University of Surrey - EPSRC Capital Award Emphasising Support for Early Career Researchers (ECRs)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Vice Provost (Research & Innovation)


Early Career Researchers (ECRs) are vital to the success of any research university, shaping future research programmes and strategy through the novelty of their ideas, through the leading techniques and methods they employ and by helping create a vibrant and dynamic research culture through their participation in the wider activities of their departments, faculties and the University itself.
To have the best chance to develop into internationally regarded research leaders, these ECRs need the right support from their Universities. That support includes provision of, or access to, the state-of-art equipment which is often necessary to conduct the highest quality research. Access to World Class Laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment can represent an important distinctive capability

Of course, having novel ideas and access to equipment are not the only factors that will determine how successful a researcher will be in developing their careers. Increasingly, success comes from being able to work in multidisciplinary teams focused on tackling complex and difficult challenges. Thus, ECRs also need support in developing their networks and encouraging collaborations with other academics and with the user of research in industry, government and the third sector.

With this award of £150k from the EPSRC, the University of Surrey intends to ensure that we extend the equipment capabilities available to researchers in general and to ECRs in particular. We are looking for a step-change difference in our capability. To achieve this we will make a maximum of three awards ensuring that resources are not spread too thinly. In addition, we will match the EPSRC funds with a University investment making £300k available in total. The Principal Investigator (PI) for each award will be an ECR. The Head of Department within which the PI is based will provide technical support for the equipment throughout the grant period and at least 6 hours per week for the PI to engage on the project.

The University will also award the equipment through a process that will encourage collaboration both within the University and beyond. We will do this first be specifying that awards will only be made to a collaborative team of investigators within which there must be at least one other eligible ECRs beyond the Principal Investigator. We will also insist that between 10% and 30% of the time available on the equipment should be made available to the wider research community beyond the collaborative team. This will not only provide an incentive to develop new networks but will also serve to encourage new research programmes as the community approach our team with research ideas of their own.

Planned Impact

Given the nature of the award, this section describes the beneficiaries in general terms. Specific impacts will form part of the assessment of the individual projects later supported.

A key route to impact exists through the University's membership of SETSquared. This innovation partnership comprises the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey and represents a primary channel for accelerating impact from partners' research. Since its formation, the partnership has seen over 6,500 companies participate in its programmes and has contributed nearly £9 billion to the UK economy. In 2018 it was recognised once again by UBI Global as the World's Top Business Incubator, a title it has held since 2015. Through the University's partnerships team, we will ensure that the research undertaken as part of this award is connected to SETsquared.

The University has developed strategic relationships with a number of key organisations in the region who are well placed to utilise relevant research outcomes. We have the contacts and infrastructure in place to allow researchers to easily connect to these organisations:

- Surrey was selected by the (then) Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to be a strategic partner of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). NPL is the UK's national measurement institute, and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, with over 500 scientists across disciplines, from physics to biochemistry, mathematics to materials science. These scientists engage in work with industrial partners. NPL was recently recognised as a 'top 100 training provider' by SEMTA, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering, Manufacturing and Technology.
- With 2,300 researchers and operating in 19 countries, LGC is an international leader in the extended life sciences sector, including human healthcare, agri-food & the environment.
- The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK. Our materials programme and facilities are particularly connected to the DSTL priorities.
- The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) plays a crucial role in national defence. The University is a strategic partner university and we are working together to develop supporting strategies in materials characterisation and in threat reduction.

We have also developed a close relationship with EM3, the Local Enterprise Partnership, and building on their relationship work closely with the key capabilities in the region. A specific example is G3 Futures, standing for Galvanising Guildford Games for the future. This was initiated by the University, Charles Russell Speechlys and UKIE (the industry body for interactive entertainment). The region surrounding the M3 Corridor contains the UK's largest concentration of creative businesses and jobs, outside of London and G3 Futures has already engaged 150 companies. Research in computer vision, interactive technologies and artificial intelligence is of particular value to those companies. These are fast moving areas which, as previous strategic equipment awards demonstrate, can benefit significantly from investment in state-of-the-art capital.

In addition to these channels for accelerating impact, the University's Technology Transfer Office provides specific support to help the research community work with business. It does this dynamically and in response to the specific opportunities offered by the research. The University is highly effective at this, ranking 26th in the 2008-2015 HEBCIS League table. Within that overall figure, the University was ranked 1st for income from sales of shares in spin-outs, 4th for licence income as % of research income, and 5th for total IP income.


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