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:

  • mental health, wellbeing and community among researchers
  • public engagement
  • researcher training and development 

The Spring 2020 Call for Applications has closed and awards have been made. 

Find out about the Spring 2020 Research-Led Initiatives awarded by the Doctoral School.


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 e.g. BAME students.

How does it work?

Applications are invited for funding to support short-term, well-defined initiatives under one of three strands. A maximum of £750 is available for any one projectAll proposals will be judged by members of the Doctoral School. Awarded funds must be spent by the end of the financial year (31 July 2020).

Recipients must submit a short evaluation report, 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?

Applicants should fill in the application form, selecting the RLI strand that best fits their initiative. Please read the applicant guidance notes carefully before you apply, taking note of guidelines for the relevant strand you are applying to (sections 1, 2 or 3 below).

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

The Researcher Development TeamDr Katy Petherick (for public engagement) and Prof Jeremy Niven (mental health, wellbeing and community) would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

RLI Fund Applicant Guidance 2019-2020 [PDF 104KB]

1. Guidance for applications: Mental health, wellbeing and community

Applicants are encouraged to consider:

  • The purpose of the activity - each initiative must fit one of five themes:
    • Creating community belonging
      A community is important to researchers in providing support and a sense of belonging. Some groups are potentially more vulnerable (e.g. part-time researchers, parents and carers, international or BAME students, those with extensive fieldwork or without dedicated working spaces); but all doctoral 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.
    • Cultivating time to breathe
      Doctoral researchers and ECRs 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 the time or motivation. Researchers also value having 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.
    • Celebrating self and successes
      It can be challenging for researchers to recognise, own and celebrate their successes – there is a tendency to undermine or write them off as chance. Researchers want positive conversations with their peers, sharing hopefulness, optimism and positive aspects of both the doctoral process and academia more broadly. Consider activities that help researchers develop self-confidence and self-efficacy, or offer space to celebrate the PhD/ECR process.
    • Life outside of research
      Outside interests are a powerful tool to create a feeling of ‘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 training or resources that focus on specific research skills or techniques. 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? Would it be suitable for all researchers or only those at a particular stage or in a specific discipline? How can you engage with them effectively? If your initiative is for a specific group, how could it be rolled out to other groups of researchers?
  • Our aim is to support initiatives to benefit the mental health and wellbeing of Sussex researchers. How will your initiative promote the awareness of, support, or improve researcher mental health / wellbeing at Sussex, or foster a sense of community among researchers?
  • Evaluation is an important part of any initiative. How could you evaluate the success and impact of your activity? And if your proposal is based on an existing U-DOC RLI, how will you build on what you have learned so far to improve your initiative?

The Researcher Development Team ( and Prof Jeremy Niven (graduate student mental health and wellbeing champion) would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

2. 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 Dr Katy Petherick (Public Engagement Coordinator, Life Sciences) would be pleased to have informal discussions with researchers in the development of their applications.

3. 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 activity 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 writing retreats, 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.

4. Application and Budget

All applicants

  • The maximum amount available to any one submission is £750. 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 financial year (31 July 2020).
  • An application form should be completed for each request for funding. The funding request should be endorsed by the Director of Doctoral Studies for training and development activities or PI/Supervisor for public engagement / mental health, wellbeing and community activities. 
  • 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 will take place before the deadline. If this is the case, please ensure you apply to the Fund at least four weeks before the date of your initiative.
  • A clear budget is required in your application and any unspent funds should be returned to the Researcher Development Programme. Funds cannot be used to cover the 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 will be returned to the Researcher Development Programme. The deadline for the final statement of expenditure is six weeks after your initiative has taken place, or by 1 July, whichever is sooner.
  • Award recipients should make themselves familiar with the University's supply agreements, particularly for purchasing stationery and laboratory supplies.
  • Costs for catering an event should be reasonable, and where an external caterer is used, in line with hospitaliity provided by Sussex Food. We are unable to fund evening wine receptions.

Additonal guidelines for applicants organising training and development initiatives

  • 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.
  • If you are intending to pay an individual for work carried out in relation to your initiative (e.g. if you wish to pay a speaker for their time), you will need to ensure that you obtain evidence of their right-to-work in the UK before the work commences. Please refer to the University's guidance notes on the provision of temporary staff. If you have any questions about this process please contact your School Office, or the HR Compliance team:
5. Selection Process

Membership of the selection panel will be drawn from the Doctoral School. Additionally, Dr Katy Petherick (Public Engagement Coordinator, Life Sciences) will review applications for public engagement activity and Prof Jeremy Niven (graduate student mental health and wellbeing champion) will review applications for mental health and wellbeing activities.

  • 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 of the RLI funding round in which your application falls. 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 re-submitted; 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.
  • Projects funded under the 2019 U-DOC RLI Fund will be considered for the main fund in this instance. Applicants are asked to address how they will develop their initiative based on what they have learned so far.
6. Terms and Conditions

Awards are offered subject to the following terms and conditions:

  • That promotional materials for the activities include the words “Supported by the Researcher Development Programme”.
  • That the award recipient submits a short evaluation report within six weeks of delivery of the activity, which should include a final statement of expenditure. Award 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.
  • Awarded funds must be spent by the end of the financial year (31 July 2020). Any and all unspent budget allocation reverts back to the Researcher Development Programme, to allow reinvestment in future public engagement activities.
  • 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.
  • 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. 

Doctoral School

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