Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pushing the frontiers of environmental science research: July 2022

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Apply for funding to pursue an ambitious, high-risk and high-reward project in environmental science.

You must be:

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

We welcome:

  • multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • projects delivered in partnership with other research funders and users.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £1 million. NERC will typically fund 80% of the full economic cost (FEC).

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 actively 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 address a significant environmental science question, but NERC welcomes proposals from applicants 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 principal investigator.

What we're looking for

This scheme will support researchers’ curiosity and imagination to enable discoveries that unlock new knowledge with a degree of adventure previously unrealised.

We are seeking to invest in our best environmental researchers to be truly adventurous and ambitious in the pursuit of curiosity-driven, high-risk and high-reward projects.

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.

We welcome, and are increasingly supporting, multi and interdisciplinary research, designed, supported and delivered in partnership with other research funders and research users. The research must sit predominantly within NERC’s remit.

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

The majority of projects are expected to have started by 1 April 2023.

Project finances

£26 million is available to fund projects at a maximum cost per grant of £1 million (at 100% FEC).

Grants will be funded at 80% FEC with the normal exceptions. Any justified equipment would be funded at 100%.

Costs for ship and marine equipment (SME) are not included in the proposal and would be added on top of the £1 million limit.

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.

Funding for training activities or PhD studentships are not an eligible cost on these grants.

Data management

The NERC data policy must be adhered to.

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 grant budget.

Using NERC services and facilities

Prior to submitting a proposal, applicants wishing to use a NERC service or facility must contact the facility to:

  • seek agreement that they could provide the service required
  • get a quote for the work required (see also guidance on application documents required under ‘how to apply’).

See a full list of the facilities and resources.

The costs for the service or facility (excluding NERC’s marine facilities (NMF) and high performance computing (HPC) costs) must be included within the ‘directly incurred other costs’ section of the Je-S form and also within the ‘facilities’ section of the Je-S form.

Programme management

Grant holders awarded through this funding opportunity will not be required to work with other grant holders in a co-ordinated way.

Reporting requirements

Successful applicants will be required to report research outcomes on Researchfish in line with standard UK Research and Innovation 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.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

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:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard grant
  • call: pushing the frontiers of environmental research July 22.

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

The opportunity will close at 16:00 on 19 July 2022 and it will not be possible to submit applications after this 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 will not be considered.

There are restrictions on how many applications a research organisation can make. This will depend on the organisation’s previous standard grants success rate. The proposal will count as a submission for the organisation under the demand management calculation.

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

Applying for more than £1 million

NERC will accept applications for more than the normal £1 million limit in exceptional cases.

For example, we may accept applications if you have high facility, fieldwork, equipment or other costs but your project does not meet our large grant scheme’s requirements for scale and complexity of research.

If you are planning to apply for more than the funding limit of £1 million, you must get approval first. Your application will be rejected if you have not received permission before you apply.

For this funding opportunity, a case for exceeding the maximum limit must be submitted to pushingfrontiers@nerc.ukri.org by 8 June 2022 at the latest and you should receive a decision within 10 working days.

This includes costs for:

  • Geophysical Equipment Facility ocean bottom instruments
  • Geophysical Equipment Facility seismometers
  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements, Airborne Research & Survey Facility or the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) twin otter aircraft (the facility will be able to advise on eligible instrument or aircraft costs)
  • the European Incoherent Scatter Radar facility
  • other ship-time or marine facility related costs.

Find out more in section B (‘types of award’) of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Marine facilities

Applicants wishing to use 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 Je-S grant proposal form under ‘services and facilities’. Completed SMEs or ADFs should be submitted by 20 June 2022 and approved by NERC Marine Planning by the time the proposal (Je-S form) is submitted.

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

British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support

Applicants requiring NERC British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support must complete a pre-award operational support planning questionnaire (OSPQ) online.

Applicants must email the Antarctic Access Office (AAO) at BAS (afibas@bas.ac.uk) stating their name, institution and proposal title.

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

The deadline for pre-award OSPQs to be submitted is 27 April 2022. Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistic support without having received prior logistic approval will not be awarded.

Document requirements

For this funding opportunity, the requirements for what can be submitted through Je-S have changed considerably from previous NERC Discovery Science schemes. We have reduced the requirement for many of the attachments to reduce bureaucracy.

Please attach blank documents as needed to manage any validations in Je-S, which cannot be removed (noting we are migrating to a new system and therefore this need is temporary).

The application document requirements are as follows.

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 seven sides of A4 and include the following.

Description of the research project

This must be no more than five sides of A4 and include all necessary tables, figures and references. This must highlight the ground-breaking, high-risk and high-reward nature of the research project.

Description of the applicants’ skills and capability to deliver

This must be no more than two sides of A4 and should:

  • demonstrate the ability of the team to conduct ground-breaking, innovative research and that they have the capability to successfully execute the project
  • be a narrative, drawing on the Royal Society’s Résumé for Researchers, explaining your suitability to undertake and deliver high quality, innovative science.

The assessment process will consider your ideas and contribution, relative to career stage, to your field of science, the wider research and innovation community and users of research. It will not be solely based on metrics (for example, publications and income).

Technical assessment, facility form or quote

Where relevant, you should submit relevant facility 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.

Non-UK components

These are required if the proposal is being submitted under a lead agency agreement.

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 if they 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

Do not submit the following:

  • justification of resources: successful applicants will be asked to provide NERC with more details before the award, to enable NERC to manage costs for services and facilities use and requests for equipment
  • CV: the principal investigator and co-investigators should provide relevant information in the ‘capability to deliver’ section of the case for support
  • outline data management plan (ODMP): successful grant holders will be required to produce a full data management plan working with the relevant NERC data centre
  • project partner letter of support: the involvement of any key project partners can be explained briefly in the case for support, where required
  • letters of support.

How we will assess your application

We will assess your proposal using a peer review process. This consists of two stages.

Stage one: expert review

We invite three to four UK and international experts to review your proposal. These may be members of the NERC Peer Review College.

You may nominate reviewers and we may invite them to comment on your proposal. You will have the chance to respond to reviewers’ comments.

Proposals will be scored against two criteria:

  • research excellence
  • capability to deliver.

Each proposal will receive a score from the reviewer from one to three, where one is non-competitive and three is outstanding, for both elements of the assessment.

The reviews will then be sent out to the principal investigators for response.

Stage two: moderating panel

This will include peer review college members and other experts as required.

We aim to complete the assessment process within six months of receiving your application.

Reviewers and panel members will base their assessment and scores (one to three) on the following criteria. 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 address an important environmental challenge, and involve objectives that are ambitious and beyond the state-of-the-art (for example, novel concepts and approaches or development between or across disciplines)
  • does the proposal push the frontiers of knowledge and have the potential to lead to ground-breaking, high-risk, high-reward, innovative scientific discovery
  • 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 capability to successfully execute the proposed project, including evidence for capacity to support and mentor researchers involved as appropriate
  • does the team demonstrate 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 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: pushingfrontiers@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

International collaborations

NERC has agreements with other funders such as the National Science Foundation and São Paulo Research Foundation.

This can make it easier for UK researchers to collaborate with research partners around the world by removing the risk that a proposed project will receive funding in one country but not in another.

Find out more about funding for international collaborations and the requirements for submission.

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.

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver 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.

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 (PDF, 108KB).

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
  • 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

NERC research grants and fellowships handbook: guidance for applicants
Good research conduct and research integrity (PDF, 108KB)

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