The Bath Beacon scheme was set up in 2021 to develop and support groups or networks of researchers with capacity and ambition to develop large research funding applications.
We funded 7 Beacons in the pilot study, and it has been great to see these networks grow and deliver successes, in the form of securing external grants and awards, testing pilot projects and the development of new Institutes and Research Centres.
The second call was recently announced, inviting new Beacons focused on multi-disciplinary collaborations in areas aligned to UKRI’s five strategic themes and we are looking forward to seeing a broad range of applications from across the University when the call closes on the 22nd of June.
To coincide with the launch of the second call, we contacted some of the Beacon leads from the 2021/22 call; Anna Young, Pete Walker & Elisabeth Barratt Hacking, Tim Mays and David Ellis, to ask for their reflections and advice for anyone who is thinking of applying to the next call.
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- Why did you apply to the Bath Beacons scheme?
Anna: As a relatively new academic, I was looking for ways to build a network of potential collaborators in the University - I had several strong external collaborations from my previous role, but my research cuts across the Faculty of Engineering and Design and beyond, and there was not an existing grouping for me to join. The Beacon scheme seemed a good way to get a critical mass of researchers together in Offshore Renewable Energy.
Elisabeth & Pete: We initially applied because it seemed like an excellent opportunity to pursue research on significant global issues with colleagues from across the University. We believe that problems of global significance, such as how to live well within environmental limits, cannot be tackled by single disciplinary research. Whilst many colleagues have expertise and passion for such matters across the University we don’t tend to see research collaborations across Faculties. In what contexts would an educationalist, a civil engineer, a physicist, a social and policy scientist and a chemical engineer sit together to explore globally significant issues?
David: To me the beacons are equally about building leadership in a strategic area of research (via the submission of funding bids etc) as well as developing a supportive research culture - especially for early career researchers. I wanted to do both.
Tim: My research area, sustainable hydrogen and its carriers, is receiving renewed national interest and importance as part of the country’s Net Zero imperative. Having carried out research in hydrogen for over 20 years, and with wide, cognate interests across campus, the opportunity for significant University recognition and support for this area was too good a chance to miss.
- What do you think the biggest successes of your Bath Beacon have been?
Tim: I have found the Beacon to be a useful, substantive indicator externally of the University's support for a particular research area / theme (for example in University Letters of Support), and internally for realising cross-campus interest. The Beacon has also helped generate local and regional interest, for example via the GW4 network. In addition, the Beacon has helped leverage £2M in EPSRC Awards, and we have over £20M in pending applications including one to become a national coordinating hub and another to lead a “hydrogen” CDT.
Anna: The Beacon has enabled visibility across the University and has got a group of us working together who otherwise might not have met (particularly across the engineering and science faculties). We are also finding that approaching external industrial collaborators as a Beacon gives us a coherent identity/brand and generates bigger opportunities.
David: The Beacon has helped us submit more funding bids and generate new lines of impact. At the same time, the group continues to expand, and we all now have a better understanding of existing capacity across the University. It has also helped raise our profile with funders directly. For example, our work heavily aligns with ESRC strategic priorities concerning the use of digital footprint data across the social sciences.
Elisabeth & Pete: The Beacon enabled a diverse range of disciplines to come together and contribute to the University’s overarching theme of sustainability; without the Beacon initiative this would not have happened. Our core group had not previously worked together, or even met each other before. We think one of our key successes has been to grow a strong cohesive community. This has involved finding ways to communicate and build ideas across, and in the spaces between, disciplines. This is not easy and takes time.
Further, this success has been transdisciplinary in that we have engaged with partners outside of academia, for example, from BANES, schools, and charitable organisations equally concerned with the concept of ‘living well’ in policy and practice.
Through building a supportive and inclusive research community, the Beacon has enabled the development of new research areas, concepts and methodologies (e.g. living labs), the submission of large proposals, and the Bath Beacon brand has provided a status that has supported internal and external engagement.
- What’s next for your beacon?
Tim: The highest priority is that we must now deliver on the hydrogen grants received, and hopefully to be awarded. We will also look to maintain momentum and interest across campus, for example to develop a future University research institute in hydrogen and its carriers.
David: We are continuing to develop large bids while contributing to related university centres, institutes and doctoral training centres.
Anna: We have identified three strands of research that we would like to develop as a group, with a pipeline of grants and projects and so we are planning to continue as a beacon in short-medium term. In the future, we may consider joining an existing Research Centre or Institute.
Elisabeth & Pete: We hope to continue to build and capitalise on the Beacon’s momentum with our ambition to achieve success in our current and planned large grant proposals, attract PhD students, and, importantly, embed our work with the Institute for Sustainability and Climate Change.
- What advice would you give to others who are considering applying?
Elisabeth & Pete:
- To be open minded and flexible. To embrace change and diversity.
- To be challenge led (in our case our challenge is the planetary/ climate crisis and its impact on people and planet) .
- Allow time for interdisciplinary discussions and for relationship building in order to get the most out of cross disciplinary research.
- Focus work on appropriate grant opportunities as early as possible.
Anna: If you want to meet like minded researchers from across the University, a Beacon is a great way to do this!
David: I think having a vision that is both clear and aligns with existing strengths at the university is important. I also think identifying a small team of individuals at the start who you know are as equally excited by that vision is really important.
Tim: Future Beacons must:
- align with the University’s research strategy,
- have clear potential to grow on campus with wide, multi-disciplinary engagement,
- align with research funder priorities, e. g., UKRI,
- align with local, regional and national needs and interests,
- have a strategy to engage with other universities (e. g., in GW4) and with industry, business and policy partners and
- have an eye on opportunities for international engagement.
To ask a question about the opportunity, or for help and guidance with costing activities and writing your proposal, please contact the Research Development team in RIS: firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more information about the Beacons funded in the first call, please see the Beacon webpage here.