Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: NERC Independent Research Fellowship 2023

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
  • be based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding

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

We will fund 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

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

This funding opportunity is open to early career researchers wishing to carry out independent research. Applicants on an upward trajectory to pursuing working independently and developing research leadership are encouraged to apply.

You must also be able to evidence reasonable scientific and technical skills and competencies, in line with the ambitions of the Independent Research Fellowship (IRF) scheme.

If you are currently studying for a PhD, you are only eligible if you are expecting to have passed your PhD viva before March 2024.

There is no limit on the number of years postdoctoral or work experience.

Holders of postdoctoral training fellowships such as the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions can apply. Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellows and Daphne Jackson Trust Fellows who meet all eligibility requirements may also apply.

If you have been included on applications as a project co-lead, then you are eligible to apply provided you still meet all eligibility criteria. Your application must be different from applications you have been included on.

You may be employed at a lecturer level that is clearly a ‘teaching only’ post.

Who is not eligible to apply

You should not apply if you hold, or have ever held:

  • a position at lecturer level (or the equivalent in an institution other than a university) that includes setting up a group and conducting your own research
  • an equivalent competitive fellowship that allows you to establish an independent research group, and therefore independent researcher status
  • a tenured academic post

If you hold a fellowship where you are eligible to supervise PhD students or submit research grants as a project lead, then we consider that equivalent to a lectureship. As a result, you are not eligible to apply.

Examples of these fellowships include, but are not limited to:

  • Wellcome Trust Sir Henry Dale Fellowships
  • Medical Research Council Career Development Awards
  • BBSRC Discovery fellowships
  • UKRI Future Leaders fellowships

If you are unsure of your eligibility status,you should email to confirm before you apply.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI and NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

Part-time fellowships

Independent research fellowships (IRFs) may be held full or part-time. We welcome applications from you should you wish to work on a part-time or flexible basis to combine your 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.

For more details on funding for fellows on research grants, see the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

Choice of institution

We recognise that mobility is not the only means to acquire the skills and experiences necessary to build a research career. We also recognise 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, we expect the head of department of the host institution to submit a letter of support. This is to demonstrate their support offered to you.

What we're looking for


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

You must demonstrate that, if awarded an IRF, you will be working independently of senior colleagues with whom you might have previously collaborated or with whom you might currently be working in a supporting role. Assessors must be convinced that you have devised your own research questions.

For examples of how to demonstrate meeting these criteria, see the ‘How we will assess your application’ section.

This funding opportunity supports excellent investigator-led research across the breadth of our scientific remit. We welcome multidisciplinary applications that cross into other research council areas but expect the primary focus of your work to fall within our remit.

We work with other research councils to ensure that applications close to remit boundaries are assessed by the most appropriate lead council.


The duration of this award is five years.

Projects must start by 1 January 2025.

Funding available

There are no funding limits for our IRFs.

We will fund 80% of the Full Economic Cost (FEC).

Costs for ship and marine equipment (SME) are not included in the application.

What we will fund

We will fund:

  • facilities costs
  • cruise costs

What we will not fund

We will not fund PhD studentships.

Requests for equipment of £10,000 and over are not part of this funding opportunity. You should request smaller items of equipment (under £10,000 individually) under ‘Consumables (other directly incurred costs)’ in your application. This £10,000 funding limit cannot be used to part-fund equipment costing more than the £10,000 limit.

Data management

You must adhere to the NERC data policy.

We will pay the data centre directly for archival and curation services. You will need to fund the costs of preparation of data for archiving from the grant budget. Outline data management plans are not required at the application stage but will be requested for those projects that are to be funded.

Services and facilities

You can apply to use a facility or resource in your funding application.

You should discuss your application with the facility or service at least two months before the funding opportunity closing date to:

  • discuss the proposed work in detail
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding

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

You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.

For more information, go to the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.

High Performance Computing (HPC), Ship-Time or Marine Equipment (SME) and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.

Ship-time and marine facilities

Applications may require ship-time and other marine facilities. If you wish to use our marine facilities, you must complete an online ‘ship-time and marine equipment (SME) or autonomous deployment (ADF) application form’ available from Marine Facilities Planning. Include the SME or ADF number on the ‘Facilities’ section of your application.

SMEs or ADFs must be submitted to and approved by NERC Marine Planning by the time your funding application is submitted.

Please note that timescales should be worked back from any deadlines imposed by your institution which may be in advance of a funding opportunity deadline.

A PDF of the SME or ADF can be attached as a facility form to your application. If you do not do this, your request may not be included in the NERC Marine Facilities Programme.

If you intend to apply for our marine facilities, you should contact to discuss ship-time and equipment needs as soon as possible and by 8 September at the latest. Costs are not required for these applications.

British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support

If you require NERC British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support, you must complete a pre-award operational support planning questionnaire (OSPQ) online.

You must email the Antarctic access office (AAO) at BAS ( stating your name, institution, and project title.

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

The deadline for pre-award OSPQs to be submitted is 18 August 2023. Given the IRF is an annual funding opportunity and so anticipated we expect that you will have been discussing your needs with the facility, commensurate with the need to allow them three months to support the logistics of your application. Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistic support without having received prior logistic approval will not be awarded.

You should also be aware of the NERC update on polar research planning.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

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 our 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.

Research disruption due to 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 application. 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.

How to apply

We are running the funding opportunity on the new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service. You cannot apply for this funding opportunity on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

If you do not already have an account with the UKRI Funding Service, you will be able to create one by selecting the ‘start application’ button at the start of this page. Creating an account is a 2-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.

If you are a member of an organisation with a research office that we do not have contact details for, we will contact them to enable administrator access. This provides:

  • oversight of every UKRI Funding Service application opened on behalf of your organisation
  • the ability to review and submit applications

Research offices that have not already received an invitation to open an account should email

To find out more about the role of research office professionals in the application process, watch a recording of a recent research office webinar on YouTube.

To apply

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a UKRI Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.


We must receive your application by 8 November 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

We will not be returning applications for amendment. If an application is withdrawn prior to peer review or office rejected due to substantive errors in the application, it cannot be re-submitted to the same round.

Personal data

NERC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your Funding Service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Publication of outcomes

NERC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity on What NERC has funded.

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.


Word count: 550

Guidance for writing a summary

Succinctly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

Assign yourself as:

  • fellow

You should not enter any other applicants.

Find out about UKRI’s new grant roles and eligibility.

Vision and Approach

Word count: 10

You should upload the Vision and Approach document as a six-page PDF. The document must have single line spacing, margins of at least 2cm and be typed using Arial 11pt, or another ‘sans serif’ font with an equivalent size to Arial 11pt.

Question: What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

For the Vision, explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment

Within the Vision section we also expect you to:

  • identify the potential direct or indirect benefits and who the beneficiaries might be

For the Approach, explain how you have designed your work so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, its location, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposal

Career Development

Word count: 1,000

Question: Why is the proposed work and the environment it will be in, the right way to develop your career?

What the assessor are looking for in your response

That you have identified:

  • career development goals appropriate to the fellowship funding opportunity
  • how the proposed work and the environment will provide a feasible and appropriate trajectory for you to change and grow as an independent leader or researcher and achieve your stated career development goals
  • how the proposed work and the environment will provide a feasible and appropriate trajectory for you to acquire additional skills, like leadership, communication and management skills

Applicant capability to deliver

Word count: 1,500

Question: Why are you the right individual to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing a positive research environment and wider community

The word count for this section is 1,500 words, 1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you have and how this will help to deliver the proposed work. You can include specific achievements and choose past contributions that best evidence your ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the following R4RI module headings listed. Use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You can enter ‘N/A’ for any you think irrelevant, and will not be penalised for doing so, but it is recommended that you carefully consider the breadth of your experience:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation, users and audiences, and towards wider societal benefit


Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is optional and can be up to 500 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences, or outputs, but you can use it to describe any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

Complete this section as a narrative. Do not format it like a CV.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion

Word count: 500

Question: How are you showing a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in your work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of:

  • a commitment to EDI through your proposed work (ensuring any outreach is accessible; ensuring work carried out is EDI friendly)
  • an approach and commitment to championing EDI by removing barriers in the wider research environment and promoting an open and inclusive research community

Host organisation statement

Word count:10

Question: Describe the reasoning behind supporting the applicant and describe the package of support from the host organisation.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

This should be provided by the proposed head of department (in discussion with the applicant) on behalf of the host department and organisation and uploaded as a PDF file (two pages A4 maximum).

This should include:

  • a signed statement of support from the research organisation detailing why the proposed work is needed and why the host organisation wishes to support you in your NERC fellowship application
  • evidence of funding that will be provided to support the fellowship and evidence of access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the work proposed

Please note, external web links are not permitted in this section.

Project partners: contributions

Word count: 1,000

Question: Provide details about any project partners’ contributions using the template provided.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you do not have any project partners, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

If you do have project partners, download and complete the project partner contributions template (DOCX, 52KB) then copy and paste the table within it into the text box below.

Ensure you have obtained prior agreement from project partners that, should you be offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the template.

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 500

Question: What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work? If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Using the text box, demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations, and how you will manage them. Including:

  • research involving animals
  • research involving human tissues or biological samples, including the nature and quantity of the material used and its source
  • research involving human participation, including the numbers and diversity of the participants involved and any procedures
  • potential impacts of the proposed research on the environment or society in general

State the names of any bodies you will require approval from and whether you already have it. If it is not yet in place, then give an indicative timeframe for when it will be.


Word count: 1,000

Question: List the references you’ve use to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks, as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application.

If linking to web resources, to maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

You must not include links to web resources to extend your application.


Word count: 250

Question: Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

If not, enter N/A into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, you should follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Where prior agreement is required, ensure you obtain their agreement that, should you be offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

In the text box, for each requested facility you should provide under the following headings:

  • name of facility, copied and pasted from the facility information list (DOCX, 35KB)
  • proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on the facility information list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

If you have to attach a facility form, for example NERC ship-time and marine equipment, then upload it as a PDF. If you need to upload multiple forms, then combine them into a single PDF.

If you do not need to use a facility, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

Resources and cost justification

Word count: 1,000

Question: What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities
  • all facilities and infrastructure costs

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want to be assured that:

  • all resources are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • the project will make optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Expert reviewing and shortlisting panel

We will invite a panel of experts to review your application independently, against the specified criteria for this funding opportunity. They will provide us with a shortlist of applicants who will be invited to an interview panel. The interview panel will make a funding recommendation.

Interview panel

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 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.

We expect interviews to be held in March or April 2024.

NERC will make the final funding decision.


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


We will provide panel feedback to all applicants by email.

If you are unsuccessful at the sift panel you will be provided with panel feedback.

All applicants who attend the interview panel will be provided with panel feedback.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI Principles of Assessment and Decision Making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Assessment criteria

The criteria against which your application will be assessed directly relates to the application questions:

  • Vision
  • Approach
  • Career development
  • Applicant capability to deliver
  • Commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
  • Host organisation support
  • Ethics and responsible research and innovation
  • Resources and cost justification

Further detail on what the assessors are looking for is available in the questions in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

We aim to respond to emails within two working days.

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

Sensitive information

If you, or a key team member, need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the Funding Service helpdesk on

You must include in the subject line: (NERC IRF23), sensitive info, Funding Service application number

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • applicant is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, see UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Global Talent visa

IRF are eligible for a Global Talent visa under the ‘exceptional promise’ category for future research leaders.

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We are committed to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the abolition of modern slavery and human trafficking.

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