The continued advancements in digital technologies, tools and techniques, coupled with the growth of data, communication systems and bandwidth, puts digital capabilities right at the heart of the drive to deliver leaps in understanding in environmental science and the formulation of innovative solutions.
Embedded researchers will play a key role in enabling the use of the following UKRI transformative technologies in an environmental context, that is:
- digital twinning
- engineering biology informatics
- quantum technologies
- autonomous systems or robotics.
The role should focus on the application of best practice of transformative technologies to support environmental solutions in a non-academic context and act as a catalyst for further engagement or knowledge exchange in the context of the NERC delivery plan (PDF, 2.6MB) and wider NERC activities.
The exact length of deployment within the host organisation can be negotiated between the researcher and host, within the budget allocated for each project, but should be between three and six months.
The projects should fall within the arc of digital approaches as outlined below:
- data acquisition
- digital infrastructure and high performance computing (HPC)
- data processing, algorithms and analytics
- data visualisation, decision support tools or user engagement.
It is strongly recommended that in advance of applying, all applicants:
All theme areas of NERC remit are eligible for this opportunity. Applications are encouraged from all sectors.
What makes a good embedded researcher
By having a foot in both an academic and a non-academic host organisation, embedded researchers will act as knowledge brokers, linking the two (or more) sides and understanding the tensions and requirements that each context experiences.
This implies playing several potential roles, including:
- identifying shared objectives
- addressing research questions of mutual interest
- facilitating connections and cooperation between research, policy and practice.
The embedded researcher can also act as a conduit for helping inform the host of NERC’s data and digital practices. The output value of these placements is anticipated to arise both through the findings of the jointly developed research and practice insight into undertaking this research, and the consideration for the embedded researcher as to what it means to act as an intermediary.
In order to work well, such co-production requires understanding of and mutual respect for the knowledge, language and expertise of all parties involved.
This challenges the nature of traditional research both for academic partners who are used to leading the research process and organisations who may be used to commissioning tightly defined projects.
The challenge is not one of a simple transfer of knowledge from academic knowledge ‘producers’ to decision making ‘users’, but on building connections between the knowledge, the people and organisations who produce and hold this knowledge, and their decision-making processes.
Linking to other NERC digital activities
Embedded researchers will share practice across the cohort funded through this funding opportunity, for example through meetings. They will participate in a final workshop to synthesise emerging experience and insight gained from their project.
To facilitate this the successful applicants will become ‘honorary’ members of the CDE SPF Expert Network (NERC). This will be supported by the CDE SPF Champions (NERC).
During their placement, successful embedded researchers may also be expected to:
- collaborate with other NERC digital activities (for example the NERC digital solutions programme)
- help raise awareness of the NERC digital estate on the part of external communities and what the NERC digital offer as a council is in this area.
How the embedded researcher and host work together
Each project will consist of one academic researcher who will undertake a placement embedded in a non-academic host organisation. The researcher should be well-established within their existing organisation and the wider community.
The researcher will continue to be employed by their academic institution but will spend a significant period of time embedded in the host organisation throughout the duration of the project. This is the equivalent of at least two days per week over the life of the project.
Virtual or hybrid embedding models are also permitted so the researcher does not need to be physically based at the host’s location. The approach should be agreed by the researcher and host in advance and be appropriate to the proposed project.
The successful researchers will be based within their host organisation while undertaking their project. The placement may be on a full or part-time basis, as appropriate to the project opportunity and all parties.
For example, set working pattern or days may be agreed between the researcher and host. If virtual or hybrid ‘in person’ and virtual approaches are undertaken these may be adopted flexibly throughout the project’s duration.
By being embedded, the researcher will establish a good understanding of:
- day-to-day working
- decision-making contexts
- knowledge needs of both sides
- barriers to action.
They will in effect be a proxy member of staff throughout the project. This will enable them to identify how the application of transformative technologies can support environmental solutions within the host organisation.
By working with both host organisation colleagues and academics, the embedded researchers will have the opportunity to gather relevant knowledge to catalyse further activity between academic and non-academic organisations as well as with NERC-led activity.
The latest start date of grants will be 12 November 2021.
However, individual start dates at the host organisation, duration and working pattern of the placement should be flexible and negotiated between the researcher and host organisation as appropriate to each opportunity.
Activities must be completed by 12 May 2022.
Coordinating researchers and hosts
A forum has been set up to facilitate connections between researchers and hosts. Access the forum (NERC).
Each embedded researcher will have a lead contact person within their host organisation with whom they will collaborate to guide the development of a work plan with flexibility to allow researchers to follow emergent opportunities for the host as well as their academic ambitions. For example, presentations at conferences and writing papers.
Coordination, guidance and support will be provided through regular meetings between the researcher and the host organisation to develop agreed activities, outputs and reports. There will be opportunities to share learnings from the placement with a wider digital environment community, and in particular with the CDE SPF Champions (NERC) and CDE Expert Network (NERC).
Each researcher can apply for up to £50,000 (this is at 80% full economic cost, that is total project costs can be up £62,500), for projects lasting no more than six months.
The host organisation is responsible for all other costs of hosting the applicant, including training, equipment and consumables.
Details of the host organisation’s contributions should be included in the applicant’s project partner letter of support, with the host being named as a project partner. This should include details of any direct financial and in-kind support to the project.