Doctoral School

Researcher-Led Initiative Fund

Do you have a bright idea for an activity to enhance your professional skills and benefit your research community?

Open to doctoral and early career researchers, the RLI Fund gives you greater input into your support and development needs.

Apply for up to £750 to organise an initiative focusing on either:

  • equality, diversity and inclusion
  • mental health and wellbeing among researchers
  • public engagement
  • researcher training and development 

The Spring call is open Monday 21 March - Friday 22 April

Application form for RLI funding

Who is eligible?

The RLI Fund is open to doctoral researchers and early career researchers (members of research staff whose role is primarily focused on conducting research) at the University of Sussex. 

We recognise that our researchers have a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. We encourage applications from everyone in the community, including those groups who are under-represented in postgraduate research at our institution.

How does it work?

Applications are invited for funding to support short-term, well-defined initiatives under one of four strands. Once funded, activities are organised by the award recipients; support, where needed, should be provided by your School's Research & Enterprise Coordinator (REC). 

All proposals will be judged by members of the Doctoral School and of Sussex's academic community, and a decision made within four weeks of the deadline. A maximum of £750 is available for any one project, and awarded funds must be spent by the end of the current financial year (31 July).

Given the current pandemic, all applicants are asked to consider how they could adapt their plans should the government and University Covid-19 guidelines rule out in-person activities.

Recipients must submit a short evaluation report after their activity has taken place, and may be asked to contribute to the Doctoral School’s Festival of Doctoral Research or a Researcher Development Programme event to share their experiences.

How do I apply?

Fill in the application form, selecting the RLI strand that best fits your initiative. Please read the 2021-22 Applicant Guidance Notes carefully before you apply, taking note of the guidelines for the relevant strand you are applying to (sections 1-4 below) as well as the guidance on application and budget, and the terms and conditions.

Take a look at previous winning initiatives to see the types of activity that have been funded. These examples of previous successful applications may also be helpful.

The Researcher Development team, along with Dr Barbara Crossouard (equality, diversity and inclusion), Dr Clio Berry (mental health and wellbeing) and Prof Martin Evans (public engagement), would be pleased to have informal discussions in the development of your application.

RLI Fund Applicant Guidance Notes 2021-22 [PDF 259KB]

Also, do you have an idea around research culture? The Research Staff Office are delighted to invite you to apply to the Research Culture Seeding (RCS) Fund; part of a range of initiatives that the University of Sussex has recently launched to help foster a creative, inclusive, and collaborative research culture here at Sussex. Open to Early Career Researchers, you can apply for up to £2,500 to organise an initiative. See the Research Culture Seeding Fund webpage for applicant guidance, terms and conditions, and to apply. The deadline for applications is Friday 15 April.


1. Guidance for applications: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Applicants are encouraged to consider:

  • The purpose of the activity - are you aiming to create opportunities for under-represented groups within the doctoral/ECR community, widen participation in research, or foster community and support? Examples could include an event to encourage wider participation in postgraduate study, a community activity for a specific demographic, a BAME role models exhibition, an LGBTQ+ journals club, or a research network for students with disabilities.
  • Your target audience - who is your initiative aimed at? Is it suitable for all researchers, or only those at a particular stage or in a specific discipline? How will you engage with them effectively? If your initiative is for a specific group, how could it be rolled out to other groups of researchers?
  • How will your initiative encourage greater diversity and inclusion, widen participation, foster community and support, or improve equality / equity for doctoral researchers at Sussex?
  • Evaluation is an important part of any initiative. The Doctoral School can provide guidance but, at the outset, how could you evaluate the success and impact of your activity?
2. Guidance for applications: Mental health and wellbeing

Applicants are encouraged to consider:

  • The purpose of the activity - is this to:
    • Create community belonging
      A community provides researchers with support and a sense of belonging. Some groups are potentially more vulnerable (e.g. part-time researchers, parents and carers, international or BAME students); but all researchers face a risk of isolation and a desire for connection. Your activity could focus on immediate (e.g. lab or School) or broader university-level communities.
    • Cultivate time to breathe
      Researchers want initiatives to help them maintain wellbeing within the working day, emphasising the need to regularly ‘take a breather’ but also acknowledging the struggle to find time or motivation. Researchers also value a shared rhythm to the work day with their peers, something that engaging in collective activities provides. Examples could include creative, sporty or physical activities, being in nature around campus, or interacting with others.
    • Celebrate self and successes
      It can be challenging for researchers to recognise, own and celebrate their successes – there is a tendency to write them off as chance. Researchers want positive conversations with their peers, sharing hope, optimism and positive aspects of the doctoral process and academia. Consider activities that help researchers develop self-confidence, or offer space to celebrate the PhD/ECR process.
    • Encourage life outside of research
      Outside interests are a powerful tool to create headspace and a healthy work-life balance. Researchers can feel constrained – mentally and physically – during the doctoral process and want ways to experience freedom from research. Activities could provide a sense of separation from work, highlight non-research identities, or involve finding activities away from the university.
    • Shared PhD/ECR experiences
      Researchers want space to share their own experiences of the research process and to learn from others – separate to skills training and resources. The focus could be on seminars/events to build healthy working practices, or discussions around managing the PhD and personal life. There is also interest in hearing PhD completers or more senior researchers discuss their experiences – their journey, struggles, successes, tips and tricks.
  • Your target audience - who is your initiative aimed at? Is it suitable for all researchers or only those at a particular stage or in a specific discipline? How will you engage with them effectively? If your initiative is for a specific group, how could it be rolled out to other groups of researchers?
  • How will your initiative promote the awareness of, support, or improve researcher mental health and wellbeing at Sussex?
  • Evaluation is an important part of any initiative. The Doctoral School can provide guidance but, at the outset, how could you evaluate the success and impact of your activity?

The Researcher Development team ( and Dr Clio Berry (Lecturer in Healthcare Evaluation and Improvement, BSMS) would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

3. Guidance for applications: Public engagement activities

Applicants are encouraged to consider:

  • The purpose of the activity - is it to:
    • Inform and inspire the public: These projects will have a dissemination function - inspiring, informing, educating and making your research more accessible. Possible activities might include participation in festivals, interactive talks and shows, films and animations.
    • Consult and listen to public views: These projects will involve listening to the public’s concerns or opinions about your research, providing an opportunity to gain fresh perspectives and insights into your work. Possible activities might include public debates, online consultations, panels and user groups.
    • Collaborate with the public: Here researchers and the public work together on projects. The public help to define your future research directions, policy or the implementation of your research outcomes. Possible activities might include citizen science, co-production of knowledge, user groups.
    • Or some combination of the above.
  • It is essential to consider the reasons for engaging with the public, and what you hope to achieve from the engagement.
  • Consider how you will evaluate your activity. Evaluation is an important part of any engagement activity, and most funders require it. It is important to evaluate the project as it progresses (formative evaluation) as well as how well the project has met its aims (summative evaluation). Tools to help you are available on the NCCPE evaluation resources webpage.
  • Applicants are encouraged to refer to the NCCPE and draw upon their resources in developing their application. The University is signed up to the NCCPE’s Manifesto for Public Engagement.

The Public Engagement Fund is intended to develop the skills of our researchers - outsourcing of public engagement activity will not be supported. Neither are we able to support projects which form a core requirement of your qualification e.g. the practice component of a practice-based doctorate.

The Researcher Development team ( and Prof Martin Evans (Professor of Modern European History, MAH) would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

4. Guidance for applications: Training and development for researchers
  • You may seek funding for activities that expand, complement or build on current training provision for researchers.
  • There must be a clear training and development focus to the activity proposed. The activity should enhance and complement the training and development activities available for researchers at School level and through our Researcher Development Programme.
  • Interdisciplinary initiatives benefitting researchers across Schools are encouraged.
  • Funding could be used to develop initiatives addressing a development need not already offered at Sussex, for example career development forums, networking events, journal clubs, or doctoral/early career researcher conferences. We encourage the development of new initiatives which are innovative, creative and use non-standard approaches to skills development.
  • Funding will not be given for travel, course or conference attendance, or staffing costs. Similarly, research projects are outside the scope of this funding stream.

The Researcher Development team ( would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

5. Application and Budget

All applicants

  • The maximum amount available to any one submission is £750, from an overall budget of £10,000, allowing the RDP to fund 20 projects annually. If you are successful you will be required to identify an existing School/department budget code to which the funds will be transferred.
  • RLI funds must be spent by the end of the current financial year (31 July 2022). If you anticipate a delay in spending, for example if you are planning an activity for the 2022-23 academic year, please discuss this with the Doctoral School when you submit your application.
  • An application form should be completed for each request for funding. The funding request must be endorsed by your Director of Doctoral Studies for training and development activities or your PI/supervisor for EDI, mental health and wellbeing, and public engagement activities. 
  • Applicants planning in-person activities must consider how they could adapt their plans and budget if lockdown rules return. Applicants must adhere to government and University of Sussex Covid-19 guidelines at the time activities take place e.g. activities must be virtual if a lockdown or travel restrictions are in force. Any recipient found to contravene these regulations will have funding withdrawn.
  • Funding will not be granted retrospectively to cover initiatives occurring before the application deadline. All applications will be reviewed after the closing date unless your proposed event is to take place before the deadline. If this is the case please inform the Doctoral School when you submit your application, and ensure you apply at least three weeks before the date of your initiative.
  • A clear budget is required in your application. Funds cannot be used to cover an applicant’s time or conference attendance. Projects are expected to deliver value for money, and funds can only be used for items that are required for the activity.
  • Successful applicants are expected to provide a final statement of expenditure after the event, and any unspent funds must be returned to the Researcher Development Programme. The deadline for the final statement of expenditure is six weeks after your initiative has taken place.
  • Award recipients should make themselves familiar with the University's supply agreements, particularly for purchasing stationery and laboratory supplies.

Please note: All initiatives must follow the University's coronavirus guidelines at the time the activity takes place. The additional guidelines below will only apply if travel and in-person events are possible at the time.

  • Costs for catering an event should be reasonable and, where an external caterer is used, in line with hospitality provided by Sussex Food. We are unable to fund evening wine receptions.
  • Applicants are expected to take low-cost options with regard to accommodation for external speakers (e.g. standard hotels from the University approved list). In most cases the University has negotiated special rates to stay in these hotels/guesthouses. When making a booking it is essential that you quote that you wish to make a booking at the University of Sussex rate.
  • To obtain value for money, the University has appointed a preferred travel management company, Key Travel. Key Travel should be used for booking all air travel for external speakers except where the use of an alternative supplier is substantially cheaper, low risk and outweighs the other benefits of using the preferred provider. The RLI Fund can only support travel by means of public transport.
6. Selection Process

Membership of the selection panel will be drawn from the Doctoral School and Sussex's academic community. 

  • The panel will evaluate the applications, judging them against the criteria listed in this document.
  • The panel reserves the right to consider the distribution of Researcher-Led Initiative Fund allocation across the University.
  • The panel reserves the right to offer partial funding for applications and may seek expert advice on any aspect of the application. Applicants may be asked for further information, or to amend their application.
  • We aim to inform you of the decision within four weeks of the closing date. The decision of the panel is final and there is no appeals procedure. We encourage you to seek feedback on your application.
  • Unsuccessful applications may be resubmitted; however, due to the competitive nature of this fund, projects which have previously been funded will not be considered. We encourage building sustainable activities into your initiatives, to avoid repeat applications to the RLI Fund.
7. Terms and Conditions

Awards are offered subject to the following terms and conditions:

  • That all promotional materials for the activities include the words “Supported by the Researcher Development Programme”.
  • That award recipients submit a short evaluation report within six weeks of delivery of the activity, which should include a final statement of expenditure. Recipients may also be asked to contribute to the Doctoral School’s Festival of Doctoral Research or a Researcher Development Programme event to share their experiences of developing the initiative.
  • That the organisers identify an existing School/department budget code to which the funds will be transferred, or work with their School/department to set up a new budget code for their activity.
  • That Researcher Development should be informed of any proposed changes to the budget agreed by the awarding panel in advance of the activity taking place.
  • That any and all unspent budget allocation reverts to the Researcher Development Programme after the activity has taken place, to allow reinvestment in researcher development activities.
  • A library of successful applications will be made available to new applicants for assistance in putting together their application. Your application may be included.
  • The University is committed to providing an environment that advances equality of opportunity. We are all responsible for ensuring that staff, students and visitors to the University of Sussex or involved in our events are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. For more information see the Equality and Diversity webpages.

Feedback from previous RLI Fund recipients

“May we thank you for all your support this term. Not only financially but also the Doctoral School has been so encouraging with re-tweeting and promoting our events online and giving advice" 

"As an organiser, I learnt the academic event management in a tight time compartment and managing themes and scholars. This exposure proved a turning point for my own academic career"

"I improved my networking and team work skills, having to deal with people from many different places and be available to help people at all times during the event. This is something I find difficult as I’m quite a shy person, so this was really good for building my confidence."

Useful Public Engagement Resources

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) has an international reputation for inspiring and supporting universities to engage with the public. Explore their pages for guidance in organising your activity.

For inspiration take a look at the case studies and stories demonstrating how Sussex research has had an impact. They celebrate a rich diversity of work across a broad range of disciplines and showcase research that has been translated into practice, producing innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The Public Engagement Lens on the Researcher Development Framework describes how public engagement can contribute to your development as a researcher.

INVOLVE was established to support active public involvement in NHS, public health and social care research. Their website contains a database of resources on how to involve members of the public in research.

The British Science Association coordinates, delivers and oversees a number of different projects and programmes aimed at engaging more people with science. 

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