Early career researchers: career and skills development



Our work to support early career researchers (ECRs) is part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) efforts to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.

Our vision of early career development in the arts and humanities is one of partnership between:

  • ECRs
  • academics
  • research organisations
  • partner organisations
  • ECR career advisors and mentors.

How we define an ECR

When we provide information to help the development of early career researchers, we are speaking to anyone who defines their role as that of an ECR.

For the purpose of grants eligibility for most of our schemes, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) defines 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 due to:

  • family care
  • health reasons
  • reasons related to COVID-19 such as home schooling or increased teaching load.

Focus on good practice

There are examples of researcher development good practice available in the community. Colleagues across the sector have already put a lot of hard work into this area for which we are grateful.

ECR development is a continuously changing task of great value and with no end date as the pipeline continues to grow and the arts and humanities evolve.

We encourage everyone involved to look beyond the immediate needs of a research project to consider what other development opportunities are available for ECRs.

We recognise that the period following completion of a PhD can be a very challenging time as ECRs look to explore different career options.

Guidance on the training and development of early career researchers

To help support ECRs and those involved with their development we’ve published the AHRC guidance on training and developing early career researchers in the arts and humanities.

The aim of this document is to offer guidance that all arts and humanities ECRs and those who support them might use. It advises on the types of skills ECRs on AHRC grants should be developing, and how research organisations and managers of researchers can support them.

Our intent in publishing this guidance is that it:

  • becomes a catalyst for conversations
  • contributes to building a supportive research culture.

We invite you to share your thoughts on this guidance with us to improve future versions. You can do this by emailing us at researcher.development@ahrc.ukri.org

Routes available to ECRs

Many ECRs want to pursue an academic career and will look to colleagues and peers for advice on applying for academic posts.

We offer grant schemes to support research projects and career development at an early stage. If you’re an early career researcher, you can browse our funding opportunities to find out what is available to you.

Equally, we recognise and welcome the movement of researchers into other areas.

We encourage you to keep in mind a broad range of career possibilities, considering how highly competitive academic employment is. PhD graduates in the arts and humanities have skills that can make a significant contribution to many different areas of the economy and society.

You can read more about the employability of arts and humanities graduates in the Qualified for the Future report (The British Academy) to which AHRC contributed.

A doctorate in the arts and humanities equips you with a set of sought-after transferable skills, opening the possibility of careers in a wide and diverse range of sectors. Read our AHRC guidance on training and developing early career researchers in the arts and humanities to help you identify these skills.

Peer Review College membership for early career researchers

AHRC Peer Review College (PRC) membership reflects the range of disciplines and subjects within our subject domain. By joining us as an ECR, you’ll take on a fundamental role in the peer review process, ensuring that the highest quality research proposals receive funding in accordance with robust and transparent decision-making.

The PRC runs periodic recruitment exercises and accepts applications from ECRs who can demonstrate that they meet the essential criteria for membership.

Feedback from current PRC members points towards a positive relationship between participation in peer review activities and successfully obtaining grant funding; seeing the way in which other researchers construct proposals is a great learning opportunity.

You can also draw upon PRC expertise by taking part in wider activities, such as training peer reviewers or helping to develop new policies or processes.

AHRC’s objective is to further diversity our membership and cement plurality of voices in our decision-making processes.

Read AHRC’s peer review resources for more information.

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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