I first heard about EPSRC in 2009 when I was offered the chance to study for an EPSRC funded PhD studentship in Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde. Since then my short academic career was fully supported by EPSRC funding through an EPSRC Programme grant at the University of St. Andrews.
When I made the decision to leave academia it was not because I stopped enjoying research, I just realised that performing the research was not what I wanted to do. In July 2015 I joined the EPSRC as a Research Portfolio manager in the Mathematical Sciences theme. Prior to applying for the role I had researched the EPSRC and the various types of grants and schemes they support. However, I was never really fully aware of what a Research Portfolio manager was and what their day to day operations were until I took on the role.
THE EPSRC PORTFOLIO
The vast scope of research supported by EPSRC means that no two portfolios are the same. Portfolio managers cover research areas from the most fundamental areas of science such as algebra to the most applied areas such as wind energy. In total the EPSRC supports 115 research areas across 4 core themes (Mathematics, ICT, Engineering and Physical Science) and 6 challenge oriented themes (Living with Environmental Change, Digital Economy, Energy, Healthcare Technologies, Manufacturing the Future and Global Uncertainties). Whilst each portfolio share commonalities such as being managed according to the EPSRC strategic aims, they differ due to the unique personalities of the academics who operate in each area and the range of research topics you come into contact with.
A PORTFOLIO MANAGER'S ROLE
From one week to the next this role can differ significantly. Whilst the central focus of the role is dealing with community enquiries and managing the research funding process there exists many other facets. A significant amount of travel is necessary; this involves travelling to a range of academic institutions advocating for EPSRC, attending meetings associated with EPSRC grants, and interfacing with the community through engagement events and workshops.
The composition of background experiences of EPSRC portfolio managers mirrors the diversity of research topics supported. As a result there is a unique resource of knowledge available when faced with a variety of scenarios. It should also be mentioned that as a portfolio manager you are supported continuously by our digital support team who play a critical role in ensuring that you can fulfil your day to day role.
THE PURE MATHEMATICS PORTFOLIO
Within the Mathematical Sciences theme I am the research Portfolio Manager for ‘Pure Mathematics’. Working with a portfolio not directly aligned to your previous academic experience is common for all portfolio managers across the EPSRC.
‘Pure Mathematics’ is a very broad term which covers the fundamental science focused research areas of Algebra, Geometry and Topology, Logic and Combinatorics and Number Theory. As the UK is a world leader in terms of mathematical research, the breadth of researchers working in these research areas stretches across the UK. The opportunity to meet members of the community whom the EPSRC supports and those who we don’t has been very informing. It is integral to this role to keep abreast of developments within the research area communities to adapt to any new challenges which may arise.
BUILDING STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH ACADEMIC RESEARCHERS
A key feature of this role for me has been the immediate level of responsibility I have been afforded in regards to my portfolio. This has allowed me to build strong relationships in order to feed into strategic planning activities which will play a key role as we enter a new delivery plan phase. As I joined EPSRC during a transitional period from the last delivery plan period and at the time of the comprehensive spending review it has been quite an uncertain time for our academic researchers. Therefore, it has been essential to keep them up-to-date with developments to preserve their trust in what we are trying to achieve.
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