Discovery Science: Standard Grants (including New Investigator Grants)

National Environmental Research Council

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Next deadline: Jan 14, 2021 8:00am PST

Later deadlines: Jul 28, 2021 8:00am PDT

Grant amount: £65,000 - £800,000

Fields of work: Archaeology Biotechnology Environmental Conservation Ecology Environment Evolutionary Biology Microbiology Population Biology Systematics Animal Behavior (Ethology) Earth Science Biochemistry Genetics & Genomics Show all

Applicant type: Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty, Working Professional, College / University

Funding uses: Research

Location of project: Anywhere in the world

Location of residency: United Kingdom

Degree requirements: Applicants must have a completed PhD

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2020 Update

Applicants and Research Organisations should note that the normal expectation for a 50% contribution to any equipment costs (over £10k) by the Research Organisation is not required for this call and NERC will pay 100% of any justified equipment costs. The funding limit of £800k at 100% FEC still applies. This change will apply to this round and future Discovery Science calls until further notice (DS Standard grants, Large grants and Pushing the Frontiers call). The grants handbook still reflects the 50% contribution but will be updated in due course.

Discovery Science

NERC's discovery science (responsive mode) funding stream supports excellent environmental research that is driven by curiosity rather than by NERC's wider strategic priorities. Asking fundamental questions about how the world works often turns out to have wide-ranging social and economic benefits.

Discovery science can support pure, applied, technology-led or policy-driven research, but it must address - or provide the means to address - clearly-defined scientific questions.

Adventurous research, multidisciplinary research and collaborations with international and non-academic partners are encouraged.

NERC's research grant schemes provide financial support for environmental scientists to carry out research projects of international quality at UK universities and other approved research institutions.

Standard grants

Proposals are assessed on their scientific excellence. The Standard grant scheme also includes a route for New Investigators. Eligibility for the New Investigator call is restricted, but beyond that the rules for the two calls are the same. Proposals to the standard grant scheme may use agreements between NERC and other funders such as NSF and FAPESP to help secure funding for collaborations.

Panel portfolio areas

NERC's classification of science within its remit is part of 'RCUK Research Classification'. NERC has 51 science topics grouped within higher-level research subjects as part of this classification.

NERC has used these topics as a guide to differentiate the three portfolio areas.  Further details on how the topics are divided between panels can be found in Panel area details

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • Principal Investigator eligibility
    • The Principal Investigator on the proposal must reside in the UK and be employed by an eligible UK Research Organisation (Higher Education Institution, research council institute or a recognised independent research organisation).
      • Employment should be at lecturer (or equivalent) level or above.
    • NERC staff at Band 6 level and above are eligible to apply as Principal Investigators.
      • NERC staff at Band 6 must have at least three years' postdoctoral research experience and have been employed by NERC for at least a year.
    • Staff at BBSRC research organisations, at Band E level or above, are also eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator.
    • Holders of other fellowships awarded by the Royal Society, as well as those from the Wellcome Trust, Marie Curie fellowships, Leverhulme Early Careers Fellowships and fellowships awarded by eligible UK Higher Education Institutions, are also eligible to apply as Principal Investigators;
      • As long as the fellowship has a status equating to that of at least lecturer level and has been secured in open competition
  • Co-Investigator eligibility
    • Co-Investigators are normally expected to meet the eligibility criteria for a Principal Investigator and should be able to take over from the Principal Investigator if required.
  • Research Co-Investigator eligibility
    • A Post-doctoral Research Assistant (PDRA) who is not eligible to be a Principal or Co-Investigator, but has made a substantial contribution to formulating and developing the proposal and will be closely involved with the project (if funded) may be identified as a Researcher Co-Investigator. 
    • A Researcher Co-Investigator must be:
      • the named researcher on the project and seek his/her salary as a Directly Incurred cost;
      • employed by the same Research Organisation as either the Principal or one of the Co-Investigators;
      • employed at Band 6 or (NERC) or Band D (BBSRC) or higher if applying from a NERC or BBSRC Research Organisation
  • IIASA Co-Investigator Eligibility
    • IIASA eligibility will apply to NERC funded calls announced after 1 January 2020, in line with the new funding for UK Membership of IIASA. This includes Discovery Science Large Grants (Outline closing date 10 March 2020) and the July 2020 Standard Grant closing date.
    • Individual Announcements of Opportunity will name IIASA as an eligible co-I. 
    • The following rules will apply to IIASA co-Investigator funding:
      • IIASA Co-Is can request a maximum of 30% of the full economic cost (FEC) of the grant application (NB not 30% of the maximum grant size by scheme) 
      • IIASA will be paid at 100% of the justified direct costs
      • Eligible costs are as follows;
        • IIASA co-investigator salaries
        • Directly incurred (DI) costs (e.g. Travel & Subsistence, consumables)
        • IIASA Research Assistants
  • New Investigator eligibility
    • An applicant for the New Investigators' scheme must be eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator
    • In addition, eligibility is restricted to those investigators at the outset of their independent scientific career.
      • Applicants must therefore be within three years of first becoming eligible for NERC funding as a Principal Investigator (account will be taken of any career breaks) and must not have received research funding from any source, as a Principal Investigator, that included post-doctoral research assistant staff support costs.
      • An exception to the three-year rule applies to holders of NERC fellowships, who will continue to be eligible to apply for New Investigator grants during the period of their fellowship, until they have received research funding as a Principal Investigator. 
  • Research organisation eligibility
    • All UK Higher Education Institutions that receive grant funding from one of the UK higher education funding bodies are eligible to receive funds for research, postgraduate training and associated activities.
      • These bodies consist of Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and Department for Employment & Learning Northern Ireland (DEL).
    • Research Institutes (RIs), for which research councils have established a long-term involvement as major funder as part of the national research base (and which are listed on the RCUK eligibility pages), are also eligible to receive research funding.
    • Other Independent Research Organisations (IROs) may also be eligible to receive funding for research, if such research extends and enhances the national research base.
      • The research councils will jointly consider eligibility of IROs for research funding, and eligibility may be restricted to certain research councils. The full eligibility criteria and application process is on the RCUK website
      • IROs are eligible to receive funding from a research council in its managed mode (NERC research programmes) or in response to a specific call for proposals.
      • Unless specifically stated by an individual council, access to responsive mode (discovery science) funding is limited to HEIs and RIs. Organisations currently recognised as IROs are listed on the RCUK eligibility pages.
    • Organisations that are eligible to apply for research council funding may work in partnership or collaboration with any other organisation, irrespective of its eligibility status, subject to the conditions of any grant awarded.


  • The process to allocate Standard Grant funding is weighted to allow New Investigator led proposals an increased chance of success. 


  • The following are not eligible to apply as Principal Investigators:
    • research assistants,
    • technicians,
    • other researchers who are employed on short-term projects or Research Council grants,
    • holders of fellowships that were not awarded following open competition. 
  • Any applications for projects above £800,000 will be rejected.
  • New Investigator Grants: 
    • This scheme is not intended to support those whose independent research career is already established, so those in senior positions may not apply.
  • IIASA Co-Investigator Ineligibility
    • NERC do not currently allow international co-investigators except for this change from 2020.
    • IIASA will not be eligible for funding through some calls from UKRI funds.
      • An IIASA Co-I may not take over from the UK Principal Investigator.
      • All IIASA funding will be go via the UK Research Organisation.
    • Ineligible costs are;
      • Estates and other indirect costs
      • Capital costs
      • Equipment over £10k (anything under £10k can be requested under DI costs)

This page was last reviewed May 06, 2020 and last updated May 06, 2020