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Early Career Researcher Awards

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Who: Vitae North West Hub and the Manchester Beacon

What: A regional conference for external PE and community organisations launching the seed awards for Early Career Researchers

Why: To provide small seed grants to create opportunities for early career researchers to be supported to communicate their research in an inspirational, accessible and relevant way to local communities.

Where: Across the NW region

Project descriptionEarly career researcher awards

Vitae is an organisation that provides resources, advice, information for postgraduate and new researchers interested in professional development. The Manchester Beacon aims to support the embedding of public engagement within professional development for postgraduate students and academic staff.

Working in partnership, the Vitae NW Hub and the Manchester Beacon organised a regional conference at which external community organisations were invited to take part in a networking event. At the conference the seed awards were launched and circulated through established networks.

Six of the eleven applicants were asked to attend an interview panel comprised of the Vitae NW Hub Manager and an external community representative. Five awards were made:

  • The Guernsey Evacuee Experience: Joanne Fritton (Bury Archive Service) and Gill Mawson (University of Manchester)
  • The Summer Corrosion Ball: Dr Marieke Navin (MOSI), James Smith (University of Manchester) and  Alice Laferrere (University of Manchester)
  • PAGER: Professor John Radford (University of Manchester), Dr Kim Litton (University of Manchester) and Nicola Stones (University of Manchester)
  • Science and the Short Story: Ra Page (Comma Press) and Sarah Fox (University of Manchester)
  • How Green are You?: Professor Nigel Linge ((University of Salford) and Qi Liu (University of Salford)

An important element of the project was the learning journey of all awardees. The early career researchers were mentored by their partners and three group support meetings were held during the project at which awardees and mentors could share their successes, concerns and problems. Creative consultants were commissioned to record the journeys.

“…it required them [early career researcher] to look beyond their specific line of research and appreciate its relevance to the wider world.” Award Mentor

“… their [early career researchers] presentation skills have greatly improved and they have seen a dramatic increase in invitations to give academic presentations both in the UK and abroad.” Award Mentor


  • To provide quality training and practical opportunities for early career researchers from Manchester and the North West to engage in public engagement
  • To develop collaborative partnerships between public engagement providers and early career researchers with an emphasis on their individual learning journeys
  • To increase the levels of public engagement activity between universities and communities by sharing the learning and experiences across the NW region
  • To develop a successful collaborative partnership with Vitae/Vitae NW Hub

Results and outcomes

What worked well

  • Sharing expertise and resources with the Vitae NW Hub enriched the support and management of the programme.
  • Offering a networking event at the regional conference allowed new partnerships to be formed
  • Using a mentoring model created a two-way partnership with personal and professional development benefits for both mentees and mentors
  • Participants felt valued and supported throughout the process which enhanced their learning
  • Recording the learning journeys of awardees by using video, audio and photography has left a rich legacy to be shared with others

“For the mentor, it was extremely satisfying to observe the improvements and gain in confidence of the early career researchers as they progressed through this project…” Award Mentor

“It was a lot of work but so rewarding. The more you put into it the bigger your success.” Early Career Researcher

“Having a mentor was essential.” Early Career Researcher

Lessons learnt

  • Awardees found the timeline to deliver the project very demanding. It was important to ensure that they were not overambitious and set realistic objectives
  • To build into the process more time to record the learning journeys so as not to place more pressure on awardees
  • Provide more professional development opportunities to support partnership collaboration and partnership working

Top Tips

  1. Manage expectations between different project partners and ensure they set realistic objectives
  2. Provide networking events to facilitate the creation of new collaborative partnerships – many do not just happen!
  3. Use support meetings to support and share learning between the awardees
  4. Build in the recording and evaluation of the journey of awardees from the outset

Next Steps

All the awardees intend to continue their partnerships and work together in the future. Ideas include creating web resources, running more events including an in-depth workshop for schools, applying for additional funding, and the training of colleagues. One project is to feature on a regional television programme and another will be published in an anthology.

The Beacon’s partnership with the Vitae NW Hub will continue. Currently, staff are working on developing training packages on public engagement to be endorsed by Vitae and made available across the country. Based on the Vitae booklet – ‘The Engaging Researcher’ – modules will be created to support early career researcher trainers.

Consideration is also being given to how lessons can be embedded in university policies regarding researcher development.


Name: Suzanne Spicer

Role/Organisation: Project Manager, Manchester Beacon (University of Manchester) 


Photo courtesy of the Manchester Beacon, all rights resevered