Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Set up a centre for doctoral training in data intensive science

Apply for funding to establish a new centre for doctoral training (CDT) in data intensive science.

You can apply if:

  • your higher education institution receives STFC core science funding
  • the training of all involved lead departments is STFC accredited.

The students in the centre must do original research, which:

  • relates to STFC core science
  • focuses on innovation.

Your institution must partner with industry or the third sector. The student must have a six-month placement there.

STFC will fund the CDT to take in four students each year, for three years. Each student will be funded for four years.

Update, 1 October 2021:

  • further guidance on what to include in your proposal on ‘managing the CDT’ added to ‘What we’re looking for’ section
  • ‘webinar slides’ and ‘additional information from webinar’ documents attached.

Who can apply

Any UK university or consortium of universities may apply to host a centre.

Independent research organisations eligible for STFC studentship funding (Armagh Observatory and Natural History Museum) are also eligible to form part of a consortium.

All institutions involved must be:

  • eligible to hold UKRI grants
  • able to award PhD qualifications.

Centres must include a lead department at each institution. This department must be in receipt of STFC funding though the core science programme:

  • astronomy
  • accelerator physics
  • solar and planetary science
  • particle physics
  • particle astrophysics and cosmology
  • nuclear physics.

Any lead departments involved in the centre must have received accreditation for their training provision from STFC by the deadline for submission.

STFC facilities are not eligible to host a centre in their own right, however can be involved as a partner organisation if appropriate.

It is expected that centres will have active engagement and support from industrial partners (especially local SMEs). Whilst they do not have to be financially supporting the centre, industrial representation should be listed on the management board. Please note, industrial partners cannot apply to host a centre in their own right and must partner-up with an eligible university.

What we're looking for

The centre will be expected to engage the broader user and employer community, including industry (especially small and medium enterprises) and other relevant organisations.

These organisations should have active engagement in determining and providing input to the training programme and in mentoring and co-supervising students, with additional input and guidance from STFC and UKRI where appropriate.

Students will be expected to undertake an original research project, which brings together big data skills and expertise from STFC’s remit:

  • astronomy
  • accelerator physics
  • solar and planetary science
  • particle physics
  • particle astrophysics and cosmology
  • nuclear physics.

They must apply the expertise to a different sector or industrial context during their placement. Projects should demonstrate their relationship to other STFC and UKRI investments in data intensive science and artificial intelligence (AI) where appropriate.

The non-STFC funded students will similarly be expected to undertake original research in data intensive projects. These would normally fall within STFC’s remit, but could on exception fall outside. However the training programme for the whole cohort of students must be coherent and add considerable value.

The centre will be required to provide a structured cohort-based training programme for the students, particularly in their first year, in which students undertake a formal, accessible programme of taught coursework. This should be specifically designed to give them a broad and thorough grounding in computational techniques and other issues relating to big data challenges.

At least six months of each studentship must be spent outside the centre in one or more private, public (including national or international facilities) or third sector organisations engaged in the development or use of data intensive science techniques.

These placements may be undertaken in one block or split into two or more shorter periods of a minimum of three months each. They should be designed to enable students to gain additional expertise in data intensive science and develop a broader understanding on the wider uses of data intensive techniques and their application.

While the skills and experience gained by the student will be beneficial to their PhD research, their time spent on placement should not be an integral part of their thesis work.

In addition, all students will be expected to access the general training opportunities required for accreditation and to enhance their understanding of the innovation process including working with industrial partners as appropriate.

The centre’s training activities should also develop and enhance interdisciplinary technical knowledge and demonstrate their relationship to other STFC and UKRI investments in data intensive science and AI.

The centre will need to have an appropriate management structure, expected to comprise a director and senior management team, with independent strategic oversight which must include representation from the non-academic sector and from STFC and UKRI.

Update: 1 October 2021

In the webinar for this opportunity, there were a number of questions about costings and admin managerial support.

In response, we would like to ask every proposal to respond to the following.

Managing a CDT is a significant undertaking. You should explain in your case what effort you estimate is going to be required to run and manage the CDT, and specify the contribution that the partners and host are going to make, to meet those requirements.

STFC may make a contribution towards administration in the future, but this contribution cannot currently be guaranteed and will depend on, among other things, the quality and value for money of the case made.

The planning of administration and management and the contribution level of the host institution will be considered during the assessment process.

For further responses to webinar queries, see additional information from webinar (PDF, 148KB).

How to apply

You should prepare and submit your proposal using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select:

  • council: STFC
  • document type: studentship proposal
  • scheme: Centre for Doctoral Training
  • call: Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) 2021.

As part of the application process, the following documents should be uploaded through Je-S and labelled accordingly. Any documents not listed, such as CVs and list of publications, will be returned to the lead applicant for removal.

Please upload:

  • Je-S pro forma
  • 14-page case for support (mandatory)
  • letter of support from technology transfer office (mandatory)
  • letter of support from the head of department (mandatory)
  • letters of support from industry or third sector organisations engaging with in centre (mandatory)
  • covering letter (optional). Please note, cover letters will not be seen by external reviewers or the panel.

More information on what to include in the case for support can be found in the opportunity guidance document (PDF, 252KB) under ‘additional information’.

How we will assess your application

All proposals will be assessed by a panel consisting of experts from the STFC community and colleagues from industry or third sector organisations. It is expected that funding will start October 2022.

Assessment criteria

Primary criteria

Quality of training environment including approach to supporting a healthy and inclusive training environment:

  • the overall quality of the research training environment and cohort approach to training focused on the student experience. For example, how specific training on data intensive science techniques and innovation will be delivered on a cohort basis
  • the degree to which you are supporting a healthy and inclusive research and innovation culture, including the approach to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Quality of the research environment and team:

  • the quality and diversity in the scientific areas to be addressed by the centre, including appropriateness with regards to data intensive science
  • the alignment of the centre to wider host institution strategies
  • the potential impact which could arise as a result of the centre’s success, both in terms of academic and scientific benefit, and wider economic and societal benefit
  • the extent to which responsible research and innovation will be supported and delivered in the centre’s research activities.

Partnership and engagement:

  • the relevance and strength of the links formed with other organisations (particularly local small and medium enterprises) and other potential users
  • the extent of their involvement in determining and providing input to the proposed training programme, in mentoring and co-supervising students and in exploiting the outcomes of the research and training, and overall involvement in helping to manage the centre
  • evidence of what plans are there to match students to placements and monitor their progress, and strength of the research innovation arising from those placements.

Secondary criteria

Value for money:

The level of funding, in addition to that provided by STFC and UKRI, that would be available for supporting additional studentships and associated training activities. This includes any support offered to fund placements, contributions from external sources, and the level of commitment from the institutions applying to host the centre.

Management and delivery:

  • the effectiveness of the plans for the management and governance of the centre, including the suitability and commitment of the director and senior management team
  • plans for obtaining independent strategic oversight
  • the involvement of students in the management process.

Contact details

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