Monday, 20 June 2011

The Squeezed Middle: Redrawing the ESRC 'Bubbles'

As I reported elsewhere, the recent ESRC events in London and Brighton gave a good insight into developments at the Council, and how they are planning to implement their Delivery Plan. One of the slides in Adrian Alsop's presentation was a graphic representation of how their schemes fitted together neatly to fill the career of a social science academic, from 'early' to 'senior', and from £100k to £5m+. Here it is:
However, I think this is a little disingenuous. It suggest that there is a wide range of funding available to a wide range of academics at pretty much any time in their careers. It suggests that early career researchers (including those doing PhDs) can apply for Centre and Large Grants, as well as having a pretty good crack at the whip when it comes to Research Grants.

However, given the size of these grants, I think the ESRC is really looking for someone with a considerable track record, both for their research and for the management of grants. So, more realistically, it should look something like this:
So, on the left are the Future Leaders who are less than 4 years from their PhDs, and on the right are the more senior researchers with at least 10 years postdoc experience. This leaves a big gap in the middle where there's not a lot, apart from the soon to be announced Secondary Data Analysis Initiative and various international and knowledge exchange schemes.

This area - let's reclaim the political phrase du jour and call it the 'squeezed middle' - is ill served elsewhere. Perhaps the 'deserted middle' is more accurate. The BA does have the 'Mid-career Fellowship', but this only offers 40 grants annually. To both those in the social sciences and humanities. Nationally.

The forthcoming 'risky' research route will redress this somewhat, but what about mid career researchers who are doing good, solid work that doesn't rely on risks? Bide your time and don't bother us seems to be the message from the redrawn ESRC bubbles.

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