STFC astronomy research grants support research in the areas of astronomy, cosmology, solar system science and certain aspects of particle astrophysics.
Apart from applications concerned with the development or operation of some types of instrumentation or database, for which special arrangements exist, astronomy grant applications are assessed by the Astronomy Grants Panel.
The Astronomy Grants Panel (AGP) will assess and provide recommendations to the Council Executive and the Science Programme Advisory Committee (SPAC) of the UK Space Agency (UKSA), under the dual key arrangement, on all responsive research grant proposals in astronomy and space science covering basic research, exploitation, theory and modelling and the development of basic technology related to the programme.
The 2021 call for Astronomy Grants opens on Tuesday 2 December and closes at 16:00 on Thursday 4 March. Given the current pressures on us all, we are working to agree appropriate guidance for next year with the AGP and expect to publish this by the end of November.
The specific aims of the scheme are to:
The timetable for the 2020 round is as follows:
|5th February||Closing date for submission of Consolidated or Consortium grant proposal|
|May (Mid-End)||Applicant Response to Reviewer Comments|
|July||Applicant response to Introducer/Panel questions|
|September||AGP Panel meetings|
|October||Science Board and UKSA endorsement|
The Astronomy Grants Panel (AGP) will assess and provide recommendations to the Council Executive and the Science Programme Advisory Committee (SPAC) of the UK Space Agency (UKSA), under the dual key arrangement, on all responsive research grant proposals in astronomy and space science covering basic research, exploitation, theory and modelling and the development of basic (‘blue skies’) technology related to the programme.
Remit of AGP Calls - The AGP offers two calls for grant proposals. The remits of these two calls are set out below, if Applicants have any doubt about which call a particular project should be submitted to they are strongly encouraged to discuss this with the office at the earliest possible opportunity. The same deadline applies to proposals to the two calls. Projects judged by the Panel to be submitted to the wrong call will be REJECTED.
Astronomy Observation (AO) and Astronomy Theory (AT) Call
This call covers all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics beyond the solar system:
Solar Studies (SS) and Planetary Studies (PL) Call
This call covers theory, including modelling, simulation and related software development, observation, experiment and new technology research, relevant to all aspects of solar system science. This includes but is not restricted to:
Note that studies related to the UKSA’s programme of Aurora science (Mars exploration and sample return) should be addressed to UKSA in the first instance as separate funding may be available and this may preclude funding via AGP.
Technology Development - Where Applicants are requesting support for a project involving technology development, it is essential to discuss with the office whether the project falls within STFC/AGP’s remit. The office will liaise with the UKSA in advance of the AGP meetings where necessary. Additionally, where Applicants are considering requests for higher TRL level projects, advice MUST be sought from the office prior to submission. As general guidance:
The AGP will consider funding astronomy and space science proposals at Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 1 – 4 or their equivalent. Modest upgrades to existing equipment, related to the delivery of science within the course of the project requested, may well be considered. However Applicants are advised to seek advice from the Office before submitting.
The STFC PRD scheme (currently in abeyance and under review) will consider non-space mission-related Proposals at TRL 4 – 6; UKSA will consider space mission-related Proposals at TRL 5 and above.
The AGP will comprise experts to cover all science areas of the programme and provide an overview of the process and programme to ensure support is provided to research of the highest quality across the science programme. Sub-Panels of appropriate experts from the AGP will meet to assess elements of each proposal that fall within their remit and to provide input to the overall recommendation. The remit of each Sub-Panel is given in the details of the calls described below and should be referred to prior to submitting a proposal. The full AGP will review the output of the meetings and draw up final recommendations to be submitted to the Science Board (SB) and to UKSA SPAC.
Applicants must first check the eligibility criteria which can be found in the Research Grants Handbook and then decide whether they wish to be part of an institutional-focused Consolidated grant proposal or a science-focused Consortium grant proposal, which includes Applicants from more than one institution. They should then follow the relevant guidance laid out below for the scheme they have chosen. Applicants applying for a New Applicant proposal should refer to section 8 for specific guidance.
Consolidated Grant Proposals
It is expected that a university department or similar organisational unit will submit a single* Consolidated grant proposal covering its entire research programme to one or both AGP calls. This can be either to AO/AT or to SS/PL, or a separate proposal to each. (*STFC recognises that there may be exceptional cases so would consider such cases on an individual basis; these should be directed to the Office in the first instance).
Proposals should be divided strictly along science lines and should not contain a mix of projects from the two calls. Applicants with SIGNIFICANT science activities spanning the divide between the two calls may request resources on proposals submitted to both calls in the same round. However, it is expected that there will be relatively few such Applicants and that the vast majority of Applicants will propose projects to only a single call. It should be noted that AGP will carefully scrutinise such cases, so this flexibility is not to be used as an opportunity to substantially expand requests for resources - frivolous requests will have a negative overall impact on the proposal, and in extreme cases may lead to a project being rejected. Applicants who are requesting resources through both calls should be clearly identified in the two-page description of the programme and need to be explicitly justified.
Consortium Grant Proposals
Consortium grant proposals are essentially joint proposals with a common research programme from groups of Researchers in more than one organisation. The aim is to provide a concerted and coordinated effort to tackle a particular research area or technology development. The expectation therefore is that the subject of the Consortium proposal will be the main research activity within the AGP area for those Applicants on the proposal. If considering submitting a Consortium proposal, Applicants are required to discuss this with the office well in advance of submission to agree whether a Consortium proposal would be appropriate. A brief written summary of the proposed Consortium is likely to be requested as part of this process.
As part of a Consortium proposal, different institutions submit a single case for support but with separate Je-S forms. Je-S functionality allows such proposals to be linked and this linkage is supported by the grants system. Applicants are therefore expected to use the linking functionality.
Applicants should note that although the AGP has divided its remit into two distinct calls based on science content, individuals CANNOT request funds or be named on both an AGP Consolidated proposal and a Consortium proposal simultaneously. Applicants therefore need to think very carefully about the choice they make.
Examples of the combinations of proposals that groups/individuals may consider are shown as acceptable, and not acceptable, in the following table:
|Group: A single Consolidated or Consortium proposal submitted to the AO/AT call||Yes|
|Group: A single Consolidated or Consortium proposal submitted to the SS/PL call||Yes|
|Group: A Consolidated proposal submitted to the SS/PL and a second Consolidated proposal submitted to the AO/AT call (must be submitted to the same closing date)||Yes|
|Group: A Consortium proposal submitted to the SS/PL and a second Consortium proposal submitted to the AO/AT call (must be submitted to the same closing date)||Yes|
|Group: A single Consolidated or Consortium proposal covering three or more of the four sub areas (i.e. AO, AT, SS, PL) submitted to either call||No|
|Individual: A Consortium proposal submitted to either the AO/AT or SS/PL call and a Consolidated proposal submitted to either the SS/PL or AO/AT call.||No|
Prior to submitting a proposal, Applicants are strongly advised to pay particular attention to the following:
Although there will be no guarantee of funding, it is expected that most groups will apply for new Consolidated grants on a 3-year cycle to refresh their support. The following shows the pattern that should apply in the steady state:
Note: Review is the date on which a new Proposal should be submitted. Renewal is when a new grant would start.
Grant 1: submit to the 2020 closing date
Duration: Start 1.4.21 – 31.3.24 (3 years)
Review: 2023 closing date
Outcome notified by October/November 2023 – 6 months before 1.4.24 when the new grant
is due to start
Grant 2: submit to the 2023 closing date
Duration: Start 1.4.24 – 31.3.27 (3 years)
Review: 2026 closing date
Outcome notified by October/November 2026 - 6 months before 1.4.27 when the new grant is due to start
When a group or individual submits a Consolidated or Consortium grant proposal, any existing STFC AGP grants (with the exception of existing Consolidated grants, i.e. New Applicant awards) should be subsumed into the proposal. Such support is considered a funding commitment and needs only a brief nominal justification. Of course, many Applicants will then request funding for new projects closely related to the existing grant, in which case the nominal justification for the existing grant can be included in the full case for the new project.
Level of request
Applicants are advised that they should be realistic about the level of support requested. The AGP would STRONGLY suggest that only a small number of additional posts should be requested above existing support. All Applicants should consider the level of their request carefully and are free to contact the office for guidance if needed. We stress that it is not in the Applicants' interest to apply for large numbers of posts that have very little hope of being supported. We will therefore expect Applicants to choose those projects to put forward within their Consolidated or Consortium proposals with care.
Consolidated and Consortium grants will be awarded with a maximum duration of 3 years. However flexibility can be achieved, where required, by STFC allowing a no-cost extension of up to 1 year, which should only be requested after the grant has been awarded.
It should be noted that Consolidated or Consortium grants are considered independently of each other, therefore if a Consolidated grant, for example, is awarded which overlaps with the existing grant (due to an extension) the existing grant remains active and its duration unchanged.
Structure of Proposals
All proposals should be submitted via the Je-S system (please refer to the Je-S Guidance), selecting the following:
Doc Type: Standard Proposal
Call: Either AO & AT 2020 OR SS & PL 2020
Please note the deadline for 2019 submissions is 5th February at 4.00pm
Proposals should be clearly divided into distinct projects, each of which should be presented as a self-contained case and include the following:
Any links to material outside of the proposal may be disregarded. Applicants are welcome to group their projects into scientific “themes” or similar, point out cross-links, stress synergies, and so on, if they feel this makes their case stronger. However, although projects are reviewed within the context of a whole grant proposal, they are assessed and ranked independently.
Individual projects are assessed and ranked in their entirety. The AGP does not normally dissect projects and rank smaller work-packages individually, so if Applicants choose to propose a project with more than one PDRA they should be aware that the panel will not recommend partial funding, e.g. for only one of two PDRAs requested, but will either recommend funding or not funding the whole PDRA request.
The expectation is that a project normally corresponds to one PDRA, and Investigator and technician time as appropriate. However, the panel recognises that technical or lab-based projects may require fractions of the time of specialist PDRAs or technicians. There may also occasionally be projects which involve only Investigator time. It is recognised that some Applicants may wish to divide the time of some staff members between projects, which will be assessed and ranked separately.
In order to be easily partitioned for review, each project should start on a new page and provide the following summary information as a heading to the project:
Title: A new window on the universe (Astronomy Theory)
Applicant 1 (name) 15%, Applicant 2 (name) 5%, PDRA (name) 100% - Total FTE 1.20
30% Ground based - 70% space based: Exploitation & Experiment 50% - Theory – 50%
It is essential that the peer review process is efficient and effective. An important element is to ensure that the Applicants and the Reviewers are not overloaded with paperwork, and that proposals are focused on addressing the key issues. Applicants should therefore be mindful of both clarity and brevity when preparing a proposal and present it in such a way that it is easy for the peer review Panel to follow. Remember that not all members of the Panel will be equally familiar with the research topic or the methods involved. Applicants must ensure that in the proposal:
Applicants are advised to consult the office prior to submission if queries cannot be answered by reference to this guidance note.
Page limit – case for support (the file size has a maximum limit of 10 megabytes imposed by Je-S and cannot be submitted if larger than this)
Further pages are permitted as follows:
Applicants should note that the page limits are to be used as described above and are NOT transferable between sections and/or projects. Proposals that exceed the page limits will be returned for amendment if time permits, but run the risk of being REJECTED
The need for all personnel on a project, along with their role, must be fully justified in the case. The Panel will not support posts that are inadequately justified, and reserve the right to reject any project where the requested FTE has been unreasonably inflated.
Required Information / Attachments (Each attachment has a maximum file size of 5 megabytes)
This information MUST be provided as part of the proposal and is in addition to the main case for support. Applicants should classify attachments correctly using the options available in Je-S and submit as a PDF. Failure to do so could result in an incomplete proposal being sent to Reviewers (for example documents classified as “other” are NOT sent out for review). Guidance as to the correct Je-S Classification is included below.
Additional information may be included as part of the Proposal, if considered essential for the Panel’s assessment, for example:
Any additional clarifying information may be requested at the discretion of the AGP or the Council.
Gantt charts are essential to the Panel when considering past and present staff support and must be completed in the same format as the example provided. Applicants are only required to provide information on STFC funded posts. Consolidated and Consortium grants are designed to provide flexibility and staff may be moved to projects other than those originally recommended for support by the Panel. However, the AGP will need to establish which staff member is working on which project and how (if at all) that differed from the recommended award. If completed correctly, the Gantt chart provides this information.
The Panel will need to know of any existing grants that are being subsumed into the Consolidated or Consortium grants.
The office hold completed Gantt charts of previous Consolidated /Consortium awards, Applicants should therefore contact the office for a copy prior to submission. The original details as provided by the office should not be amended (although any changes as detailed above should be noted) and the requested posts section should be completed.
Download a worked example
To ensure uniformity across groups, Applicants must complete the Gantt chart as shown in
the example, following the guidance provided. Ambiguous or erroneous Gantt charts may result in the proposal being rejected. If in any doubt about how to complete the Gantt chart, Applicants are advised to contact the office.
Requested Summary Table
To allow the Panel to easily identify the resources and staff effort requested per project a requested summary table must be completed. Any cross-cutting items should clearly indicate which projects they are tied to, and how the cost is to be split between the different projects. It is essential that the project identifiers (numbers/titles/etc.) used in the table match those used to identify the projects within the case for support and are shown in numerical / alphabetical order. To ensure uniformity across proposals, Applicants must complete a requested summary table in the same format (including coloured text) as the example provided
Download a worked example
Each proposal should provide a statistical summary of the scientific productivity for each individual Applicant. It is recognised that productivity may be expressed in a number of forms. As a minimum each Applicant should list the number of refereed publications over a 5-year period, or shorter specified period if appropriate and, where appropriate, the number of these on which they are first author. If appropriate, applicants may wish to indicate the number of first-author outputs produced by PhD students under their supervision. These data should be derived from ‘ADS’, or ‘Web of Science’. The 5 years should be the most recent 5 calendar year period. If the Applicant had had a career break in this period it should be explained in a footnote. Please use names for Applicants that will, as far as possible, allow them to be uniquely identified in bibliographic searches.
Example form: Period covered January 2014 – Dec 2019
|Applicant||Number of referred papers||Number of 1st author referred papers||Number of technical reports||Number of 1st author technical reports||Number of 1st author student papers|
1. Note: A.N.Other2 was on maternity for 6 months from June-Dec 2016.
2. Technical papers are defined here as those specifically arising from instrument development or construction and not un-refereed science papers.
Publications by Applicant PDRAs should be presented in a similar way. Again, names for individual PDRAs should be included. PDRAs who are no longer with the group at time of submission are eligible (so long as they were supported via STFC grants during the preceding 5 years). The intention is to provide an indication of PDRA productivity in the context of career development, and to identify potential problems in management.
In the final row of the summary table, groups should include the total number of unique papers over the most recent 5-year period (this is not the same as summing output from individual investigators), and the total number of unique papers originating from within the group (i.e. total number of papers with Applicants, PDRAs, and PhDs as 1st authors).
In addition, if they wish to, Applicants can provide alternative measures to demonstrate their scientific productivity. For example, explaining authorship policies in explicit fields. Those engaged in hardware and software projects and other technical activities, can also demonstrate past productivity, where appropriate, by listing technical reports published, or by showing evidence of innovation and technical development, external contracts and other enabling activities.
It should be noted that any statistics provided will be used as a starting point in establishing overall productivity rather than to make fine distinctions in determining priorities for funding.
If there is any ambiguity on how to present publications in a particular case, Applicants should contact the office. Note that the intention is to provide the AGP with unambiguous information on activity and productivity within the group
6. Requesting Resources
The AGP considers a significant number of proposals which are wide ranging in the level of resources requested. These notes are to provide guidance on the scale of resources the AGP considers to be reasonable. The AGP would expect to see specific, explicit and compelling justification for all requests, even where the guideline levels of travel, computing consumables etc. have been requested. AGP will consider different levels of request but lack of compelling justification may have a negative impact on the proposal, and in extreme cases may lead to a project being rejected.
Applicants should note that the Je-S system averages Applicant time over the duration of the Proposal. The actual request which may vary over the years should be made clear on the requested summary table.
PI management time 1% per research FTE (Researchers, Applicants) capped at 10%.
(This does not apply to proposals requesting a single project)
Applicant time but with zero salary costs/p>
Applicants who are not requesting a salary contribution may request guideline support costs (travel, computing consumables etc.) based on their level of contribution to the project (FTE). However, in such instances the case for support MUST make it clear whether Estate and Indirect costs have been included in the request.
Un-named Research Staff and Named Research Staff – please refer to the Grants handbook Research Staff
Other Directly Incurred (ODI)
Note: Publication costs associated with journal articles and conference papers should not be requested on grant proposals
Equipment (Capital – single items in excess of £10k, inclusive of VAT)
Applicants may request the purchase of equipment outright, or in part, sharing across a number of projects where appropriate or contracting out a specific task.
In general, STFC expects to contribute around 50% of the cost of such equipment items, although this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, subject to STFC's prior approval, Equipment costs associated with the construction of unique items of Equipment (e.g. instrument development, may be funded in full (i.e. at 100%). For further information please refer to the Research Grants Handbook and Je-S helptext.
Support Staff – Directly Incurred
Secretarial support 8% per FTE (Applicants, Researchers).
Computer Officer 10% per FTE (Applicants, Researchers).
Support Staff - Other Directly Allocated
Pooled staff costs and pooled technical posts should be clearly identified as %FTE on the requested summary table. Secretarial and Computer Officer support requested under this fund heading should follow the same guidelines as above.
It is recognised that Research Organisations may apply a rate per full time effort or post for certain items. Whilst this is fully acceptable it must be clear from the case what is included within the rate.
Applicants should note that with the exception of DI staff posts (which will be profiled and paid as per the start and end dates of the posts) and Equipment (which will be profiled and paid over the first year, all funds awarded (including Estate costs, Indirect costs and Infrastructure Technicians) will be evenly profiled and subsequently paid over the full 3-year duration.
For guidance please see the Studentships on grants section of the Research Grants Handbook Project Students
Applicants should not confuse requests for project students with the specific studentship schemes available from STFC. However, the AGP will need to be informed of the number of STFC-funded studentships held within the group, and would expect to see strong and compelling justification why these other sources could not be utilised for the proposed project. Applicants need to be mindful that, as with all elements of a proposal, full justification for a studentship is required. Applicants should note that supervision of PhD students is covered by the PhD student fees, and this may not be used as justification for applicant time.
The AGP is comprised of experts covering the following four broad science areas within Astronomy:
AGP: AO - Astronomy Observations
AGP: AT – Astronomy Theory
AGP: SS – Solar Studies & Space-based Solar Terrestrial Physics
AGP: PL – Planetary Studies
Details of Panel membership can be found at AGP Panel Members
The Sub-Panels and the AGP as a whole do not have delegated financial authority but, wherever possible, will be given information on the availability of funds. All the AGP members will have access to all information pertaining to the round i.e. Proposals, Reviewer reports, Applicants response etc. subject to conflicts of interest.
On receipt of the proposals the Sub-Panel chairs will identify at least one Introducer (a Panel member) for each proposal. Proposals relevant to more than one broad Science area will have multiple Introducers as appropriate.
For each Proposal allocated, the Introducer/s will identify appropriate Reviewers. Reviewers are asked to provide comments within three weeks. Responses will be monitored by the office with reminders issued where necessary.
All Reviewer comments received are sent to the Applicants along with guidance on page length for responses (see below) and response due dates. Additionally, Applicants are given the opportunity to address specific Panel questions. The office will coordinate this process, which will be dealt with via e-mail.
Panel members are asked to leave the room when a proposal from their own Institution, or a proposal or project on which they are otherwise conflicted, is being discussed. Any conflicts of interest are identified prior to discussing a proposal and recorded by the office. Each proposal is considered in turn with the Introducer leading the discussion by providing an overview of the proposed science, taking account of Reviewer comments, Panel questions and Applicant’s responses.
In its assessment of proposals the Panel will look at each category referred to in the Research Grants Handbook Assessment Criteria
The Sub-Panels will agree a final assessment; recommend appropriate level of resources and a ranking position for each project contained within the grant proposal, separately. After all proposals have been considered, the Panel will revisit the ranking list to ensure it is satisfied with the outcome. A ranked list will be agreed which will go forward to the merging meeting. Throughout the Panel meetings the Chairs will note science areas, facilities, number of PDRA’s, number of Students, Applicant time etc. which will form part of the AGP report required by the STFC Science Board and UKSA.
Guidance for completing Applicant Responses
Applicants will be given the opportunity to respond to Reviewer comments and Panel questions. The following provides guidance on page limits and what is expected by the AGP
Applicant response to Reviewer comments - Applicants will be given the opportunity to see and respond to Reviewer comments via Je-S. The page limit for a response is a maximum of 0.5 pages to address cross-cutting comments (not transferable and not applicable to single project proposals and New Applicant proposals), then 0.5 pages per project (transferable between projects). The response should be returned within 10 working days of receipt. Responses must therefore be brief in addressing the key issues raised by the reviewers. If an Applicant exceeds the page limit the response will be rejected.
Applicant response to Panel questions - Applicants will be given the opportunity to respond to Panel questions and update the Panel with any relevant information. The process will be co-ordinated by the office via e-mail. The page limit for a response is a maximum of 0.5 page per question and should be returned within 10 working days of receipt. In writing a response Applicants should be mindful to simply address the question asked; this is not an opportunity to re-write the case. If an Applicant exceeds the page limit the response will be rejected.
AGP Merging Meeting
After the Sub-Panel meetings, a sub-set of AGP will review all recommendations and agree a final combined ranking list for all projects, across the two calls and the four Sub-Panel areas. This meeting will be chaired by the AGP Chair and will include the Sub-Panel chairs, a number of the Sub-Panel members and the AGP Chair and Deputy.
All Panel members will be asked to attend the plenary meeting which will be chaired by the AGP Chair. The Panel will review the outcome of the round.
The AGP Chair will report to STFC Science Board and to the UKSA on the recommended outcome for the round. The final funding line will be determined by the STFC budget holder at which point Applicants will be informed of the outcome with appropriate feedback.
Newly appointed Academic members of staff who have joined a department between Consolidated or Consortium submissions may exceptionally apply separately for support. Please refer to the Research Grants Handbook - Types of STFC research funding for the rules on eligibility.
Terms of the Scheme
Applicants should submit a 1-page pre-Proposal (by email to Kim.Burchell@stfc.ukri.org) for consideration by the executive in consultation with the AGP Chairs. The pre-proposal should include the following
If the case for funding is considered to be potentially a high priority, Applicants will be advised to submit a full Proposal for consideration by the AGP at the next announced closing date.
A New Applicant full proposal should follow the guidance provided for Consolidated/Consortium grants, but noting the following:
Applicant response to Reviewer comments - Applicants will be given the opportunity to see and respond to Reviewer comments via Je-S. The page limit for a response is a maximum of 0.5 page and should be returned within 10 working days of receipt. If an Applicant exceeds the page limit the response will be rejected
Applicant response to Panel questions - Applicants will be given the opportunity to respond to Panel questions and update the Panel with any relevant information. The process will be co-ordinated by the office via e-mail. The page limit for a response is a maximum of 0.5 page per question and should be returned within 10 working days of receipt. In writing a response Applicants should be mindful to simply address the question asked; this is not an opportunity to re-write the case. If an Applicant exceeds the page limit the response will be rejected
If your proposal involves research into gravitational waves, please check the following guidance: STFC Gravitational Waves Remit.
Applicants are encouraged to contact the office if they would benefit from a site visit to discuss grant submissions with either office staff and/or members of the AGP
Download a version of this page Astronomy Guidelines to Applicants 2020 (PDF, 268KB)
Last updated: 25 November 2020