This guidance covers the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) expectations regarding supporting and developing early career researchers (ECRs).
It is designed for a range of audiences, including:
- arts and humanities researchers at early stages of their academic careers
- UK universities, independent research organisations and other companies and organisations that work with early career researchers, including their professional support staff such as research office staff, researcher developers and career advisors
- principal investigators, team managers and line managers of early career researchers.
This guidance supports the development of arts and humanities ECRs with the aim of:
- helping ECRs to prepare for and grow their careers within and beyond academia
- ensuring the health of the current and future UK research base in arts and humanities disciplines
- strengthening the wider arts and culture sector in the UK through encouraging diverse ECR careers, and supporting its recovery post-pandemic
- benefiting the whole of society and the economy, for example, when arts and humanities researchers contribute to addressing cross-sectoral challenges.
In May 2021, AHRC published a commitment to support the career development of researchers. As part of this commitment, one of the actions was to update version 2.0 of the ECR research training framework. This guidance is the updated and renamed version of the document which addresses the action.
How we define the term ‘early career researcher (ECR)’ in this guidance
AHRC’s ambition is for this guidance to be used in supporting all people who identify as ECRs in the arts and humanities.
In encouraging self-identification, we hope to recognise the breadth of the arts and humanities research community and the diverse career paths which early career researchers follow.
Please be aware that in respect of eligibility for many funding schemes AHRC uses a different, time-bound definition, classifying an ECR as someone who is either:
- within eight years of their PhD award (this is from the time of the PhD ‘viva’ oral test), or equivalent professional training
- within six years of their first academic appointment (the first full or part time paid employment contract that lists research or teaching as the primary function).
These periods exclude any career break, for example:
- family care
- health reasons
- reasons related to COVID-19, such as home schooling or increased teaching load.
A needs-based approach
AHRC’s definition of an ECR used in this guidance is deliberately very broad. This means that individuals falling within its scope will have a diverse range of skills and experience. Their development needs will vary considerably according to the nature and demands of their research area and their aspirations.
It is important to take a needs-based approach to their training and development. This should be based on a continual process of review and reflection, undertaken through an open dialogue between early career researchers and their managers. This ensures that any new needs arising from the ECRs’ research or career aspirations are met, and that development activities which a researcher undertakes evolve appropriately.
Our vision of ECR development is one of partnership between the ECR, the academics they are working with, their research organisation and any partner organisations, career advisors and ECR mentors.
All parties are encouraged to look beyond the immediate needs of the research project to consider what other development opportunities are available for ECRs. AHRC encourages all parties to be innovative, flexible and responsive.
Culture change for all arts and humanities ECRs
Whilst we have a strong interest in ECRs who are in receipt of AHRC funding, either as postdoctoral researchers on AHRC grants or early-career academics with their first AHRC funding, we hope this document will be used as guidance for all ECRs in the arts and humanities in the UK.
It should also provide inspiration to the wider research community beyond the arts and humanities.
We hope that when treating this guidance as a point of reference, relevant parties will support arts and humanities ECRs in establishing fulfilling, stimulating and stable careers, utilising their full potential, valuing their contribution, and ensuring appropriate recognition.
This approach to the guidance is in line with our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.
UKRI context: research culture activities
As part of UKRI, AHRC aims to:
- improve research culture
- ensure that all people working in the UK research ecosystem are valued and appropriately supported
- ensure that the diversity and inclusiveness of the community is further increased.
UKRI is a signatory of sector-wide documents that support inclusive research culture. Therefore, we encourage everyone who reads this guidance to familiarise themselves with the following governmental and UKRI resources for context:
- UK research and development roadmap (GOV.UK)
- people and culture strategy (GOV.UK)
- UKRI corporate plan
- UKRI 2022 to 2027 strategy, specifically ‘world class people and careers’ objective
- UKRI funder action plan to support the career development of researchers
- UKRI action plan on the technician commitment (PDF, 3MB)
- UKRI developing people and skills
- UKRI equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
We also encourage ECRs to join the UKRI early career researchers forum. This is a pilot project which is subject to review.
Developing your skills as an early career researcher in the arts and humanities
If you are an ECR, you are invited to use this guidance to:
- plan how to actively widen your skills and experience if you have capacity to do so. This applies to all arts and humanities ECRs, including those who take on teaching or professional services roles in academia with the intention of pursuing an academic research career
- find motivation to engage in projects with cultural, civic or community partners beyond academia
- think very broadly about the range of career paths in which you can draw on your research training
- explore formal and informal opportunities for skills development and networking
- consider joining relevant subject associations or learned societies for support and networking opportunities
- record evidence of your development for your own reflection and as a resource in applying for jobs
- regularly review your development needs and career objectives and discuss them with your line manager.
In considering the specific needs of arts and humanities researchers and examples of skills you should aim to develop, we have drawn on the researcher development statement and researcher development framework developed by Vitae.
These resources are available to all stakeholders to help define, develop and document ECRs’ development needs. Research organisations may have their own researcher development assessment tools, or access to externally designed tools, and we encourage all relevant parties to use them for ECRs’ benefit.
The nature of the academic research career in the arts and humanities has changed and teamworking, collaboration and networking are prevalent across all AHRC disciplines.
You can read more about the value of research teamwork in Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser’s blog post about why research’s ‘lone genius’ image is unhelpful. You will need skills beyond pure research skills whatever sector you work in, including academia.
In this context, AHRC encourages all ECRs in the arts and humanities to look for opportunities to develop both research-related and wider skills knowledge and behaviours, for example, in relation to:
- pursuing the impact of research
- developing as a leader and a team player
- pursuing innovation
- managing projects.
Research-related skills, knowledge and behaviours
ECRs are expected to develop a broad range of skills, knowledge and behaviours related to undertaking research. Research organisations should help with this.
The following list of skills and competencies is not exhaustive and the competencies are not listed in order of importance. AHRC considers them all equally important and valuable in developing research careers.
Valuable skills and knowledge related to a project or research area
These may include:
- theoretical and practical knowledge of your research area
- engaging with different methodological approaches, research techniques and tools, and understanding how they can be applied
- academic writing and public speaking skills necessary to present and share research within academia
- communication skills necessary to present and share research with non-academic audiences using suitable channels and writing and speaking styles
- identifying and pursuing the impact of one’s research in policy, society, economy and culture
- digital and data skills, including:
- data collection, manipulation, analysis and management using a range of digital and analogue tools as required in specific roles and careers
- preparing data management plans and using digital technologies to engage with academic and non-academic audiences
- teamworking skills, including pursuing collaborations to benefit your research where there is an opportunity to do so
- understanding how to conduct research of the highest standards, applying:
- research integrity principles, such as upholding the values of honesty, rigour, transparency and open communication, care and respect for those involved in research
- research ethics
- safeguarding policies
- social responsibility
- showing an understanding of open research and open access and their related policies, benefits and risks
- understanding and meeting any other requirements of a professional researcher. For example, intellectual property rights, personal data protection legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other relevant legal requirements.
Valuable skills and knowledge for the arts and humanities research landscape and beyond
Valuable skills and knowledge with broader research applications include:
- showing an understanding of the research context of a project, and of trends in the discipline. For ECRs, this includes an appreciation of how their research might have an impact on the discipline and adapting to any new knowledge or approaches which emerge during the project
- identifying and exploring the multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary potential of a given project to add value at the interfaces between academic disciplines and sectors of the economy where possible, by:
- developing an interdisciplinary skill set alongside disciplinary expertise if opportunities arise
- taking advantage of the opportunities that come from working in new fields
- expanding your knowledge and understanding of related disciplines and being aware of, and open to, opportunities to work with researchers and stakeholders in other areas of expertise
- understanding issues around publishing practices for interdisciplinary research
- building and developing networks and research collaborations, nationally and internationally
- foreign language skills and awareness of cultural contexts to facilitate better networking with overseas researchers and recognising the increasingly international context for research in all disciplines. For example, reading source material and secondary literature and conducting fieldwork if applicable
- gaining an understanding of the wider political, social and economic context in which academia operates and in which the researcher’s own research sits. For example, as an ECR you should consider whether your research has any:
- political or ethical implications
- interest for community groups or sectors
- commercial applications
- developing entrepreneurial skills when possible, such as identifying the commercial potential of research and seizing opportunities to collaborate with relevant partners on commercialisation and knowledge exchange.
Valued behaviours relating to research
Valued behaviours relating to research include:
- co-creating, maintaining and strengthening a welcoming, inclusive research culture by working in a way that addresses the principles of EDI. This should be incorporated from the research design stage, through delivery, to evaluation, taking into consideration the wider cultural context and awareness of EDI debates within the arts and humanities
- keeping an open mind, demonstrating:
- scholarly curiosity
- intellectual resourcefulness
- creative and critical thinking
- the ability to keep up to date with new developments
- the ability to expand knowledge and an understanding of existing approaches, techniques and tools. For example, developing numerical skills, using data management and statistical techniques or software, and making use of web and social media communication tools
- the necessary expertise to use new approaches, techniques and tools appropriately and optimally.
ECRs should be open to exploring new avenues of research as opportunities emerge.
Wider skills, knowledge and behaviours
AHRC encourages all ECRs in the arts and humanities, including those who might be between jobs or working freelance, to look for opportunities to develop wider transferable skills and experience.
We wish to promote subject-specific development, enabling researchers to actively establish an academic career in their field. Not only this, but also wider skills and knowledge that provide researchers with the capability to pursue careers of any kind in line with their ambitions.
The following transferable skills are relevant to careers both within and outside academia. This list has been updated to reflect the increased recognition of the importance of wellbeing-related skills and self-care, including during periods of change as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also emphasised the benefits of developing digital skills.
The list is not intended to be comprehensive as every career path and role an ECR might choose has its own requirements. ECRs, and those supporting them, will want to consider how their individual needs can be met.
Working with others
Useful transferable skills when working with others include:
- project management skills, such as:
- designing and managing a project
- managing budgets
- time and resource management
- effective engagement of team members in terms of their time and expertise
- working proactively with team members to ensure the effective delivery of objectives
- the ability to recognise key risks and mitigate them
- the use of project management tools and methodologies
- monitoring and evaluation
- communication and dissemination skills and an awareness of communication media so that both specialist and non-specialist audiences can be appropriately addressed
- foreign language skills to catalyse international collaboration, communicate with international audiences and make use of resources which aren’t available in English
- critical thinking, the art of the debate, rhetorical skills and the ability to present points of view and build convincing supporting arguments
- stakeholder engagement, including:
- stakeholder identification and mapping
- initiating, building and strengthening partnerships with organisations and individuals across all sectors of the economy
- negotiating and influencing skills
- listening skills
- effective team management, such as:
- communicating and collaborating effectively
- sharing knowledge and experience
- learning from others within the team
- awareness of unconscious biases in team management
- recognising the skills and expertise of team members
- delivering and acting on constructive criticism
- initiating and developing new contacts
- chairing meetings and facilitating workshops
- managing work within the team in the most efficient way
- mentoring, supervising and effective line management of individuals, helping others to establish and meet their objectives by:
- using the coaching approach when appropriate
- demonstrating the ability to advise others and share experiences to inspire colleagues’ development
- helping to address unsatisfactory performance and celebrating the good performance of others
- leadership skills, such as:
- the ability to engage with and influence others
- the ability to recognise knowledge, experience and expertise in others and help them reach their full potential
- showing the potential to develop as a leader in the field and to represent your area
- encouraging innovation and creativity amongst team members
- seizing opportunities to develop leadership skills in a practical way, for example, by joining and leading committees, research and professional groups.
Useful skills to help an ECR grow their career include:
- organisational skills, such as:
- managing and organising own workload effectively by prioritising tasks
- anticipating future workloads
- keeping and maintaining reliable records
- innovation and problem-solving skills, such as:
- taking initiative
- managing change
- open mindedness and working to remove barriers, for example, negotiating a mutually beneficial solution or finding alternative routes to achieving goals
- the ability to recognise opportunities, take them forward effectively and bring a project to fruition
- following mental wellbeing good practice on an individual level and whilst working with teammates, colleagues and other collaborators or supervising and managing others. Seeking access and support for mental wellbeing training whenever needed and signposting others to it if appropriate
- career management and taking ownership of one’s own career direction by:
- actively investing time and effort in continuing professional development
- demonstrating perseverance to pursue and succeed in the chosen career, in whatever sector that might be
- using social media appropriately to amplify one’s professional voice
- being aware of the commercial and social context of one’s work, identifying and capitalising on opportunities
- confidently highlighting skills and qualities to any prospective employer throughout the recruitment process and articulating the value of skills gained in academia and research to non-research and non-academic employers
- networking skills, such as:
- initiating and leading on the development of a new network
- actively participating in workshops and conferences
- networking online and in person
- undertaking activities with academic and non-academic partners within and outside the UK. Peer networks can be a source of informal help and advice as well as providing potential career opportunities.
Wider behaviours which can help ECRs to develop and progress include:
- having an open and fair attitude allowing for the co-creation of an inclusive work environment in any sector the ECR might work in
- having awareness of EDI legislation and good practice, and working in line with specific institutional policies and guidelines and wider EDI principles based on the 2010 Equality Act. This also includes behaviours of an active bystander and addressing bullying and harassment in line with relevant legislation
- demonstrating personal motivation and effectiveness, as well as the ability to motivate and inspire others
- behaving with perseverance and resilience
- demonstrating professional conduct, acting with integrity and personal responsibility informed by sound knowledge of all relevant legislation, from health and safety through EDI to sustainability
- being a good role model to colleagues.
We would like to reiterate that both the research skills and wider skills of ECRs should be developed in a supportive partnership between the ECR, their managers, their research organisation or other employer and partner organisations where appropriate.
How research organisations should help ECRs
ECRs should receive advice and support to enable them to consider all the career options that might be open to them, in whatever field they choose.
They should be sufficiently prepared to present evidence of their skills to any prospective employer. This is particularly important during the early post-PhD phase. We expect research organisations and any institutions, companies and organisations working with arts and humanities researchers in the early stage of their career to take some responsibility for this. They should strive to provide ECRs with the right conditions to achieve a healthy work life balance.
AHRC welcomes ambitions for academic careers. At the same time, we encourage PhD holders to consider the wide range of sectors in which they can pursue a rewarding career and utilise the skills gained during their doctoral study.
Universities and departments are increasingly seeking to engage with wider cultural, civic and community partners. This means that there is a key role for highly trained PhD graduates to play in a range of public, private and third sector organisations that want to work in partnership with academic researchers.
It is vital that university staff at all levels, including senior and mid-career academics, researcher developers and career advisors, support and encourage ECRs to consider opportunities to use their research training in sectors beyond academia.
AHRC expects higher education institutions, independent research organisations, and other organisations in receipt of AHRC funding to provide support as detailed below.
Provide academic and wider skills development opportunities
Applications for AHRC funding for research projects involving ECRs should include references to this guidance and how the organisation or institution will support skills development. This guidance should be used continuously throughout the lifetime of successful projects to support ECRs.
The provision of skills development opportunities is part of AHRC’s peer review assessment of funding applications, in line with the most recent version of the AHRC research funding guide.
Where possible, opportunities should be co-created with ECRs and relevant stakeholders, such as line managers, supervisors and principal investigators. We hope that ECRs will engage in wider career development activities beyond the immediate needs of their research when opportunities arise.
Every postdoctoral research associate or assistant on an AHRC-funded grant should allow for both the development of research skills and wider development. This should leave ECRs space for activities which will contribute to their transition to research independence.
The ratio of administrative to research tasks should be balanced and scope created to allow ECRs to develop the skills they need for their future career.
Offer AHRC-funded ECRs regular appraisal or performance reviews
It is important for appraisals and performance reviews to include career development.
It is the joint responsibility of the ECR and their manager to ensure that any identified development needs are pursued.
Integrate funded ECRs into the organisation’s wider research community
Postdoctoral researchers should be given equal opportunities to participate in the life of their organisation. They should also have opportunities to increase their profile, for example, by giving talks at academic and public events, representing their organisation and publishing about the research they are involved in.
This approach should help ECRs to feel that they are valued members of staff.
Enable ECRs to network and explore career options
To help ECRs to network and explore their career options, research organisations should:
- provide access to mentoring schemes and external career coaches, if funding is available
- enable ECRs to attend workshops or networking events that bring together ECRs and contacts from non-academic sectors, including practitioners
- support ECRs who aren’t UK citizens appropriately, for example, by providing advice and support around visa applications and other employment legislation as appropriate
- ensure that ECRs are made aware of the availability of tenured positions within academia
- acknowledge difficulties related to portfolio careers, which some ECRs have
- champion diverse routes in, through and out of academia. In particular, support ECRs in exploring other, non-academic career paths which utilise their research skills and counter the view that academia is the only fulfilling and fitting career choice for individuals with research training.
Support staff who manage early career researchers
Research organisations should ensure that managers of ECRs, such as principal investigators and line managers, are sufficiently supported.
Research organisations should encourage their staff to undertake line management, leadership and support duties with commitment and give them credit for doing so.
It is the research organisation’s responsibility to equip these staff members with suitable background knowledge about good practice in career development.
How organisations can support early career researchers aiming for a career in academia
For ECRs wishing to pursue a career in academia there are more specific development needs. By publishing this guidance we would like to encourage research organisations to address these needs.
Providing opportunities to teach
Research organisations could enable ECRs to teach students at undergraduate or master’s degree level, with accompanying training to ensure that ECRs can do this to a high standard.
Such teaching may include the design or delivery of lectures, seminars and workshops, entire modules, or the supervision or co-supervision of dissertations.
Teaching opportunities should be for the benefit of the ECR’s career development and agreed with them. ECRs on AHRC grants cannot be required to teach if they do not feel the opportunity would be beneficial to their development. ECRs should also be informed about the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).
Universities should consider the support provided to newly appointed academics in terms of the time needed to:
- prepare teaching for courses or modules
- establish their own research profile
- develop their research leadership and people management skills.
ECRs will also benefit from being given access to information on mentoring and pastoral care of students, and opportunities to undertake it. This includes supervisor training and ongoing support for any ECRs who are supervising or co-supervising students.
Providing advice on navigating the academic career path
Resources to help ECRs publish their research are beneficial, as is advice on the administrative commitments that academics face and on the kinds of administrative roles academics may undertake over the course of their career.
ECRs need information about funding for research and support in applying for funding from internal and external sources. This should include an overview of the funding context in which research organisations and funders operate, and guidance on writing research grant applications for opportunities from a range of funders.
Advice and training on peer review processes for research funding and publication also falls into this category. This could include supporting ECRs to apply for peer review colleges, or equivalent.
Research organisations should inform ECRs about the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.
Supporting individuals on hourly-paid, teaching-only, or multiple part-time posts
AHRC encourages policies limiting the creation of short-term, teaching-only fellowships that use funding for principal investigator and co-investigator time which has been costed on AHRC grants. We suggest considering temporary lectureships which enable research as well as teaching instead of the teaching-only options, to support research aspirations of ECRs.
Research organisations could help ECRs by offering library access outside of term time and for a period beyond the end of AHRC-funded projects, as well as by enabling the continued use of university affiliation and email.
Mentoring for ECRs
AHRC encourages research organisations to introduce or continue mentoring schemes for ECRs. Mentoring provides valuable support and advice in addition to the support and advice from line managers and principal investigators.
Mentoring schemes are an example of good practice in ECR development. Research organisations should ensure mentors understand the challenges experienced by arts and humanities ECRs, including, for example, portfolio careers.
Mentors should understand the importance of individuals seeking wider development opportunities to build on their research. This was raised in the support for arts and humanities researchers post-PhD report (PDF, 838 KB) by K Renfrew and Professor H Green. The report noted that mentors who had recently moved to the next career stage themselves often had a better understanding of the challenges people face early in their careers.
It is important that the mentor is not connected with the management chain so that individuals can share their concerns openly.
It is a requirement of the early career researchers route of AHRC’s Research Development and Engagement Fellowship scheme (formerly known as the Leadership Fellowship scheme ECR route) that a mentor is in place.
The research organisation should allow sufficient time and recognise the effort needed to mentor effectively. This is an area in which tailored training for mentors is valuable.
Mentoring is also an area in which research organisations might wish to collaborate or reach out to potential mentors with research experience who work beyond the university sector. For example, subject associations or learned societies could be approached to provide mentoring at a subject level, or researchers working beyond academia in the private, public or third sector could be approached to mentor ECRs.
Coaching for ECRs
Career coaching is another valuable way of supporting ECRs on an individual basis. As an impartial professional specialising in personal and career development, a coach can:
- provide career advice
- help an ECR identify the breadth of transferable skills they possess
- help an ECR to articulate their value to current and prospective managers.
AHRC realises that due to cost, this is not always possible. However, research organisations may wish to catalyse coaching for ECRs by ensuring the in-house career advisors at universities are well prepared to assist postgraduate researchers and early career researchers. Another option might be to offer funding for external coaching provision if such funding is available.
AHRC peer review college members supporting ECRs
AHRC encourages its peer review college members to engage within their research organisation and share their experience, especially through advocacy and by assisting ECRs. This could include providing one-to-one support and advice when ECRs are navigating the research funding landscape.
What principal investigators and researcher managers should do
Principal investigators and researcher managers are the key facilitators of the professional development of ECRs.
AHRC expects them to:
- continue to ensure that the contribution of postdoctoral researchers to AHRC-funded projects is appropriately recognised and credited in the project outputs
- allow ECRs time to explore new research directions related to a project, wherever possible
- take opportunities to continue to develop themselves as managers to best support their research team
- stay informed about skills and career development support services available for ECRs at their research organisations or elsewhere
- signpost opportunities to ECRs and give them the encouragement to pursue them
- line manage ECRs, where applicable, using tools such as personal development plans, relevant frameworks and This should be undertaken collaboratively with the ECR to assess their needs, identify strengths, plan and keep track of development activities and gather evidence of their benefits on a continuous basis
- implement the Researcher Development Concordat if their research organisation is a signatory, for example, by providing ECRs with conditions for using the 10 days’ allowance for professional development. Where the research organisation is not a signatory, the Concordat should still be used as an inspiration and source of good practice
- advise ECRs on how to fully document their skills and experience, and how to present them effectively to prospective employers.
Equality, diversity and inclusion: institutional responsibilities
In all the above, research organisations and their staff should adhere to good practice in terms of EDI as outlined in the Researcher Development Concordat under the ‘Environment and Culture’ principle.
Supporting the mental and physical health and wellbeing of early career researchers
Institutions and researcher managers should be mindful of the feelings of anxiety and insecurity that many ECRs may experience in the early stage of their career, post-PhD. It is easy for ECRs to feel pressured, particularly when employed on fixed-term contracts, and given the intense competition for permanent academic positions.
This has been a challenge for several years. You can find out more about this by reading the report from the AHRC and the British Academy about support for arts and humanities researchers in the period immediately post-PhD (PDF, 838KB).
The post-pandemic changes in the number and type of vacancies and ways of working within and beyond academia might further increase such feelings.
Organisations should equip managers of ECRs with awareness of mental health, to enable them to recognise when additional support for ECRs may be needed, and to know how to provide this support or signpost to relevant services. It is good practice to offer training in areas such as resilience, overcoming risks of burnout and isolation.
Support for ECRs with protected characteristics
We acknowledge that ECRs with protected characteristics might face additional challenges. Supporting them starts with making ECRs aware of relevant institutional policies. Providing suitable services and infrastructure, and signposting ECRs to it, is key, as is creating a supportive work environment in line with the principles of the Researcher Development Concordat and AHRC’s EDI policy.
Organisations should equip managers of ECRs with EDI awareness, to enable them to recognise when additional EDI support may be needed, and to know how to provide this support to ECRs.
Further reading on EDI and fair treatment
We recommend the following resources to ECRs and their managers about fair treatment in the workplace:
- preventing harm in research and innovation outlines UKRI’s key principles for safeguarding, and preventing and addressing bullying and harassment along with links to useful sources of information and guidance
- the international development research funders’ statement on safeguarding is a statement of commitment to prevent and tackle harm and abuse in research of which UKRI is a signatory
- preventing bullying and harassment covers UKRI’s work to prevent and tackle bullying and harassment in the research and innovation sector.
The value of impact and experience beyond academia
Impact relates to positive consequences of a research project beyond the academic sphere. Arts and humanities research brings a variety of direct and indirect social, cultural and economic benefits.
Impact should be part of research projects at any career stage, from the project design phase through delivery to evaluation. This can lead to the creation of valuable development opportunities for research staff funded on a grant.
Applicants for research council funding need to be able to make the case for the potential impact of their research.
As part of an AHRC grant application, applicants are asked to consider the potential for wider impacts from their proposed research and to set out initial plans for pursuing any such wider impact, for example in their case for support, in line with the AHRC research funding guide. Equally, new opportunities may arise during a research project.
AHRC grant and fellowship holders are expected to actively look for opportunities to maximise the impact of their research on wider society, not just on the academic community.
Impact is also assessed as part of the REF and ECRs, with guidance from their managers, principal investigators and mentors, should make themselves aware of the significance of impact in relation to the REF.
It is important for arts and humanities researchers to understand any ethical implications of working with individuals, groups and organisations outside academia. As an early career researcher, you will need to consider carefully whether this applies to the research or engagement activities that you intend to pursue and ensure that you seek advice and approval from the necessary bodies.
Why principal investigators should involve ECRs in impact work
We expect principal investigators and managers of ECRs to be aware of the value of impact and to enable ECRs on their grants to participate in impact-generating activities within the project.
Examples of such opportunities common in the arts and humanities landscape include:
- public performances, exhibitions, workshops and other events
- work with:
- cultural partners
- local or central government policymakers
- community groups
- non-governmental organisations
- contributing to public debate on contemporary issues by bringing in the arts and humanities perspective as a specialist in a given field
- contributing to the design or development of new products or services.
How ECRs could benefit from impact work
Impact activities are a valuable tool for networking and engagement and offer the potential to open new avenues of research.
AHRC encourages postdoctoral researchers employed on our grants to volunteer to get involved with the impact side of a project whenever they can, and principal investigators to enable and support such involvement. This is beneficial for developing an academic career, but will also help more broadly in any career setting.
Research impact resources
We recommend the following resources about research impact to ECRs and their managers:
- AHRC research outcomes and impact provides examples of how the people and projects we invest in can make an impact on our lives and the world we live in
- the Common Cause Research project report is an in depth look at the landscape of Black and minority ethnic community-university partnerships.
Public engagement activities provide a useful context for developing the necessary skills for communicating academic knowledge to a non-specialist audience in person, and engaging with audiences through a variety of media.
The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) has a wealth of resources to support high quality engagement and to help researchers locate useful content to support their work.
You can also read our guidance on engaging the public with your research.
Acknowledgements and an invitation to feed back
AHRC has published this guidance with the intention that it becomes a catalyst for conversations and contributes to building a supportive research culture.
In late 2021 we consulted a group of stakeholders from across the sector to help create this guidance. This working group consisted of 25 community stakeholders, including:
- early career researchers
- AHRC-funded principal investigators
- AHRC peer review college members
- stakeholders from the researcher development profession.
Subsequently, we made the following improvements:
- changing the name of the guidance from ‘research training framework for early career researchers (ECRs)’ to ‘AHRC guidance on training and developing early career researchers in the arts and humanities’, to emphasise the breadth of activities required to develop professionally as a researcher
- changing the document format from PDF to HTML to improve accessibility
- introducing an inclusive early career researcher definition based on self-identification
- expanding the list of skills to better reflect current job market requirements within and beyond academia
- updating paragraphs relating to institutional responsibilities
- adding references to the AHRC Statement of Commitment to the Researcher Development Concordat and to the AHRC approach to EDI
- adding further reading, including links to UKRI policy documents.
AHRC would like to sincerely thank every member of the working group for their valuable expertise.
We are aware that every ECR career path is different, every line manager is different, and there are differences between research organisations. The external circumstances in which researcher development happens also continue to evolve. This guidance is a response to the current circumstances and is not exhaustive.
We welcome feedback from the arts and humanities and wider research and innovation community.
If you would like to share your thoughts on ECR development with us to improve further iterations of this guidance, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org