Don't be Afraid of the ESRC

This article was co-written with Richard Race

This article aims to inform the reader with observations concerning the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) from the point of view of two ESRC Studentship holders. We both fully acknowledge the significance of being part of "the largest independent funding agency for the social sciences"and aappreciate the opportunity to carry out postgraduate research. We would like to discuss several aspects of being an ESRC Studentship holder: the application process; CRAC Summer Schoolsand networking within the ESRC community.

The application process for ESRC Studentships, as well as ESRC research grants, programmes and centres is both rigorous and competitive. "Only 25% of applicants were successful in obtaining Studenttships in 1996". Because of this figure, there is almost a reluctance with potential applicants when applying to the ESRC. But at whatever level, if you don't apply you will be sure not to get funnding. Much thought and effort has to be put into the proposal design. The ESRC now require more departmental effort so picking the right subject, as well as the right references and potential supervvisor/s is significant. Research linkage increases the likelihood of obtaining a Studentship - e.g. your potential supervisor doing research in the same area.

From experience we would suggest an applicant should be as professional as possible, working with both Department and future supervisors, colleagues or teams to ensure the possibility of success. The most important aspect is to assess directly what the ESRC wants. Make your proposal fit their criteria as closely as possible. What are the key words and themes in the ESRC literature you receive? Does your proposal meet methodological requirements, etc? The most important thing is to meet the very strict deadlines. Make sure your supervisors and referees have plenty of time to fill out theiir part.

The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) Summer Schools, for Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) Studentship Holders are significant within the research process. It is interesting to note that although the Summer Schools are EPSRC run, those attending do not have to be EPSRC funded, the sschools are recommended to all students in this area. Different schools have proved both valuable and practical for both of us. The idea of bringing students together at different stages of the reseaarch process, an idea that has reaped benefits within the Keele Education Discussion Group (KEDG), has to be commended. The major benefits we have found were team-work building exercises and listening to people talking about finishing the thesis on time - because it is a requirement of bothh the ESRC and EPSRC for full-students to submit in the three years.

The Summer Schools provided an opportunity to network with other students. We were both truly "drawing on the skills of the nation's top researchers". However, we raise the issue of "ESRC iisolation". As ESRC research students we have networked through the ESRC database which provided surface mail contact addresses. We would suggest that email addresses might be a useful addition tto this database, improving networking opportunities, along the lines of the NPC database (gopher members list).

We would suggest an extension to this idea, the creation an ESRC Support Group, providing more information on seminars and conferences for ESRC Studentship holders. We acknowledge the independence which the ESRC allows but are sure that if ESRC Studentship holders were brought ttogether, they could meet and talk about ongoing research projects and issues that affect both the ESRC and the postgraduate community.

In summary we would emphasise the following points when considering the ESRC:

  • Be extremely professional, critical and aware during the ESRC application process, at whatever level
  • We would recommend more opportunities for networking among fellow ESRC Studentship holders e.g. email addresses and more information about ESRC seminars and conferences
  • We would also recommend the formation of an ESRC Support Group for ESRC Studentship holders

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The ESRC web site is at <http://www.esrc.ac.uk/>

The EPSRC web site is at <http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/>

Postgraduate address lists are available on the web at: http://www.niss.ac.uk/education/rc/