50th Anniversary Prize Researchers 

Fellowships and studentships

Aston celebrates its 50th anniversary as a University this year. As part of our celebrations and to build on our strong performance in REF 2014, the University has launched a Prize Fellowships and Prize Studentships scheme to create 50 Prize Researchers for our 50th year. This scheme will invest in our exciting and dynamic research future through our next generation of research leaders - Aston’s ‘Research Pioneers’.

The Prizes, which will be available across our five Schools, will address societal challenges and Government priorities in research fields that are of strategic importance to Aston.

Fellowships and studentships

The scheme will fund 10 Fellowships and 40 Studentships over four years, and will operate on a shared cost basis, with 50% of the funding coming from the University or School, and 50% coming from external sources, for example donations and sponsorship. Allocations of these awards will be split equally across our five Schools in the first instance, with the option for Schools to bid for further awards in the event that some positions are not required.

Prize fellowships

Prize Fellowships will provide two years’ funding for a Research Fellow, with academic excellence being the primary criterion. The Fellowships may start in any of the academic years 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19, and should all complete by 2020-21. Following successful completion of a Fellowship, there is an expectation that the post will be converted to non-fixed term academic post, which will be managed in the same way as other new lecturer posts in the Schools. This means that future School funding needs to be agreed with the relevant Executive Dean before applying. Fellowships will be funded through a 50% match from the University, with the remaining 50% being provided by industry, a donation, or a competitively won grant.

Prize studentships

Prize Studentships will provide 3 years’ funding for a PhD student, to enable high-achieving graduates to start doctoral research programmes in our Schools. 20 Studentships will be allocated pro-rata across our five Schools and must start in 2016-17 (preferably October 2016 or January 2017 to maximise the number of completions in the current REF assessment period). A further 20 Studentships will be retained for use in strategic bids such as COFUND and CDT applications during the academic years 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Studentships will be funded through a 50% match split equally between the University and School, with the remaining 50% being provided by industry or a donation.

How will Studentships and Fellowships opportunities be advertised?

Studentships will be advertised on FindaPhD and jobs.ac.uk

Fellowship opportunities will be advertised by jobs.ac.uk, and internationally, in addition to the Aston jobs website.

  1. Academic staff at Aston are invited to apply to supervise or host Studentships or Fellowships respectively.  To be eligible to apply staff must hold a teaching and research contract which is long enough to allow them to supervise a student or fellow to completion.

  2. Schools will organise calls for applications to align with other Studentship or Fellowship competitions and to ensure fit with their strategic priorities. Before applying, staff should have confirmation that School support is available in terms of matched funding (25%) for the Studentships; and continuation funding in the case of the Fellows.

  3. Once School support is confirmed staff should then secure their external matched funding at 50% of the overall cost - for a single award or multiple awards - either via gaining commitment from Industry or other external funding sources, via working with their ADRs and the Research and Enterprise Office (REO), or by a donation; exploratory conversations regarding donations from Trusts and private donors should be undertaken with the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO).

  4. The application is then submitted to the Prize Scheme Management Panel. 

  5. Upon approval of award applicants may advertise the position. 

Assessment of proposals

Proposals will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • The novelty, timeliness and quality of the proposed research 
  • Fit with University and School strategy 
  • Fit with global or societal challenges expressed by Government or funding agencies 
  • The track record or, in the case of Early Career Researchers, potential of the applicant to supervise a successful studentship or fellowship 
  • The potential for significant and far-reaching impact from the research, both academically and beyond 
  • A well-developed training and development programme. 

The Prize Researchers schemes will be managed by a central Prize Scheme Management Panel (PSMP), which reports to the University Research Committee. Members of the PSMP will include:
Paul Maropoulos (Chair), Andrew Harris, Helen Higson, five research active academics (Jim Shields - LSS, Qasim Rafiq - LHS, Shakil Ahmad - LHS, Alison Legood - ABS and Alex Rozhin -EAS), Karen Woodhall (Prize Scheme Manager) and Sally Puzey.

The PSMP will be responsible for:

  • Assessing applications to the fund and the allocation of University funding 
  • Monitoring the operation of the scheme 
  • Advising Schools of budgetary obligations following each round of awards 
  • Managing the balance of funding in the scheme’s portfolio of awards 
  • Re-allocating Fellowships and Studentships that are not taken up from the initial allocations to Schools 
  • Considering cases that may not precisely fit the funding principles outlined above, for example due to disciplinary characteristics, or strategic initiatives and priorities 
  • Reviewing the scheme annually and reporting on the impact of the scheme to the University Executive.

The fundamental aim of the Prize scheme is to bring in higher numbers of PhDs as the building blocks of our future research environment.  We are keen to start as many studentships as possible within the next year, with the next REF census dates in mind. 

Ten fellowships are also available – these need school support as they will become tenured positions.  Once funding is identified there will be a recruitment process via the usual Aston process.


These awards are described as full-time positions, is there any scope to hold the awards on a part-time or flexible basis?

Yes, Aston is committed to providing family-friendly and flexible work options in order to support a diverse staff and student population.  In line with this commitment studentship and fellowships are available on a full and part-time basis.

How does the funding model for the prizes work and how funding will actually be allocated to the Schools (eg lump sum direct transfer from REO to School budgets in the next financial year/beginning of each financial year of the studentships?)

We will arrange this via finance – it is likely to be a lump sum transfer at the beginning of the year

What are the future plans – are the same funding schemes planned for future years?

The current planning is for the studentship scheme to run for 2-3 years in terms of allocations, and the fellowships until 2020. We need to prove the success of the scheme to secure further investment beyond that.


What level of funding is available for the studentships?

£90k is available over three years.  This is expected to cover a stipend, UK/EC fees and a Research Training and Support Grant.

Can the studentships be used as match for the Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership?

No, prize studentships cannot ordinarily be used as match for DTPs.  Exceptionally, to support disciplines that cannot easily secure a match, applicants may submit a request to use the prize fund to support DTP studentships. Any such decisions are at the discretion of the Prize Studentship Management Panel (PSMP)

Can grant funding from charities be used as matched funding for studentships?

Yes, the application needs the support from the school and an offer of funding in from the charity before the Award is confirmed.  Exceptionally, the PSMP will give an in principle commitment, to allow staff to proceed with a bid for funding (if the bid requires confirmation of support up front).

Do professional doctorates count as studentships under this scheme? 

Yes, the scheme covers professional doctorates where they are in priority areas for the School.

Do PhDs have to build on existing research capability or can they be in new areas 

Studentships can be in new areas of research or support intuition based investigation. Studentships could also be aligned with existing research topics.

The current scheme seems to favour established researchers with guaranteed research income. How do you ensure early career researchers, who still need pilot data to apply for further grants, will benefit from this scheme?

Schools have been asked to consider how they support ECRs in accessing funding through this scheme, alongside the other support they have for ECRs, for example through putting in place collaborative supervision, or other structures.

How does the REO studentship prize application process work and how does it link to School application processes?

We have aligned with the School processes to make sure that we are not duplicating effort.  Discussions have taken place with Associate Deans for Research to achieve this.

How do we deal with enquiries from the central webpage now that some Schools have already allocated all studentships for next year?

Schools may increase their intake, with approval from PSMP, if they identify additional matched funding available and may wish to start to build enquiries for future years. DARO will continue to search for funding opportunities, many of which will have a 12-18 month lead in time from first discussions to funding.

How will the scheme operate once the first 20 studentships have been allocated – the next 20 were to be allocated against CDTs/equivalent but there are no calls in the right window?

We need to be innovative in our allocation of future studentships.  Our first priority is to show demand in the first round and we do not anticipate a problem finding schemes to match fund.


Who applies for the fellowship, the proposed Fellow or the proposed supervisor?

Staff who are interested in hosting a fellowship are invited to express interest in the Fellowships to their Associate Dean for Research, and then, once funding is confirmed, applicants will be invited formally via our University recruitment processes.  

There are four parts to the application process: 

  • The School identifies the areas of strategic importance to the School in which Fellowships applications are invited and confirms that there will be future funding in the School Budget for successful candidates after the 2 year period. 
  • The strategic areas in which the School invite applications for Fellows are communicated to all the School staff and will be advertised, seeking to proactively generate interest from exceptional candidates.*
  • Potential supervisors, grant holders, research centre directors and potentially candidates for the Fellowships seek to secure the matched funding at 50% from external sources.*
  • An application is made to the scheme for the University match.

* these stages may run in parallel

Once the University match is agreed, the fellowship recruitment process can then be run and completed. 

Whilst it is possible to name a fellow as part of the application for the Fellowship, our preference is to widely advertise the fellowships to ensure that the best talent is identified.

What terms and conditions apply to the Fellowships?

Normal research staff terms and conditions of employment will apply to these posts.  Alongside these procedures, key objectives and milestones relating to the fellowships will  be agreed with the Fellow’s line manager.  In addition, we will be developing a tailored training package to accelerate their development as academic leaders in the field.

What are the conditions relating to the Tenure Track position?

Fellowship holders are expected to progress to a tenure track position of Lecturer upon successful completion of the Fellowship.  Progression to the Tenure track position would be handled via the normal probation procedures, and would be dependent on successful completion of probation and achievement of agreed objectives.

Does the matched funding need to be in place before the application for the Fellowship is made? What happens if the match falls through?

Yes, an “in principle” offer of funding should be obtained from the funder.  If the offer of funding is subsequently withdrawn, then the fellowship would normally be returned to the School for reallocation.

What are the deadlines for applying?

There are no fixed deadlines – applications are welcomed from 1st March 2016 onwards, but applications should be made via the School (Associate Dean for Research). 

What are the eligibility conditions relating to the fellowship?

Fellowships will be awarded in areas of strategic priority for our Schools. 

e.g. The awards are to fund Fellows based at Aston University and are not transferable to other institutions.  Having said that a Fellow could have a placement at a research partner of the University during the fellowship.

What are the eligibility conditions relating to the Fellow?

Appointment of the Fellow will be conducted through an open recruitment process and the appointment made on the basis of the scientific and academic excellence of the proposal and the track record and potential of the candidate. 

What costs are covered by the Fellowships?  

The fellowships will cover the appointment of a Fellow over 2 years (Full-time) at Grade 8 or 9, according to skills and experience.  In addition the fellowship will fund contributions to travel, conference attendance, and consumables.  The resources proposed for the Fellowship should be outlined as part of the Fellowship proposal at the application stage.

What is the application process for the Fellowships, once the pool of candidates is identified and the matched funding agreed?

Schools will each run their own recruitment and selection processes for the fellowships and these will be announced in due course.

How will the progression of Fellowships to academic appointment be managed?

Fellowships will be awarded on the basis of an excellent research track record and the potential for Fellows to develop into future research leaders.  Fellows will be set criteria for progression that are relevant to the definition of excellent research in their discipline.  Fellows’ progress towards meeting these criteria will be supported and monitored by their line manager throughout their Fellowship.  

Is it possible to use an RA post on an EPSRC grant as leverage to match fund a fellowship? Can you use an RA on an EPSRC grant?

No, the scheme is designed to fund new activity and bring in new funding.  It is also important that the Fellowship functions as a training award for the Fellow, which would not be possible if grant conditions applied.  There would be potential to use the Prize scheme tied to EPSRC fellowship funding as a pro-active gesture when applying for funding, although there would need to be a clear case for the prize fund being used as leverage for funding that would not otherwise be forthcoming.

How does the postdoctoral fellowship scheme work and how do Schools deal with enquiries. 

Schools have identified strategically important areas aligned to their centres of excellence.  They are expected to partner with REO and DARO to find matched funding as needed.  We are able to advertised fellowship opportunities on an “apply to apply” basis if schools wish and this will be discussed with Associate Deans for Research.

How are fellowships costed?

Fellowships are costed on a Full Economic cost basis including Fellow Salary costs (Grade 8 or Grade 9 Researcher) + supervision costs + Travel costs and consumables.  REO can provide detailed advice on subject-specific costs as these will vary according to discipline.

Is the Fellowships scheme a rolling programme? 

Yes, we have matched funding for up to 10 fellowships to run over the period 2016-2020.  

Are the fellowships targeted at staff outside Aston or staff who are already here?

Our intention is to attract and support world leading researchers to establish an academic career at Aston – applications will be judged on their merits and academic excellence is the primary criterion. Whilst attracting researchers to Aston is an objective, this will not rule out world leading researchers who are already at Aston.

Academic staff should discuss their interest in the first instance, via the appropriate Associate Dean for Research.

School Research panel:

 Support is also available from the Research & Enterprise Office and the Development & Alumni Relations Office as follows: