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University Research Fellowship

Support with your application

Much of the detail you will need to complete your application is available in the scheme notes, but here you will find additional advice and information to support your application.


Support for applicants with disabilities

The Royal Society welcomes applications from scientists with disabilities and provides adjustments to ensure that they can participate fully in the selection process. If you need an adjustment when accessing the application form, attending interviews, or for any other part of the application process, please contact the Grants team on urf@royalsociety.org or +44 20 7451 2666. Adjustments can include, but are not limited to:

  • extension of the deadline
  • additional support to complete the application form
  • technical support during interviews for candidates with hearing or visual impairments
  • support during interviews for neurodiverse candidates and those with mental health conditions<. i="">
  • additional costs to support those candidates requiring a chaperone during interviews.

Top tips

See our tips for applications to our UK Early Career Fellowships, including details of assessment criteria, what makes a good research proposal and what the assessment panels look for.

Applications are assessed using three broad criteria: 

  • The scientific track record of the applicant
  • The strength of the scientific proposal
  • The suitability of the proposed UK Host Organisation. We have worked with the Panel Chairs who lead the assessment process for the Early Career Fellowship schemes to create these top tips to help you develop your application in line with these criteria.

Scientific Track Record

1. At what point should I apply? 

'When you have formulated a vision for how your independent research program will develop over the next 5-10 years' – Professor Jane Langdale FRS 

The URFs and DHFs are for scientists who are ready to become independent researchers, so when you apply you should know which scientific questions you wish to address and how you want your independent research programme to develop during the fellowship. This should be separate to the work of your previous supervisors.  

2. What does a strong publication record for an applicant look like? 

You should have published research from both your PhD and any subsequent research positions. It can be beneficial to your application to have publications that are not all within a very narrow field.

'In some fields, publications without your research supervisor and with a range of collaborators can look good.' – Professor Julia Yeomans FRS

'It can be helpful to briefly explain your contributions to key papers on your personal statement.' - Professor Gillian Griffiths FRS

If publishing independent papers is not common in your field, you can use the career summary section of the application form to describe any leadership roles you took in producing certain papers.  Note that you can include preprints in your publications list. The Royal Society is a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), meaning we review publications on the basis of scientific content, rather than publication metrics or the identity of the journal.

3. What else does the Panel look for? 

'We value energy and enthusiasm, such as organising conferences, public communication of science, and collaborative projects. But this should not come at the expense of a solid scientific track record.' – Professor Julia Yeomans FRS

While your research is the most important factor, additional activities that demonstrate your engagement with your field and your leadership potential can help your application shine.

Scientific Proposal 

1. What makes a good research proposal?

It is useful to provide clear signposting of what your big research questions are, and how you hope to find the answers. You could also discuss the impact of your expected outcome for developing your research field and career. You may consider the following questions while writing the application:

a. Why is your problem important and interesting?

b. How will you address your problem?

c. Methods

d. What do you expect the outcome to be?

‘Sections a, d, and probably b should be comprehensible to scientists in similar areas (e.g. a theoretical physicist should be able to understand a computer science proposal). Section c should be more technical, to convince specialised reviewers that you know what you are doing.’ – Professor Julia Yeomans FRS

Your scientific track record is also important to the success of your research proposal. You should try to demonstrate why you are the right person to answer your research questions.

‘This is not just a project proposal – it is a fellowship proposal. We are looking to fund the person, not just the specific project. So there needs to be a research vision and a feasible approach, but not everything has to be “safe” - some element of “high risk, high gain” can signal ambitious and innovative thinking. A track record of research productivity at all career stages is important here because it will suggest that any obstacles encountered will be managed appropriately.’ – Professor Jane Langdale FRS

2. What collaborations should I include in my proposal?

Any scientific collaborations which allow you to expand and improve your research should be included. Collaborations that contribute to additional knowledge and training for you and members of your group are also beneficial to include. It would also be useful to highlight how your expertise would be beneficial for your collaborators.

‘Make sure that your contribution to large collaborations is explained, particularly if there are roles leading working groups within the collaboration. Also explain how the work you are proposing goes beyond the normal plan of work for the collaboration by emphasising your unique ideas and contributions.’ – Professor Nigel Glover FRS

3. Who should I ask for advice when writing my proposal?

More senior colleagues, scientists who are experts in your field of study but also colleagues who work in different scientific areas could provide valuable feedback for your application.

‘Your proposal will be read by both expert referees and more general reviewers who are not experts in your specific field. Therefore it is useful to get input from people both within, and outside of, your field’ – Professor Julia Yeomans FRS

Host Organisation

1. What should I look for in a Host Organisation? 

Choosing a Host Organisation is an opportunity for you to find somewhere that provides you with collaborative links, access to facilities, and training and development options that will enhance your research.  Your host organisation should support you through from your application to your award. When preparing your application, many host organisations provide mentorship which is highly beneficial. 

‘You may wish to consider the prospects for a permanent position at the end of the fellowship. Do you see opportunities for collaboration with other members of the department? Will there be opportunities and space for you to grow your research group? These factors are important when choosing a host organisation.’ – Professor Jane Langdale FRS  

2. Is it acceptable to stay at my current Host Organisation? 

Yes, staying at your current host organisation for your Fellowship is a good option for many people for scientific or personal reasons. However, it is important to show how you will gain independence and how your research will be distinct from your previous supervisors if you are staying in the same institution that you have worked at previously. You should be able to demonstrate how your research will be different from that of your previous supervisors.  

‘Think of how to position yourself so that in five years’ time both you and your current supervisor could be invited to talk in the same session at a conference – your topics are related but each of you are recognised for different content.’ – Professor Jane Langdale FRS  

3. How do I choose a Host Organisation if I am applying from outside of the UK? 

‘You want to use the fellowship to become an independent researcher, but that doesn’t mean an isolated researcher. Look for places that are active in your field. Try to find a Host Organisation that will give some help in preparing the application, such as giving feedback on the proposal and possibly practice interviews. Find out how the host will support the fellowship in terms of space and resources, and possibly longer-term prospects.’ – Professor Nigel Glover FRS


Frequently asked questions

Eligibility

  1. If I am slightly outside of the three to eight years of research experience, can I still apply?
  2. How is “actual research experience post PhD” calculated when considering eligibility?
  3. Can I apply for other fellowships at the same time as the University Research Fellowship?
  4. Can I apply for a University Research Fellowship if I hold a proleptic position?
  5. I hold a tenure track position with five years’ salary guaranteed and followed by a permanent position subject to performance, am I eligible to apply? 
  6. Can I apply for the University Research Fellowship if I hold a permanent post in industry?
  7. If I accept a permanent position or equivalent fellowship during the URF assessment, how is my application affected?
  8. Do you allow resubmissions? 
  9. How will the Royal Society consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on my application?

Application

  1. How many years should costs be provided for in the application form? 
  2. What is the maximum value of research expenses I can apply for in each fellowship year?
  3. Can I apply for funds to host a workshop? 
  4. Can I request funds to cover open access publishing fees? 
  5. Do images and references need to be included within the four-page limit of the research proposal or are they in addition to? 
  6. I cannot fit all of my publications in the application due to the word limit. Which ones should I include? 
  7. I have completed all the sections and the application is at 100% but I cannot see a button to submit my application. 
  8. What is the Head of Department expected to contribute to the application form?

Feedback

  1. Can I request feedback on my University Research Fellowship application?

Answers

Eligibility | back to FAQs

  1. Please contact the University Research Fellowship team with the date of when your PhD thesis was accepted in its final form, dates of your employment history and details of any career breaks or periods of leave. Please provide dates in the format of DD/MM/YYYY (days may be omitted if unknown). 
  2. Gaps between contracts are taken into account when calculating research experience. Part-time research contracts are also taken into account. So, if you have held a research contract at 0.5 FTE, your research experience will be pro-rated accordingly.

  3. We understand that you might apply for other opportunities at the same time as the University Research Fellowship. Please include any active fellowship applications in the “Applicant Research Funding” question of the application form.

  4. If you hold a proleptic position at the time of application, you are not eligible to apply.

  5. This would be considered equivalent to holding an independent research position and on par with a proleptic position, you are therefore not eligible to apply.

  6. Please contact the University Research Fellowship team, clarifying the level of the position and outlining whether you can undertake independent research as part of your position.

  7. You must remain eligible until the time of the application deadline. If you accept a permanent post or equivalent fellowship after the application deadline, this will not preclude you from staying in the competition. If invited to interview, you can include this as part of your updates since submission. If offered a URF award, please note that you would be required to resign from the position or equivalent fellowship to be able to accept the URF offer.

  8. Yes, as long as an applicant continues to meet the eligibility criteria.

  9. The Royal Society appreciates the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is complex and varied. As such, we have a specific question in the application form for applicants to outline the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their research.

Application | back to FAQs

  1. Please provide costs for all 8 years of the fellowship. When completing the budget table in Flexi-Grant® please ensure to provide 100% values. Please ensure that no indexation is added to these costs. 
  2. The total amount of research expenses that you can apply for in each fellowship year is: 

    Year 1 (1 October 2023 – 30 September 2024): £90,000 
    Year 2 (1 October 2024 – 30 September 2025): £90,000 
    Year 3 (1 October 2025 – 30 September 2026): £90,000 
    Year 4 (1 October 2026 – 30 September 2027): £90,000 
    Year 5 (1 October 2027 – 30 September 2028): £90,000 
    Year 6 (1 October 2028 – 30 September 2029): £90,000 
    Year 7 (1 October 2029 – 30 September 2030): £90,000 
    Year 8 (1 October 2030 – 30 September 2031): £90,000 

    Please note: Fellowship year: 1 October to 30 September. Financial year: 1 April to 31 March.
  3. Unfortunately, workshop costs (e.g., catering, venue hire, stationary, printing) are not eligible. However, you can use your travel expenses to cover travel costs for your collaborators and members of your research group. 
  4. Costs associated with open access publications cannot be requested. 
  5. All images and references have to fit within the four-page limit of the research proposal document. 
  6. Please include your most relevant publications (up to 20). If you are the first author, you can add ‘et al’ while if you are not the first author, you can include the initials for all contributing. Reviewers will be able to see the full list of your publications through your ORCID ID, which is a part of the application. 
  7. All participants on the participants tab must appear as ‘complete’ in green before the submit button appears. If a participant appears in orange as ‘incomplete’ they need to login and select ‘Save & Submit’ on the application form page or ‘Submit your contribution’ on the summary page – otherwise you will not be able to submit your application to your host institution for approval. Letters of supports from the Head of Department and Nominated Referee are compulsory, while the Research Support is optional and can be revoked if no longer needed. 
  8. The Head of Department section is made of two parts: 
    1. Statement of Support (PDF upload). Further guidance is provided within the scheme notes for the round. 
    2. Commitment of Resources (max 250 words text box) - please provide details of the resources that the department will commit to the applicant. This section will be included in the award letter if the application is successful.  

Feedback | back to FAQs

  1. Due to the volume of applications received we are unfortunately not able to provide feedback for applications unsuccessful at the first Panel assessment stage. Applicants can request feedback if their application has completed the independent peer review assessment stage. Details of how to request feedback will be provided when applicants are notified about the status of their application. 
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