Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Early career researchers: prepare now for funding success later


Eligibility criteria for research funding- start with the end in mind
What kind of criteria might be used to assess the eligibility of early career researchers who may be applying for their first research grant? Read on to find out...

'Publish or perish' has been around a while, and is not going away anytime soon.
In a previous post about the authorship of publications, I referred to the number of published articles being used as an eligibility criterion to submit a research proposal to a funding agency. To be eligible, researchers had to be a senior author on at least 15 international peer-reviewed journal articles. But what kind of criteria might be used by funding agencies to assess the eligibility of early career researchers who may be applying for their first research grant?

First, there is the definition of 'early career researcher'.
There is not likely to be a universal definition, and different funding agencies will have different requirements. Nevertheless, most consider that early career researchers have no more than five to eight years of full-time research experience after graduating with a PhD. ECRs may also be expected not to hold a permanent position (but this varies), and may be ineligible if they have already won significant amounts of research funding.

Second, there are other more specific criteria.
For potential applicants in the final stages of a PhD, it is important to check a funding agency's eligibility criterion about the requirement for a PhD. Most funding agencies will require an applicant to have graduated with a PhD; some may accept an application from someone that has passed the viva, but not yet graduated; a very few (I know of none) may accept an application where the thesis has been formally submitted and the viva is pending.

Third, publication output is almost certain to be used as a criterion.
In all competitive processes, applicants with a more accomplished publication record have always had some advantage (for a publication-related criterion) than those with fewer publications. However, some funding agencies will use publication output as an explicit eligibility criteria. In one example, an Irish funding agency (Science Foundation Ireland, Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) Programme) stated this as follows:
"The applicant must demonstrate a proven record of internationally recognised research accomplishments. The applicant must be senior author (first, last or corresponding) on at least three primary research articles (that is, not reviews nor other secondary research articles) in international peer-reviewed publications AND be a named author on an average of at least one international peer-reviewed primary research publication per year since the award of the PhD (or equivalent)."
This is a demanding level, but it demonstrates the standard (the minimum, in this case) that funding agencies may associate with excellence in scientific research. There are many potential hiccups with the quantification of research output alone (such as trade-offs between quantity and quality of output), but remember that applications are assessed by experienced researchers who can (almost always) see through such issues.

Two recent blog posts discuss the results of a journal article that concluded that the best predictor of long term academic success is publishing early i.e. while still a PhD student. The blog posts were by the authors of the article: Early to press is best for success, and Predicting who will publish or perish as career academics. Publication in the three years after doing a PhD were an even better predictor.

The main point of this post is to alert PhDs to the kind of eligibility requirements that you may face, and quite early in your research career. It should demonstrate the importance of early publication in the PhD, where possible, as well as continued publication in the years immediately after the PhD.

Are you aware of similar criteria that are used to assess the performance of early career researchers (ECRs)? What kind of criteria might be used by industry, and how might ECRs prepare to address these? Comments welcome!

PhD Skill: If you intend pursuing a career in research, give yourself every chance to succeed by planning and acting NOW to meet the eligibility criteria that you will face in the future. Avail of relevant training. Publish (in journals) early and often to give yourself a better chance of success.

Further reading
Two recent blog posts discuss the results of a journal article that concluded that the best predictor of long term academic success is publishing early i.e. while still a PhD student. The blog posts were by the authors of the article: Early to press is best for success, and Predicting who will publish or perish as career academics.


Acknowledgements: many thanks to Alan Kelly and Nyncke Hoekstra for useful discussion.

photo credit: suttonhoo via photopin cc

No comments:

Post a Comment