Early Career Research Fellowships

Our Early Career Researcher (ECR) Fellowships aim to encourage ECRs from the economic and social sciences to engage with work that can support UK manufacturing to become more productive, sustainable, and competitive through the innovation and diffusion of digital technology.


InterAct are keen to involve Early Career Researchers (ECRs) within the network. We are particularly eager to see ECRs from the economic and social sciences engaging with work that can support UK manufacturing become more productive, sustainable, and competitive through the innovation and diffusion of digital technology.

We recognise that it can be harder for ECRs who do not yet hold grants to get involved in communities like ours and kick-start interdisciplinary research collaborations. We are offering a further 10 ESRC InterAct Fellowships, to help address this challenge. The Fellowships are each £5000 funded at 100% FEC by ESRC through the InterAct Network.

Fellows will have discretion as to how they use this money, so long as it supports the InterAct and Made Smarter agendas. Awards will be nine months in duration and the funding will be paid in advance as a single lump sum payment.

You can find out more below or review our FAQs video on YouTube.


Call opens – launch date   Thursday 7th September 2023
Closing time and date for applicationsFriday 20th October 2023, 12:00 (midday)
Funding decision   W/C 6th November 2023
Project start date (latest)Monday 8th January 2024
Project end date (latest)Monday 7th October 2024


Early Career Researchers are normally broadly defined as within 8 years of PhD submission or having held an academic position for less than 4 years (full-time equivalent). We are also open to applications from PhD candidates in the later stages of their studies (with written permission from their PhD supervisor). ECR applicants must have a contractual arrangement with a UK university or research organisation (either as an employee or as a student), who will hold the grant on behalf of the fellow.

InterAct want to be as inclusive as possible and welcome diversity in all that we do. In recognition of the increasing diversity of career trajectories we will not narrowly follow a timebound definition of ‘early career researcher’, but rather use this as a guide.

We recognise that some researchers will embark on an active research career directly following their PhD but others will not and, as such, could still be considered as being an early career researcher for a longer period of time. If this applied to you then just tell us why we should consider you as an early career researcher (in a max of 300 words). This justification will be considered as part of the peer review process.

For example:

• Those who have spent periods of time outside of academia i.e., due to illness, parental leave, unemployment, or employment outside of academia in non-research roles.

• Applicants who may have been employed in academia but in posts with limited or no scope for their own research such as teaching-only contracts.

• Applicants may have had prior experience in one discipline but are aiming to re-skill in a new area of research.

Given the limited funding available, we would not normally expect someone who is already in receipt of funding through an Early Career Research scheme aimed at supporting their transition to becoming an independent researcher to apply.

Eligible activities

Whilst ultimately the Fellow will have discretion on the day-to-day use of the Fellowship money, applications should outline initial plans, the ultimate use and expected outcomes. Below we have made some suggestions as to potential uses of the funding, but these are by no means exhaustive:

  • Travel, accommodation, and subsistence to attend InterAct events.
  • Organising gatherings of researchers to discuss future research plans related to the Made Smarter and InterAct objectives.
  • Attending events that bring together early career researchers that may result in future research related to the Made Smarter and InterAct objectives.
  • Running special tracks at conferences related to the Made Smarter and InterAct objectives.
  • Purchasing support such as transcription services and data sets to support research related to the Made Smarter and InterAct objectives.
  • Impact activities related to the Made Smarter and InterAct objectives eg, podcasts, storytelling, and events.

Please note: the funding cannot be used to cover staff costs or any research activities.


To align with the expectations of InterAct, successful applicants shall:

  • Provide updates on activities, progress towards objectives, engagement activities, project reach, publications, other outputs and outcomes, actionable insights, impact planned or achieved and future plans. The collated outputs will be included in the InterAct Researchfish submission.
  • Engage with the InterAct community by attending InterAct events such as the Annual Conference in October 2024 (date to be confirmed).
  • Promote and amplify InterAct through their own networks. The successful individuals will ensure they remain in contact with the InterAct Communications Manager to keep them appraised of any significant developments requiring communications support or promotion.
  • Permit research outcomes and updates to be shared with the wider InterAct Network via marketing channels and communications.
  • UKRI has commissioned SQW, an independent research consultancy (www.sqw.co.uk), in collaboration with the survey company IFF, Frazer Nash and the Institute for Manufacturing (University of Cambridge), to evaluate the programme. The evaluation will continue to 2025.

    SQW will conduct a range of research activity for the evaluation including a survey of companies receiving funding from the programme, interviews with stakeholders and programme participants and analysis of secondary and monitoring data. By submitting an application for this InterAct ECR fellowship, which is part of the Made Smarter Innovation programme, you agree UKRI may share your contact details with SQW. SQW may subsequently contact you to discuss your involvement with InterAct.

    Any information you provide SQW will be treated in confidence and held securely. No information you provide will be attributed to you or your organisation. Aggregated and analysed responses will be used to prepare reports to UKRI. You can find SQW’s privacy notice here

Selection process

Important note: InterAct reserves the right to reject proposals that are incomplete and that do not meet the requirements highlighted on the checklist before sending them to reviewers. The checklist can be found in the application form.

Assessment criteria

There are four ‘Primary Criteria’ against which all proposals shall be assessed through peer review and panel processes. Each contains key points, as shown below. Proposals shall be scored against each of the criteria on a scale of 0-3, as follows:

0 = sub-criteria not met

1 = sub-criteria partially met

3 = sub-criteria fully met

NeedExplaining the need for the funding
Bridging the gap between social science and technologyWe are looking for proposals that have the potential to bridge the gap between academic disciplines (and/or possibly practice).

We particularly encourage ideas that bring new perspectives from the economic and social sciences (including business and management, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology).

That address the aims of the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge to increase the innovation and diffusion of industrial digital technologies in UK manufacturing and support efforts to achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Bringing together people from different disciplines through meetings, discussions, events, conferences or research.
Value for moneyProvide a clear justification for all resources requested.

Explain why your request is appropriate, given your review scope, ambition etc.

State how you will contribute to InterAct, making reference to your long-term plans for follow-on funding and collaboration.
ImpactDescribe the long-term effect that you expect your activities to have on the InterAct agenda, and how you would expect this impact to be measured or recognised.  

Set out your pathway/s to impact, including your target audience/s and beneficiaries, how you will reach them, and what change you expect to see.  
Potential to increase cross sector collaboration between types of academic disciplines; businesses and academics, different businesses, within the UK manufacturing sectors.     

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

We are committed to supporting the research community in the diverse ways a research career can be built. This includes career breaks, support for people with caring responsibilities, flexible working and alternative working patterns. With this in mind, we welcome applications from researchers who job share, have a part-time contract, need flexible working arrangements or those currently committed to other longer, large existing grants.


IMPORTANT: Please note that due to the terms of our funding, InterAct is not able to offer this programme to international (non-UK based) applicants.

Projects may start no later than Monday 8th January 2024. The project duration may be no longer than 9 months (All projects must be finished by Monday 7 October 2024), No extensions and or variations will be accepted under any circumstances, and all terms and conditions are non-negotiable.

Download “InterAct - Grant disbursement agreement”

Grant-Disbursement-Agreement-ESRC-InterAct.pdf – Downloaded 11 times – 228.12 KB

Download “InterAct ECR Fellowship Call 3 - Guidance Document”

InterAct-Early-Career-Researcher-Fellowship-Funding-Call-3-Guidance-Document.pdf – Downloaded 14 times – 371.80 KB

Download “InterAct ECR Fellowship Call 3 - Application Form”

InterAct-Early-Career-Researcher-Fellowship-Application-Form-Funding-Call-3.docx – Downloaded 16 times – 70.19 KB
  • The deadline for submissions is Friday 20th October 2023, 12:00 (midday).
  • The completed form and a short (2 page) CVs for applicants should be submitted in pdf format to this email address: info@interact-hub.org.
  • If you require further information or have enquiries relating to this call, please contact us at: info@interact-hub.org.


I still have questions, where should I go to find out more?

You can find out more by watching our FAQs video on YouTube. If you still have questions, please contact us at info@interact-hub.org.

Do I need to have a PhD in order to apply?

Given the aim of the scheme in supporting applicants seeking to transition to being an independent researcher, we would normally expect applicants for this type of scheme to be postdoctoral. However applications can be submitted by those who do not have a PhD if they can demonstrate that they have prior experience of conducting research at postgraduate (and beyond) level and may hold a postgraduate qualification. For example, working at a non-governmental organisation, in government or the private sector. 

Does academic research experience obtained prior to submitting my PhD affect my eligibility to the scheme? 

This is a scheme for early career researchers, it is not anticipated that those who have had a significant level of research experience either before or after a PhD would apply unless they can demonstrate that their prior experience did not allow for independent research. For example, they might have held teaching-only posts. 

Can I apply if I’m studying for, but haven’t submitted, my PhD? 

Yes; however, you need to consider whether you would be able to demonstrate your transition to being an independent researcher responsible for the leadership and management of a research grant. If not, you may want to consider seeking funding for postdoctoral support first.