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I am a UK-based PhD candidate with viva scheduled in a few weeks' time. I have a research idea that I would like to work on post-graduation, and I have also identified an organisation (in the UK) and a potential PI, whom I'd like to propose my project to. However, being a first-gen academic, I don't know how to go about these things, and I don't really have anyone I could ask for advice on this matter. So, what would be the 'correct' way to start moving things forward, considering that I don't currently have any funding or affiliations; should I approach the potential PI directly to enquire whether they would be interested in the project/hosting me/collaborating in funding applications, or should I try to secure funding first? Also, if approaching directly, should I present a full research proposal at the first contact or, initially, just a short email with a brief summary of my idea? Do I need to be worried about being 'scooped' in case they were not interested in collaboration?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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    "I don't really have anyone I could ask for advice on this matter" - what about your PhD advisor? I think it's fine to ask the question here, too, but this is the sort of thing your advisor is for.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 17:08
  • I agree that would be the ideal source for this type of information, but our relationship is somewhat complicated, so I don't feel comfortable initiating this conversation with them. Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 17:12
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    Remarkable that you see a difference bc you are a fisrt-gen academic. Do you mean in terms of parents or more in general terms?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 17:47
  • Yes exactly, as in my family or other relatives won't be able to advise me on this. Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 18:00

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Since you are approaching a potential postdoc mentor you don't know particularly well (otherwise you'd be having this conversation with them) and have your own research project, the first step would be to identify where the money might be coming from. You'd be looking for a Postdoctoral Fellowship.

For fresh PhD, the Leverhulme Trust or the relevant research council (eg EPSRC for mathematics or computer science) are funders offering postdoc fellowships. Look up the relevant funding scheme. If a funder offers something like "80% of the full economic costs", the university hosting you would make money on it, and it thus shouldn't be too difficult to get supported*. But eg the Leverhulme Trust is afaik only paying for half of your costs, and the host would need pay for the rest. Now you know what you are asking for, what the time frame is, and roughly what is needed for the application.

You can then send an email with the key bits of information together with a short description of what you want to do to your chosen mentor. I would expect that you'll need support in putting together an outstanding application. Both the prospective mentor or a specialized team at the host institution might be available to help.

[*] Even if the university doesn't have to put money towards your fellowship, they may still restrict how many applications they are willing to support. For example, EPSRC is asking universities to do a preselection of some sorts. If the university offers extensive application mentoring, they'll be particularly keen to focus on the most promising candidates.

As a final comment, you need to be aware that these fellowship schemes all tend to have rather low successrates. (If it is in the two digits, it is rather high for a fellowship scheme.) So definitely don't count on this working out.

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  • Thank you, this was extremely helpful! Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 18:09
  • 'the Leverhulme Trust or the relevant research council are funders offering postdoc fellowships' Add to this list the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust (for biomedical types), and some university-specific schemes such as the Oppenheimer Research Fellowships or the Herchel Smith Fund. Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 22:24
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    @DanielHatton I've only listed fellowships that don't have a minimum post-PhD duration (as that is what the OP is looking for). So the Royal Society is out.
    – Arno
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 23:16
  • You might also be eligible for the human frontiers science program (HSPF) fellowships, and Marie Curie (if you can find a partner in another EU country). Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 12:55

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