any other independent research organisation within the regions.

How is the Academy working in Partnership with the Wolfson Foundation?

The British Academy is working in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation to coordinate a pilot network for early career researchers (ECRs) in the humanities and social sciences. The Wolfson Foundation has agreed to support a two-year pilot of the network (April 2021-March 2023).

How will the Pilot Phase Work?

The network will develop out from regions and the pilot approach will give the Academy time to consult, plan, develop, evaluate and then scale-up. The Academy, working with a partner (Hub) will invite researchers to join each region in turn.

During this Pilot the following will be tested:

  • The regional approach to structuring the network.
  • The potential diversity and reach of the network.
  • The level of interest and the optimum scale and size.
  • The engagement opportunities and support most valued by the ECRs.

What is a Hub?

A Hub refers to a university in a particular area which applies and is selected to work with the Academy to support the successful delivery of the ECR Network. It will provide support for the Academy and the researchers at a "regional" level. It is not directing the activities of the researchers. The use of the term "Hub" is not suggesting a physical location, nor is it suggesting activities are centralised in one location.

The network has three Hubs so far – the Midlands, Scotland and the South West – with more hubs to launch across other areas of the UK in due course.

The members of each Hub are listed below with links to their privacy policies, so that ECRs can see how the institutions use personal data. See also the British Academy's privacy policy. For more information, see the network's data-sharing principles.

The Midlands

The South West

The GW4 Alliance is the lead organisation of the South West hub. It is a consortium of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, and Exeter. Links to the privacy policies of each of these institutions, as well as the other members of the South West hub, are below:

Scotland

As the co-leading institutions for the Scotland hub, the University of Stirling and the University of Glasgow will facilitate networking events and activities for ECRs in Scotland, with the support of other Scottish academic institutions. The Scotland hub comprises the following institutions:

Why would an ECR be interested in being a member of the network?

The ECR Network aims to help researchers develop their careers. It is a new initiative being shaped by the researchers themselves, with the focus and opportunities led by the researchers with the support of the Academy. It will create a range of opportunities in support of this aim. As a result of the network, those involved will be better equipped and strong contenders both in the academic sector and beyond.

Why is a network needed?

The network aims to give researchers opportunities to develop their skills and provide them with additional opportunities and experiences that will enhance their careers, whether inside or outside of academia. Many of these opportunities are best accessed through collaboration and co-operation with a network of partners such as funding bodies, senior academics, cross-disciplinary and international groups, and researchers with experience of public policy development.

How will personal data be handled?

The British Academy, institutions and regional hubs process and share data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For further information, see the network's data-sharing principles.

What are the challenges facing ECRs?

We know from our conversations with researchers that there are a range of challenges and uncertainties for those in the first few years of life as a researcher. It is a critical period in which to develop relationships and establish support mechanisms to enable a successful and sustained career. We hope the network for Early Career Researchers will provide opportunities to strengthen skills and build networks so that individuals can reach their full potential.

Support for ECRs

The Academy will support ECRs to set their own agendas as members of this network in line with their priorities. Priorities vary from one individual to another, and according to the British Academy/AHRC 2014 survey, ECRs in the higher education sector regarded “advice with preparing grant applications”, “time to publish”, and “mentorship” as the most beneficial forms of support in their career development.

The British Academy will provide opportunities, both regionally and nationally, from skills training to networking, providing links to leading academics and other senior leaders. In the long-term the Academy hopes that this will contribute to a joined-up response that brings together the Higher Education and research sectors and ensures that ECRs’ priorities are addressed as they change and develop.

The British Academy's aspirations for the network

The ambition of the British Academy is to create a UK-wide network for social science and humanities researchers from all backgrounds, that includes both researchers funded by the British Academy and those receiving funding from other sources. Funding schemes – such as those run by the British Academy, the Wolfson Foundation and others – can make a huge difference to researchers at the early stages of their careers. Among other advantages – such as time and flexibility to lead research projects, and opportunities to try innovative research methods – the network facilitates intergenerational knowledge and skill-sharing, interdisciplinary connections, international connections and engagement with public policymakers.

What is the British Academy going to offer the ECRs?

The aim is, over the course of the Pilot, to offer all researchers who join the network access to the following:

  • Personal skills development - Skills such as communications, media training, leadership, project management, etc, could be prioritised; opportunities for members to develop skills delivered by the network in partnership with a university or other provider will be explored.
  • Research skills development - These might include opportunities to present new research ideas and share findings via blogs and articles.
  • Building contacts with experienced academics - The Academy has over 1,000 Fellows and opportunities for them to present, facilitate or advise researchers will be explored. There will be some opportunities for researchers to be mentored by Fellows, and contacts to advise on funding applications and published outputs will be established (especially for those members with limited institutional support).
  • Building research collaborations across disciplines to address common challenges together - The network will bring together researchers from different disciplines and universities and backgrounds, and symposium or workshop format events (online or in person) on interdisciplinary topics will allow new collaborations to be developed.
  • Exploring issues key to ECRs (such as equality, diversity and inclusion; job security) - The ECRs might explore such issues through peer-led round tables, facilitated by a Fellow of the Academy or other sector experts.
  • Engaging in discussions and debates relevant to academia and higher education - This might include invited speakers from academia, policy, higher education, or interactive workshops to explore an issue in depth.
  • Networking outside of academia - Heritage, cultural, arts, private and public sectors and industry.

How fast do we expect the network to grow?

The first Hub was opened in the Midlands at the end of September and researchers were invited within the region to register to join the network. The British Academy has now establish two further Hubs within the UK in Scotland and the South West. Further details about its plans for expansion will be announced in the future.

Why is the British Academy involved in this partnership?

As the national academy for the humanities and social sciences, the British Academy invests in researchers and projects across the UK and overseas, engages the public with fresh thinking and debates, and brings together scholars, government, business and civil society to influence policy for the benefit of everyone. We fund researchers at a range of stages of their careers and want to invest in their careers long term, not just for the duration of research projects. The Academy also has significant convening power and wants to promote the value of SHAPE disciplines, so it plans to work with national and regional hubs for mutual benefit.

How will the network benefit the Higher Education sector?

The ECR Network will help researchers access important information about the skills, experience and behaviours that research leaders should be developing throughout their careers. It will nurture talent in several gaps in the provision of teaching and research which the British Academy has so far sought to address through the election of Fellows and the award of research funding in specialist areas. In line with the government’s own R&D People and Culture Strategy, published by the Department for BEIS in July 2021, it will also provide academic researchers with greater opportunity for involvement in policy development, increasing the influence of the country’s research.

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