Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: NERC independent research fellowship 2022

Apply for funding to further your career through an independent research fellowship.

You must:

  • be an early career researcher
  • hold a PhD qualification or expect to submit your thesis before the fellowship interview.

You are not eligible to apply if you hold a tenured academic post or academic position at lecturer level.

We welcome applications from any area of NERC’s remit.

We will fund fellowships at 80% full economic cost. You may apply for funding for facilities costs and cruise costs.

We will not fund studentships.

Your fellowship will last five years. You can choose to work full time or part time. Part-time fellowships will be pro rata.

Who can apply

This opportunity is open to applicants who hold a PhD qualification or expect to submit their PhD thesis before the fellowship interview takes place in March 2023. Individuals demonstrating an upward track to pursuing working independently and developing research leadership are encouraged to apply.

Applicants should not apply if they currently hold a tenured academic post or academic position at lecturer level (or equivalent position).

Prospective applicants unsure of their eligibility status should email to confirm before they apply.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

NERC is committed to creating and sustaining a positive, fair and inclusive environment for our research community to ensure that all candidates feel welcomed, included and valued.

A focus on continuous improvement means that we are seeking to go beyond our statutory duties and become a beacon for diversity across the environmental science community. Achieving a high level of diversity within the NERC community provides an excellent foundation and environment for our research and innovation priorities to flourish.

NERC therefore encourages applications from all individuals who meet the eligibility criteria from all backgrounds regardless of:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race (which includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins)
  • religion or belief
  • sex or sexual orientation
  • neurodiversity
  • socioeconomic background
  • any other relevant factor.

We warmly welcome applications from individuals who may have undertaken non-standard or non-typical academic routes pre or post-PhD prior to application.

When considering your application, your career track record, career breaks and part-time working will be taken into account specifically in the assessment process. More details can be found in the ‘how we will assess your application’ section.

Part-time fellowships

Independent research fellowships (IRFs) may be held full or part-time. NERC welcomes proposals from candidates who wish to work on a part-time or flexible basis to combine their responsibilities with a career.

IRFs can be held on a part-time basis down to 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE). In all cases, the length of the fellowship must be extended accordingly on a pro rata basis. For example, a five-year fellowship on a full-time basis would equate to a 10-year fellowship with the fellow working 0.5 FTE, but the value of the award would remain the same.

It is possible to change from part-time to full-time, or full-time to part-time at any point during the lifetime of the award.

Applicants should refer to the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook for details on funding for fellows on research grants.

Choice of institution

NERC recognises that mobility is not the only means to acquire the skills and experiences necessary to build a research career. NERC also recognises the need for having a fixed institution to provide unique facilities or opportunities, and other circumstances where moving would be unsuitable, such as domestic arrangements.

To demonstrate a commitment to the development of IRFs, NERC expects the head of department of the host institution to submit a letter of support. This is to demonstrate their support offered to the applicant.

Normal individual eligibility applies and is detailed in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

NERC research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions
  • approved research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments
  • eligible catapult centres.

Full details of approved research organisations can be found on the UK Research and Innovation website.

What we're looking for

Through an independent research fellowship (IRF), NERC will invest in researchers seeking to conduct their own environmental research within an eligible host organisation. Applicants should demonstrate convincing evidence of working towards this goal and a high potential to become independent research leaders in the future.

Applicants will demonstrate that, if awarded an IRF, they will be working independently of senior colleagues with whom they might have previously collaborated or with whom they might currently be working in a supporting role. Reviewers and panel members must be convinced that the applicant has devised their own research questions.

Applicants must clearly demonstrate evidence of the following criteria:

  • suitability of the applicant:
    • excellence of their research achievements during their career to date
    • potential to lead and advance their research discipline
    • capability to work independently
  • research excellence
    • research proposal displays high levels of quality, timeliness, feasibility, novelty and vision
  • diversity, equity and inclusion is embedded throughout the proposal
  • level of support provided by the chosen host institution.

Applicants should refer to the IRF competency framework in the ‘how we will assess your application’ section for examples of how to demonstrate meeting these criteria.

NERC supports fellows undertaking research across the breadth of the NERC remit within environmental sciences, including:

  • freshwater
  • earth
  • atmospheric
  • marine and terrestrial sciences
  • earth observation
  • polar science.

Proposals need to be at least 50% within NERC’s remit. However, proposals to work at the environmental science, socio-economic and engineering interfaces are acceptable and encouraged.

NERC is also particularly keen to attract scientists in areas of applied mathematics, physics or strongly quantitative disciplines wishing to develop a career in environmental science.

We work with other research councils at the boundaries of our remit to ensure that there are no gaps in funding. We also ensure that there is equality of opportunity for proposals at the interfaces of traditional research disciplines, as well as those proposals that fall well within research council remits.

NERC responsible business statement

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, 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
  • diversity, equity and inclusion.

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

How to apply

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

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: Independent Research Fellowships (IRFOCT22).

This will populate:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research fellowship
  • call/type/mode: Independent Research Fellowships (IRFOCT22).

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

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

Project partners

Fellowship proposals do not have a separate project partner section. Any significant collaborators (from outside the host research organisation) should be named and their role described in the ‘partnership details’ section of the form. A letter of support should be attached from each person named in that section.

Collaborators from the host research organisation submitting the proposal should not be named in this section and should not provide a letter of support. Internal collaborators can be mentioned in the section on ‘choice of host institution’.


Sub-contracts are eligible costs on proposals submitted to this opportunity, but should only be used for the procurement of goods and services. Sub-contracts are not permitted for research partners providing intellectual input into the project, where a research partner or project partner relationship is more appropriate.


NERC must receive your application by 11 October 2022 at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


All attachments submitted through the Je-S system (with the exception of letters of support, and services, facilities and equipment quotes) must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial Narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal that has used any of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, otherwise their proposal may be rejected without peer review. More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the:

We recommend you convert your documents to PDFs before attaching them to avoid conversion errors with fonts and diagrams.

On submission to the council, all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF. The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Your application should include the following attachments:

  • case for support (required, exactly one)
  • justification of resources (required, exactly one)
  • data management plan (required, exactly one)
  • CV (required, exactly one. Applicants to use the Resume for Research and Innovation template)
  • letter of support (required if project partnership details given, equal to number of project partners)
  • cover letter (optional)
  • list of publications (required, exactly one)
  • head of department statement (required, exactly one to be attached by the approver or submitter)
  • preliminary Antarctic logistics support request (required if British Antarctic Survey (BAS) logistic support is requested. These attachments will not be sent out for peer review but will be sent to BAS)
  • other (optional).

Each application must be accompanied by a case for support. Further details of what is required in the case for support can be found in the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook. The supporting case must not exceed 10 sides of A4 (including figures and references).

Antarctic logistics support

Applicants who have submitted the preliminary request for Antarctic logistic support form to BAS and have been given approval to submit a full application to NERC by the logistics panel must attach the form, as supplied with the approval reference identifier in the header, to their full proposal.

Please note that the preliminary request for Antarctic logistic support form does not get sent out to peer review, but is used by BAS for their logistic planning.

The approved preliminary request for Antarctic logistic support will only be valid for a 12 month period from the date of application to BAS. Therefore, if you have received approval for logistic support and your fellowship application is unsuccessful you will have to submit another preliminary request for Antarctic logistic support form to BAS, if you wish to submit a fellowship application requesting Antarctic logistic support.

Any applications that request Antarctic logistic support and attach the preliminary request for Antarctic logistic support form without having received prior approval will not be accepted by NERC.

Data management

The NERC data policy must be adhered to and a NERC outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development. NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services. Applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Résumé for Research and Innovation

The Résume for Résearch and Innovation (R4RI) is a narrative CV based on the Royal Society’s Resume for Researchers. This opportunity is one of a number of pilots of the format across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). If you have any feedback on the format or guidance provided, please email

The R4RI template is designed to allow you to showcase the relevant skills and experience you have. The template encourages applicants to include a wide range of contributions to the research and innovation landscape so that these can be recognised and rewarded as part of the assessment process.

We encourage you to be specific and only highlight outputs that are directly relevant to the opportunity being applied for or that provide evidence of your (or your team’s) ability to deliver the proposal.

R4RI is assessed as a whole and therefore it is of no consequence which heading you include a piece of evidence under. The modules are simply designed to help you consider all aspects of your work.

You will not be penalised for leaving sections blank, but it is recommended you carefully consider the breadth of your experience.

The R4RI should be completed as a narrative. Lists should be avoided where possible. The assessment process is not based on metrics (numbers of publications, impact factors or amounts of past funding, for example). Publication references within the application should be provided as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) wherever possible.

The R4RI template is designed to be used across many different funding opportunities. Therefore, it is important that you carefully read the funding opportunity-specific guidance for details on how it will be assessed.

The ‘additions’ box is included for applicants to provide additional information, such as details of career breaks, which they feel may give context to the R4RI or wider application. Please note that this is not a requirement and you may leave this box blank if you wish. All comments written here will be seen by both reviewers and panel members and may also be shared with UKRI colleagues for evaluation purposes.

R4RI should be focused and only include information relevant to the opportunity.

NERC facilities

Principal investigators wishing to use NERC services and facilities need to contact the relevant facility at least a month before the closing date of the opportunity to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant.

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

NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the proposal. The technical assessment must be submitted as part of the Je-S form, as detailed in the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

The full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment can be found on the NERC website. This excludes the below as these services have their own policies for access and costing:

Applicants wishing to use NERC’s marine facilities must complete an online SME or autonomous deployment (ADF) application form on the Marine Facilities Planning web page. The SME or ADF number should be included on the Je-S grant proposal form under services and facilities.

Completed SME or ADF forms must be submitted by 14 September 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.

Applicants intending to apply for NERC’s marine facilities should also contact to discuss ship time and equipment needs as soon as possible.

BAS Antarctic logistics support

Applicants requiring NERC BAS Antarctic logistics support must complete a pre-award operational planning support questionnaire (OSPQ). This is an online form.

Applicants must email the Antarctic Access Office (AAO) at BAS ( stating their name, institution and proposal title. The AAO will set up a new, 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 normally three months before the final proposal deadline. In this case, we will provide an alternative deadline in due course.

The pre-award OSPQ should be submitted to AAO and included as an attachment at the full application stage. Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistics support without having received prior logistic approval will not be accepted.

How we will assess your application

Proposals submitted to this round will be reviewed by a panel drawn together from the NERC Peer Review College. This reviewing panel will replace peer review prior to an interview panel. The interview stage of the process will continue as normal.

Each application will be reviewed at the panel by multiple NERC College panel members. The panel members will ensure that panel feedback covers each aspect of the IRF opportunity criteria:

  • suitability of the applicant (primary criterion)
  • research excellence (secondary criterion)
  • institutional support
  • commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

NERC previously used a moderating panel to consider peer review comments and decide which applications should be interviewed. The peer review element of the process will now occur during the reviewing panel.

Strong applications will provide evidence to meet each of the criteria set out in the framework.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to deliver a presentation, followed by interview questions from the panel. These questions will consist of scientific questions raised by reviewers and panel members about your proposed work and non-scientific questions (such as leadership, career development or impact).

Reasonable adjustments to the interview set-up will be implemented for those who request it.

The panel will provide NERC with a ranked list of proposals for funding recommendation.

Detailed feedback will be provided to those applicants who are interviewed.

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

In order to identify future science leaders, the assessment process will concentrate on applicants’ research achievements, research potential and evidence of independence. This will be assessed in a way that is appropriate to their career stage (also recognising the potential impacts of career breaks).

NERC Independent Research Fellowships (IRF) competency framework

Assessors will judge applicants against the following criteria.

Research achievements

The applicant should show the following competencies and examples:

  • have a track record of ambitious, innovative and productive research in their area that demonstrates an upward trajectory. For example, by producing high quality outputs such as:
    • datasets
    • software
    • inventions
    • patents
    • preprints
    • other commercial activities, in addition to research publications and seminar or conference presentations
  • demonstrate the ability to influence the research and innovation landscape (for example, inputs on policy and practice)
  • have a network of research contacts including appropriate collaborations nationally, internationally and across disciplines
  • demonstrate ability and intentions to share knowledge through training, teaching, supervising or co-supervising others (including students, such as undergraduate, MSc or PhD)
  • be able to explain the wider impact and societal relevance of their research
  • be able to communicate their research clearly to a range of specialist and non-specialist audiences and engage the general public with their research and activities.

Potential to lead research discipline

The applicant should show the following competencies and examples:

  • have clear plans to establish their own research profile that will enable them to become an independent research leader and establish their own research team
  • for the appropriate career stage of the applicant, they should demonstrate potential to lead research, for example by having collaborated with teams in other departments, research organisations or other disciplines, or leading or being part of successful applications for grant proposal funding (including but not limited to equipment bids, conference attendance and research projects)
  • for the appropriate career stage of the applicant, they should demonstrate evidence of recognition and leadership in the community on an international scale through mechanisms appropriate to their discipline
  • for the appropriate career stage of the applicant, they should show an understanding of how to influence their research field and awareness of ways to influence the wider research agenda. For example, through experience of participation in peer review, participation in internal committees, acting as an ambassador or advocate for a research field or theme, or influencing policy.

Ability to work independently

The applicant should show the following competencies and examples:

  • have a clear long-term vision for their own research within the context of the broad research area within which they work
  • have their own research plans or ideas that are independent of their current group or previous mentors
  • have experience of leading and forging new collaborations with academic and non-academic stakeholders outside of previous groups and where relevant, across disciplines.


The proposal will be judged for its quality, timeliness, feasibility, novelty and vision.

The proposal should meet outstanding standards in terms of originality, quality and significance of the scientific question and how it is addressed.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

The applicant should show the following competencies and examples:

  • should demonstrate a commitment to DEI through the proposed work
  • should demonstrate an approach and commitment to championing equality, diversity and inclusion by removing barriers in their research environment and promoting an open and inclusive research community.

Support from proposed host institution

To demonstrate a commitment to the development of NERC IRFs, the head of department of the host institution will be required to demonstrate:

  • the availability of structured institutional support, including infrastructure and facilities, funds to support research, and access to opportunities to work with and supervise PhD students
  • support for personal development of the fellow, including mentoring, appropriate review and training courses.

Cross-council remit agreement

IRF applications that extend beyond the remit of a single research council will be assessed by peer reviewers from across the relevant research disciplines. Decisions will be made through a single council’s peer review process.

Learn more about if your research spans different disciplines.

COVID-19 impacts

NERC recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. NERC is committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their careers 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 of the impact 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, applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

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


Include ‘IRF query’ in the subject line.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

International researchers and specialists who are named, or have their position listed, on a successful grant may be eligible for the Global Talent Visa.

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 after the grant end date.

Supporting documents

Resume for Research and Innovation template (DOCX, 34KB)

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.