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I'm in my 3rd year of postdocs and started to apply for Lecturer positions in Computer Science the UK (the entry level permanent faculty positions). As part of my interview process, I am required to give a 15 minute presentation about my current research and my three year research plan, and am looking for some advice on how to do the latter. The focus of the research plan presentation is not only on the ideas you propose, but in major part about how you plan to obtain funding for it and how many research staff you can bring in from that funding to support your research.

I've looked through some other questions regarding UK faculty applications, research plan writing and content, which offer some good advice. However, I am looking for advice specifically targeting early-career researchers applying for their first faculty position.

The two specific aspects I am concerned about is the transition from postdoctoral positions where shorter-term career plans are the norm, as well as my relative inexperience with grant writing (I've recently been included in the late stages of grant writing by my advisor, but that's it).

Of course I am not planning to take the answers I get here my only source of information; I have an advisor happy to discuss this with me and give me specific tips, and have been looking up information about funding for new faculty members online as well as through chatting with fresh hires in my department (with some hinting they rely on the informal support and sharing of more junior research staff from within their team while applying for initial external funding).

So, considering that I've never held a faculty position, have limited experience with grant applications (but an understanding that it is an acquired skill as well as very competitive and thus uncertain), never independently proposed a research project (tho I am always active in proposing and typically independent in choosing which approaches I want to apply to problems), and never formally worked with a PhD or a postdoctoral researcher for full the duration of a project, the questions I have are:

  • How "confidently" am I supposed to write the research plan? Should I write it assuming I will have a student / research postdoc available to work with, or should I also present a plan for the situation where I do not have "my own staff" for a while?

    One major consideration is that UK faculty typically has about 40% of their time dedicated to research (rest is teaching and admin), as opposed to research staff (PhD students and postdocs) with 90+% of their time dedicated to research. Therefore the amount of research that one realistically can conduct would depend substantially on how much funding one manages to secure.

  • How many backup grant options do I need to include? I understand there is some grant options specifically targeting fresh faculty in the UK, so should I demonstrate that I plan to ask the appropriate parties for funding, or also try to cover the case of no applications being successful?

  • To summarize: I am concerned and would like advice about the level of confidence in the tone of a 3-year research plan for a fresh faculty member.

    I worry that, on the one hand, including many backup options could be seen as "setting myself up to fail", while, on the other hand, too confident a tone would make me come across as somebody not understanding the competitiveness and difficulties in obtaining funding due to my lack of experience.

The level of detail is clear from the format: it's a 15 minute presentation with some time for questions, so I won't have time to talk in much detail, but I might be asked to elaborate on any aspect of it. All in all, I am a fair deal nervous, and I'm not even sure I'm asking the right questions here; any advice from the perspective of applying for a first-time faculty position would be great.

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I see from comments that the interview is past, but here's still some thoughts on this that might be useful for someone else.

I would say that your results at a 3-years horizon don't depend that much on funding prospects, mainly because you're not starting with those funds from day 1, and as a new lecturer you're certainly not expected to have an army of postdocs working for you in the first couple of years.

You might spend a few months writing the grant proposal, then the process will take some more months, and then from decision to start date there's more time... so assuming success you might be able to hire someone to start in a year at best, more realistically two. Then would you start immediately with postdocs? Unless you're one of several investigators in a larger project, that doesn't sound realistic. Rather you'll probably be supervising MSc projects, and you might hope for one or two PhD students to start within those three years, and with any luck get their first paper or two. I think what you need to pitch is a set of ideas that could form a grant proposal and some realistic-sounding MSc and PhD topics.

The bottom line is that you're being asked for a 3-year plan to see whether you can actually prepare a plan that involves medium- to long-term goals, rather than just think of the next development of what you're doing at the moment.

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My situation was a bit different as I went directly from my mathematics PhD to a faculty position (in the US). But when I finished the doctorate I had a file drawer full of speculative ideas and ideas left unexplored from the work on the dissertation. If you have such a thing, or could create it, you should 'mine' it for ideas that are yet to be explored. These should be easy for you to discuss since you already touched on them in your past, though if you haven't already recorded them you have some work to do. For such work you can probably speak with confidence.

Fifteen minutes isn't very long, so you don't need a lot of material. But you might think about the fact that since you will also be teaching, research that students could potentially participate in could be especially valued. Also, you have likely gained insight into a wide range of ideas that are at least peripherally related to your current research. That wide range opens doors to a moderately broad "area" of research that increases your likelihood of success in exploring at least some of the ideas. While research is necessarily narrow for a given idea, there are related areas, most likely, that increase your range and hence your desirability as a colleague.


Sorry that I can't speak much about UK funding, but in general, "interesting" ideas are also interesting to funders. Likewise, appearing to a funder as someone with a lot of ideas (and therefore potential) is also an advantage.

  • Thank you for your answer. My interview was a week ago at this point, so waiting for the response atm. The "idea drawer" sounds very interesting, and something I will try to implement from now on. However, the focus of the (research) presentation in the UK is in a big part on obtaining funding so your answer covers just half of my question. I was more interested in how to go about presenting the uncertainty with funding applications - about half of what I said regarding each research proposal was about the idea itself, the rest was about getting it funded and making (industrial, social) impact – penelope Nov 7 '18 at 13:59
  • Also, just for extra context, while the main part of the interview follows and is with the same panel as the presentation of the research plan, there is in fact a separate teaching presentation before of a different panel. Since the bulk of the interview follows the research plan presentation, they were also asking some questions about teaching, but that aspect is mostly covered in front of a different panel. – penelope Nov 7 '18 at 14:05
  • I think, when I wrote the question, I was interested mostly in how funded I should assume I will be during the time I am presenting the research plan for. You only get about 40% of your time allocated to research as faculty in the UK. So, the actual goal of the presentation was to say stuff like: "for research idea A, I will aim to fund it from the agency B, which will allow me to hire a postdoctoral researcher for X years to work on A". Consequently, the research plan takes a much different shape depending on how much funding you (assume) you are going to obtain. – penelope Nov 7 '18 at 14:25
  • Also, I might be wrong on this, but the only way to appear to a funder as "prolific" is by your past profile in the terms of what you published, and which projects you got funded. Since PI grants are usually given for a specific project with concrete goals, I was advised that including too many ideas in your research proposal for a grant application will make your application weaker, as it appears you have no clear idea of what to do and and/or have not clearly defined your project goals. – penelope Nov 7 '18 at 14:28

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