Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Exploring the frontiers of environmental science research 2022

The notification of intent deadline for this funding opportunity was 16:00 on 10 May 2022. We will only consider proposals that have submitted a notification of intent by this deadline. Full Je-S proposals submitted without a prior notification of intent will be rejected.

Apply for funding to explore new ideas and approaches that may open up novel paths of research or result in discipline-shifting discovery in environmental science.

You must be:

  • based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding
  • at least at lecturer level, or equivalent.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £100,000. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost. Demand management will not apply.

The grant duration can be flexible.

This funding opportunity is a pilot and will be reviewed.

This is a pre-announcement and the information may change.

The funding opportunity will open on 18 March 2022. More information will be available on this page by then.

Who can apply

You can apply if you are a research group or an individual.

NERC values equality, diversity and inclusion across all its funding programmes, and encourages proposals from diverse groups of researchers.

To be eligible as a principal investigator, you must be:

  • a resident in the UK
  • employed by an eligible UK research organisation
  • employed at lecturer (or equivalent) level or above.

Learn about individual researchers’ eligibility in NERC’s guidance for applicants.

Eligible UK research organisations include:

  • higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • recognised independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Learn more about eligible organisations.

The research project must explore new and exciting areas of environmental science, but NERC welcomes applications that can demonstrate a capability to collaborate with experts from other disciplines to generate innovative research.

NERC encourages multidisciplinary research and collaborations with other UK organisations. International and non-academic collaborators can be involved as project partners.

NERC welcomes applications from principal investigators and co-investigators at any career stage, subject to NERC eligibility criteria. Investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this funding opportunity and only one of these may be as the lead principal investigator.

Demand management does not apply to this pilot funding opportunity.

What we're looking for

We will provide flexible funding to allow researchers to explore new and exciting areas of environmental science and exploit new technologies and approaches in a dynamic way.

We’re looking for proposals that can support pure, applied, technology-led or policy-driven research but still address, or provide the means to address, clearly-defined scientific questions.

This may include undertaking ‘proof-of-concept’ research projects, or tackling a problem that can be constrained to a shorter duration award than NERC’s pushing the frontiers funding stream.

You can submit a proposal in any area of environmental science. We also welcome multidisciplinary proposals that cross into other research council areas, provided it is predominantly within a research area or subject associated with NERC’s remit.

If you have any queries about the remit, please contact nercremit@nerc.ukri.org

Scenarios

Examples of how this flexible funding could be used include, but are not limited to a:

  • 12-month project with a large fieldwork element, conducted by a research team consisting of a principal investigator, co-investigator and field assistants (the latter introducing undergraduates to a research career)
  • six-month (or longer) project funding a principal investigator, research co-investigator (who helped develop the proposal) and technician to undertake lab-based research
  • modelling-based project funding a principal investigator and postdoctoral research associate for nine months (or longer, if a part-time postdoctoral research associate is appointed).

The following examples illustrate how this funding can support scientific excellence whilst meeting diverse needs.

Dr S takes up their first lectureship, which is two years fixed-term (to cover colleagues’ research fellowship success and caring leave). They welcome this funding opportunity as they can bid as the principal investigator for research funding that can be completed during their tenure.

Their field-based research programme would fund colleagues and field assistants, therefore helping with network development. It would evidence leadership skills and the ability to act as the principal investigator, supporting future employment after the fixed-term post.

Professor M and their colleague, the researcher co-investigator (who co-develops the proposal), welcome this opportunity as it can flexibly support part-time employment for the researcher co-investigator.

This researcher co-investigator has recently become a new parent and finds many postdoctoral research opportunities inaccessible, as they have research programmes designed around a full-time appointment.

Dr A, now living with chronic illness, returns to work part-time after absence due to this illness. They welcome the shorter and streamlined application as it offers a more accessible approach for funding. The opportunity provides a doctoral researcher with experience through a collaboration with Dr A.

Project finances

£4 million is available to fund a number of grants at a maximum full economic cost (FEC) per grant of £100,000.

NERC will fund 80% of this. Exceeding the funding limit is not possible with this funding opportunity.

We will fund 80% FEC for:

  • directly incurred costs such as staff, travel and subsistence, and consumables
  • directly allocated costs such as investigators’ salaries, estates costs and shared resources
  • indirect costs such as research organisation administration.

Equipment (items over £10,000) is funded at 100% full economic cost.

Studentships cannot be funded through this funding opportunity.

Data management

The NERC data policy must be adhered to.

Successful proposals will be made available to the NERC data centres and where appropriate, used by them to draft, in collaboration with the principal investigator, a full data management plan.

For details of data centres and data management planning, see the NERC Environmental Data Service.

NERC will pay the data centre directly for archival and curation services, but you will need to fund the costs of preparation of data for archiving by your research team from the flexible grant budget.

Using NERC services and facilities

Investigators wishing to use NERC services and facilities (excluding high performance computing) will need to contact the relevant facility at least two months prior to submission of the proposal to:

  • discuss the proposed work
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant.

The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service.

See a full list of the facilities and resources.

NERC services and facilities, including NERC marine facilities and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) polar logistics support, must be costed within the limits of the proposal. The costs for the service or facility (excluding HPC costs) must be included within the ‘directly incurred other costs’ section and the ‘facilities’ section of the Je-S proforma.

How to apply

You are encouraged to contact the NERC office at an early stage to discuss any questions on funding opportunity procedures.

All queries should be emailed to exploringfrontiers@nerc.ukri.org

There are two stages to apply for this funding opportunity:

  • notification of intent
  • full proposal.

Notification of intent

For this pilot funding opportunity, a notification of intent to apply must be submitted by 16:00 on 10 May 2022. You must include:

  • a title and summary of your planned work
  • investigators, institutions and project partners you expect to be involved.

The summary will not be assessed at this stage, but NERC will use the information to plan resourcing for the proposal assessment.

Notify NERC of your intent to submit.

Full Je-S proposals submitted without a prior notification of intent will be rejected.

Full proposals

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system by 16:00 on 14 June 2022.

We recommend you start your application early. You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

When applying, select ‘new document’ then one of the following options:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard grant
  • call: Exploring the frontiers of environmental research JUN22.

Your host organisation will be able to provide advice and guidance on completing your application.

It will not be possible to submit applications after the closing date and time.

You should leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete, or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s proposal submission rules, will be office rejected and not be considered.

Demand management does not apply to this pilot funding opportunity. As we are expecting significant interest in this scheme, we encourage research organisations to ensure that only their most excellent proposals are submitted.

You can find out more about the application process in the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Marine facilities

Requests for shiptime and marine equipment from NERC’s marine facilities will be considered. However, any requested fieldwork should be small-scale in order to reflect the size and duration of the award.

Applicants intending to apply for NERC’s marine facilities should contact marineplanning@nerc.ukri.org to discuss shiptime and equipment needs as soon as possible.

Applicants wishing to apply for NERC’s marine facilities must complete an online Shiptime and Marine Equipment (SME) or Autonomous Deployment (ADF) application form on the Marine Facilities Planning website.

The SME or ADF number should be included on the proposal form (Je-S proforma) under ‘services and facilities’. Completed SME or ADFs must be submitted by 1 April 2022 and approved by NERC marine planning by the time the proposal is submitted.

Failure to do so may result in the request not being considered for inclusion in the NERC Marine Facilities Programme.

BAS polar logistics support

Requests for Antarctic logistics support from NERC BAS will be considered. However, any requested fieldwork should be small-scale in order to reflect the size and duration of the award.

Antarctic fieldwork should be planned for the 2023 to 2024 field season to coincide with the lifetime of the grant.

Applicants must complete a pre-award operational planning support questionnaire (OPSQ) online. You must email the Antarctic Access Office (AAO) at BAS (afibas@bas.ac.uk) as early as possible, stating your name, institution and proposal title.

The AAO will set up a new and numbered pre-award OPSQ and send the link to the applicant along with instructions for completion.

The deadline for pre-award OPSQs to be submitted to the Antarctic Access Office is 16:00 on 1 April 2022.

Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistic support without having received prior logistic approval will not be accepted. For further details, see BAS polar fieldwork opportunities.

Applicants requesting access to the NERC UK Arctic Research Station should first contact the station manager (arctic@bas.ac.uk) to discuss the support required.

You should then complete a NERC Arctic Research Station application form at least eight weeks prior to submission of the proposal and return it to the station manager for review. Find out more on the UK Arctic Research Station website.

Document requirements

To reduce bureaucracy, this funding opportunity has been designed to require minimal documentation.

Proposal form

A proposal form (Je-S proforma) must include an estimated high-level costs summary. The costs will not be considered as part of the assessment process.

Case for support

This must be a maximum of three sides of A4 and include the following.

Description of the proposed research

This must be two sides of A4 and describe the research vision and environmental challenge or question, highlighting the novelty and ambitious nature of the concepts, technologies, or approaches.

Outline how this explorative research will advance knowledge and, where important, may open up novel research avenues and lead to further, related ground-breaking, high-risk and high-reward research.

Narrative capability to deliver

This must be one side of A4 and describe your skills and capability to deliver, in particular, demonstrating the ability of the team to conduct ground-breaking, innovative research and that you have the capability to successfully execute the project.

This should be a narrative, drawing on the Royal Society’s Résumé for Researchers. The assessment process will consider relative to career stage, your ideas and contribution, to your field of science, the wider research and innovation community and users of research and not be based on metrics (for example, publications and income).

Technical assessment, facility form or quote

Where relevant, you should submit technical assessments, facility forms or quotes with the proposal.

The quotes will not be made available to reviewers or panels. If required, a blank document can be attached to pass the system validation, in which case, any successful applicants will need to provide the quotes to NERC before grants are awarded.

Proposal cover letter

This attachment does not go out to panels, so should not be used except to flag up a significant issue to the NERC office.

This attachment should be used to declare any relevant interests, and list any collaborators.

For this current round, the proposal cover letter should also be used to declare if you would have been eligible to apply as a new investigator under NERC’s previous standard grants scheme (which is no longer in operation).

Under the previous standard grants scheme, applicants would be eligible to apply as a new investigator if they were within five years of first becoming eligible for NERC funding as a principal investigator (taking account of any career breaks) and had not received competitive research funding from any source, as a principal investigator, that included post-doctoral research assistant staff support costs.

This information will be used in the current funding round solely for the purposes of internal monitoring of the impacts of NERC’s new discovery science funding schemes launched in 2022.

What you must not submit

You must not submit:

  • justification of resources: costings for successful projects will be checked and further information may be requested before the grant can be awarded
  • CVs: information relevant to the investigators should be included in the one side narrative of capability to deliver in the case for support
  • letters of support (for project partners or others): detailed information on project partners is not required and should be named in the project partners section of the Je-S proforma (they can be explained briefly in the case for support where required)
  • outline data management plan: successful grant holders will (where applicable) be required to produce a full data management plan working with the relevant NERC data centre
  • equipment quotes.

How we will assess your application

Assessment panel

If your proposal fits the NERC remit, your proposal will be assessed through a single stage assessment process.

Panels of experts from the NERC Peer Review College will assess all proposals. We may also bring in independent experts, as needed.

Proposals will not be sent to reviewers. Therefore, you will not receive reviewer comments and there is no principal investigator response stage.

NERC will use the recommendations of the assessment panels along with the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

We aim to complete the assessment process within five months of receiving your application. Feedback will be provided to applicants.

Proposals will be scored by panel members against two criteria:

  • research excellence (as detailed below)
  • capability to deliver (as detailed below, noting that the responses may differ for career stages and the assessment panel will be aware of this).

Each proposal will receive a score from one to three for each criteria, where one is non-competitive and three is outstanding. To aid proposal ranking at panels, research excellence will be weighted higher than capability to deliver.

Research excellence

To what extent:

  • does the proposed research explore new and exciting areas of environmental science, and involve objectives that are ambitious, adventurous and beyond the state-of-the-art (for example, novel concepts and approaches or development between or across disciplines)
  • does the proposal initiate future paths towards ground-breaking, high-risk, high-reward and innovative scientific discovery or have the potential to lead to advancement of the discipline
  • is the outlined scientific approach feasible, bearing in mind that the proposed research is high risk or high gain?

Capability to deliver

To what extent:

  • has the team made an outstanding contribution to the generation of new understanding and demonstrated the key skills required to do this
  • does the team demonstrate appropriate expertise and the capability to successfully execute the proposed project, including evidence for capacity to support and mentor researchers involved as appropriate
  • does the team demonstrate the capability to contribute to the wider research community (for example, contributions to improving research culture or advocacy for better research integrity)
  • does the team demonstrate the capability to contribute to broader society (for example, through engagement)?

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

NERC discovery and highlight science team

Email: exploringfrontiers@nerc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application, if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Reporting requirements

Successful applicants will be required to report research outcomes on Researchfish in line with standard UKRI terms and conditions. This is required annually and continues for up to five years post grant end.

For the purposes of evaluating this scheme, NERC reserves the right to make ad hoc requests for other reports as necessary. NERC may also visit successful award holders or invite award holders to present to NERC boards.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

You should consider the responsible research context of your project, not the host institution as a whole. You should take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Learn more about good research conduct and research integrity.

Our commitment to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Modern slavery is a crime and a violation of fundamental human rights. It takes various forms which deprive a person of their liberty in order to exploit them for personal or commercial gain, such as slavery, servitude, human trafficking and forced and compulsory labour.

We are committed to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the abolition of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Supporting documents

Notification of intent to submit

NERC research grants and fellowships handbook: guidance for applicants

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
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