Jobwatch: Two seats and 25 prizes

January 30, 2004

The ESRC is looking for fresh academic blood. Most posts are unpaid, but the influence the chosen academics will have should be compensation enough. Pat Leon reports on research opportunities.

Power over the public purse for research lies with the research councils, and this week the Office of Science and Technology is advertising for two senior academics to sit part time on the Economic and Social Research Council's governing council. Science minister Lord Sainsbury will have the final say over the appointments.

Academics hold more than half the seats on the 14-member council, and applications are invited in the fields of geography, planning and psychology or cognitive sciences.

An OST spokesman said: "Two or three vacancies come up a year. The maximum appointment is for four years, but it tends to be for three. We sometimes reappoint people but we like to get fresh blood in and keep a reasonable mix of people in research areas."

The ESRC itself is advertising for nominations to its four main boards - priorities, resources, grants and training - which report to council.

Unlike council members who receive an honorarium of £6,000, board members' work is unpaid, but "perks" include reviewing grant applications from your peers and contributing to board decisions on research programmes and investments.

Pui Chan, policy manager (strategy), says: "We advertise once a year to alert people to vacancies. We introduced open public nominations only a few years ago. Previously, it was a case of asking leaders of the academic community for suggestions. This way we receive about 100 nominations for roughly eight to 16 vacancies."

For the younger researcher, charities offer extra funding opportunities.

The Leverhulme Trust is advertising its 2004 competition to commemorate Philip, the third Viscount Leverhulme, who died in 2000. Disciplines this year are anthropology, earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences, economics, mathematics and statistics and medieval, early modern and modern history.

Twenty-five prizes of £50,000 are earmarked for outstanding academics under the age of 36 to research selected subjects over two years. Prizes are for spending on anything from research assistants to conferences. Last year's competition attracted about 120 entries.

Jean Cater, grants manager, says: "The trust had additional income and launched a number of initiatives four years ago. It was a case of looking to see which sectors could benefit. It was felt that giving younger candidates at crucial stages of their careers a helping hand would give them a real boost. We used the Sloane Fellowships, run in the US, as a model."

Cater says that the age barrier is not set in stone. "We are aware that in some fields 36 is too young and in others too old. We're flexible. If someone has had a career break to have children or has come from industry or was a mature student, they can still apply," she adds.

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