Your fellowship is the start of your independent research career – you are now responsible for the direction of your research and for the development of your group’s career.  Leadership requires you to be forward thinking and strategic, and to do this you must understand the wider context in which research is happening.

Always have in mind where you and your research are heading: stop and reflect on your career and what the ideal outcomes and outputs are for you.

At the start of my fellowship my expectations were around practical things like setting up the research, consumables, where I could get students etc. I was thinking of it as if it was another postdoc. As a result of the first JRF CPD day I re-wrote the description in my head: to think instead about running a research group, and put good science, grants and publications on a more even footing with each other. I completely changed my mind-set. – Dr Charlotte Dodson, Research Fellow, NHLI

If you are confused by any jargon being used throughout this webpage – there is a useful glossary of Imperial Acronyms

Research in the UK: funding and policy landscape

Your fellowship is the time to gain independence, which requires strategic thinking and an understanding of the wider funding and policy context in which you are doing your research.  This knowledge can help you to navigate challenges and realise opportunities – particularly in terms of research funding and impact. 

Being strategic is important, yet not necessarily something one worries about as a PhD student or postdoc. Having to understand how one's research fits within a broader landscape is crucial in this regard and provided me with a new challenge as a Research Fellow. - Dr John Craske, Research Fellow, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Once you have your project defined and have a vision for your research future and a strategy for how you will get there, you must think about the wider context in which you are working. The following information provides a brief introduction to some of the main stakeholders, funders and policies in the UK research landscape, as well as links to some important documents, policies and agreements.  Not all of them will directly affect you now, but in the future they might.

The whole educational system was new to me – particularly things like the REF – I only heard about this very late on. If you have a longer fellowship, and you want to stay in research you must think about these things.  – Dr Inês Violante, Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Surgery & Cancer


Starting points for understanding the funding landscape in the UK

  1. This dpcument [PDF – The UK funding landscape – What you need to consider as a research fellow] gives a summary of the main bodies involved in funding research in the UK 
  2. The Research Information Network’s has a factsheet entitled: Making sense of research funding in UK higher education
  3. The statistics: the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has interactive figures showing sources of income and expenditure of UK higher education providers
  4. If you are moving to the UK as a researcher for the first time, EURAXESS, from the British Council offers a starting point for information on the research landscape in the UK: universities and other institutions, funding; science in the government; the research base; and international collaborations
  5. The University of Sheffield has a brief overview of funding of research in UK higher education
  6. To stay up to date with policy, news and opinion by reading Times Higher Education (THE) and Guardian Higher Education Network

Policies and concordats that you should be aware of as a research leader in the UK

  • Pathways to Impact: RCUK introduced Pathways to Impact to encourage researchers to think about what can be done to ensure their research makes a difference.  All RCUK funding applications must outline pathways to impact.  The non-academic impact of your research will be assessed in REF.  See examples of Imperial’s Impact case studies
  • Open access (making your research outputs available to others): If you want to be eligible for the next REF, you must make your publications available in a repository.  Consult Imperial’s open access web pages 
  • Data management policy: Imperial has advice on best practice in data management.  There is also a requirement that data presented in publications from Research Council funded research is made openly available.  Whoever your funder, do you know their data policy?  Check these web pages on funder requirements or consult the UK’s Digital Curation Centre for a broad range of advice and guidance on research data management.
  • RCUK Expectations for Equality and Diversity: outlines RCUKs ambitions to lead by example in ensuring a diverse workforce; challenge bias and work towards fair and inclusive funding processes; and lead and support change in the research sector
  • Concordat for engaging the public with research: outlines the expectations and responsibilities of UK research funders with respect to public engagement, to help embed public engagement in universities and research institutes
  • Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers: an agreement between UK research funders and employers of research staff to improve the employment and support for researchers and research careers in UK higher education.  It sets out clear standards that research staff can expect from the institution that employs them, as well as their responsibilities as a researchers

Understanding ethics and research governance issues

It is likely you will not have had to apply for ethical permissions as a PhD or postdoc. – you now have to do that as a PI -  Prof Clare Lloyd, Vice Dean (Institutional Affairs) Faculty of Medicine, Senior Wellcome Research Fellow and researcher mentor, NHLI

Will you need to get ethics approval for your research?  If not, have you thought about the wider ethical considerations for your research? The Imperial Research Ethics Committee has but also think about the wider context of research integrity. 

  • The UUK Concordat to support research integrity: helps to ensure that research produced by or in collaboration with the UK research community is underpinned by the highest standards of rigour and integrity. It sets out the principles that demonstrate to government, business, international partners and the public that they can continue to have confidence in the research produced by the UK research community.  In addition the RCUK Policy on research governance aims to help researchers and research organisations to manage their research to the highest standards, and provides guidance on the reporting and investigation of unacceptable research conduct.

Research at Imperial

One thing that fellows often lack is a view of the bigger picture or context.  Make sure you have some idea of how the College works – academics that are part of the teaching frameworks have a better idea of what is going on, but as a fellow it can feel like you are left a little alone. – Prof Clare Lloyd, Vice Dean (Institutional Affairs) Faculty of Medicine, Senior Wellcome Research Fellow and researcher mentor, NHLI

You need to know what is expected of you by the university: grants, courses, career options, external advisory panels etc.  Once you have arrived in the department, they are happy to have you but it is up to you to make it work – Dr Lesley Hoyles, MRC Intermediate Research Fellow, Department of Surgery & Cancer

Research at Imperial

Familiarise yourself with Imperial

Finding out the way in which each department does things is simply a case of asking people – there is no other way, especially when it comes to teaching.  Look at a list of department specific roles and responsibilities: so you know who to speak to in each department. – Dr Susie Maidment, former JRF, Department of Earth Science & Engineering

Opportunities to engage with the College, your faculty and meet other researchers

I found signing up to newsletters, news feeds etc. very useful in finding out what was available and what was going on. Sometimes there is nothing relevant in the newsletters but it is still worthwhile overall – Dr Charlotte Dodson, Research Fellow, NHLI

Have a strategy for both your current research and your career

You will already know what your research project will be, but start planning as soon as possible for your longer-term career.  Your research career strategy is an important topic to discuss with your colleagues and your mentor(s) who can give you advice, feedback and networking opportunities.

Be clear about what your funder and your department expect of you during your fellowship.  What are they expecting in terms of WHAT you will produce as research outputs as well as HOW you will go about your research and contribute to the community. What do you expect in return?

Each funder will vary, however the RCUK have a statement of expectations for research fellows.  Think about what you would need to do in order to fulfil these expectations.

Your fellowship may lead you to a variety of different careers and contexts, so think about your broader career, as well as the research related aspects.

advice from fellows

Take advice from Imperial fellows and Their mentors

Have a conversation with your sponsor on the role that you have – make it clear that your fellowship is the first step to independence, so you have to have a certain level of independence in the project and support in developing the skills required to take it forward. Your sponsor should not consider you as just a skilled postdoc. You should be able to participate in both ongoing projects in the group and also start brand new research directions that don't necessarily fit your sponsor’s expertise.  My sponsor fully supported this, I was given space to do that and help in making contacts and getting technical advice. – Dr Andrew Telford, JRF, Department of Physics

Being more strategic is really important.  I had conversations about this with my sponsor and my mentor.  The PDC residential Leadership in Research: Managing Your First Research Group was also really helpful. - Dr. Inês Violante, Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Medicine