Health Sciences Athena Swan

What is an ECR?


An ECR is an Early Career Researcher. The University definition of an ECR is a member of staff that is within 10 years of completing their PhD. This is also the definition for many Research Councils and the European Union.

Our Faculty is unique in the University, in that many of its staff qualify as a ECR under the University definition. In fact, some Senior Lecturers can also be ECRs within our Faculty. This poses an interesting question to the Faculty – how do we support staff who are senior in one part of their role, but new to others?

Within our Faculty, we have ECRs on fixed-term contracts (often termed post-docs), ECRs who have recently embarked on their first academic post and ECRs who are established in their academic careers but have recently completed their doctoral studies. This diversity provides several challenges, but also innovative opportunities for providing adequate, engaging and useful support.

RCUK in its FAQs on Roberts distinguishes between early stage and early career in the following way:
“generally, early stage researchers are those within 5 years of starting a PhD, early career researchers are those within 10 years of starting a PhD. Researchers in posts funded through research grants are referred to as research staff and Principal Investigators (on research grants) as academic staff”.

The AHRC define an ECR, with respect to award eligibility, as “within 8 years of the award of your PhD or equivalent professional training, or within 6 years of your first academic appointment”. This last point about appointments relates to applications for an ECR grant- but it is not lecturing that defines an ECR, rather research does. So an ECR must be employed primarily to do research and, according to the ESRC, be 2in the early stages of your research career”.

Early career researchers are defined as members of staff who meet the criteria to be selected as Category A or Category C staff on the census date (see REF2014 Assessment framework and guidance on submissions July 2011 REF 02.2011) and who started their careers as independent researchers on or after 1 August 2009. For the purposes of the REF, an individual is deemed to have started their career as an independent researcher from the point at which:

a. They held a contract of employment of 0.2 FTE or greater, which included a primary employment function of undertaking ‘research’ or ‘teaching and research’, with any HEI or other organisation, whether in the UK or overseas,


b. They undertook independent research, leading or acting as principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant or significant piece of research work. (A member of staff is not deemed to have undertaken independent research purely on the basis that they are named on one or more research outputs.)

The following do not meet the definition of an ECR (this list is not exhaustive):

a. Staff who first acted as an independent researcher while at a previous employer – whether another HEI, business or other organisation in the UK or elsewhere – before 1 August 2009, with a contract of 0.2 FTE or greater.

b. Staff who first acted as an independent researcher before 1 August 2009 and have since had a career outside of research or an extended break from their research career, before returning to research work. Such staff may reduce the number of outputs submitted according to paragraph 92a.iv (career breaks).

c. Research assistants who are ineligible to be returned to the REF, as defined in paragraphs 80-81.