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REF submission eligibility for Early Career Researchers

posted May 14, 2012, 8:20 AM by Nicola Wardrop   [ updated Nov 30, 2012, 1:15 AM ]
I met up with some fellow Early Career Researchers this afternoon for a chat about multidisciplinary research and REF submissions...which of course also wandered over to the topic of ECRs and REF submissions. It seems there has been a lack of communication with ECRs regarding (1) their potential eligibility for submission to the REF and (2) the fact that ECRs (and some other categories of staff) are allowed to submit fewer than four outputs (which is the number required from the majority of staff submitting).

I have summarised some of the information from the REF documentation that is relevant to early career researchers below - this should help you work out if you are eligible for submission, and if so what number of outputs you would need to submit.

In essence, you are eligible if you meet the criteria for an "independent researcher" - see definition 2 below. You are permitted to submit less than four outputs if you meet the criteria for an "early career researcher" - see definition 1 below.

Summarised from “Panel criteria and working method”, pages 9 – 11 AND “Assessment framework and guidance on submissions”, pages 17 - 19

Four research outputs must be listed for each member of staff submitted UNLESS

  • You qualify as an early career researcher1
  • Absence from work due to working part time, secondments or career breaks
  • Qualifying periods of maternity, paternity or adoption leave
  • Other circumstances that apply in UOAs 1-6 (to do with clinical staff I believe)
  • Complex circumstances that require a judgement about the appropriate reduction in outputs: (disability, ill health or injury, mental health conditions, constraints relating to pregnancy, maternity, paternity, adoption or childcare, other caring responsibilities, gender reassignment)

 Where clearly defined circumstances apply, the number of outputs that may be reduced are given in the table below

 Table 1 Early career researchers1: permitted reduction in outputs

Date at which researcher first met the REF definition of an early career researcher

Number of outputs may be reduced by up to

On or before 31 July 2009


Between 1 August 2009 and 31 July 2010 inclusive


Between 1 August 2010 and 31 July 2011 inclusive


On or after 1 August 2011


1Early career researcher definition:

Early career researchers are defined as members of staff who meet the criteria to be selected as Category A (academic staff with a contract of employment of 0.2 FTE or greater and on the payroll of the submitting HEI and whose primary employment function is to undertake either ‘research only’ or ‘teaching and research) or Category C (employed by an institution other than a higher education institution) staff on the census date (31 October 2013), and who started their careers as independent researchers2 on or after 1 August 2009.

2Independent researcher definition:

For the purposes of the REF, an individual is deemed to have started their career as an independent researcher from the point at which:

a. They held a contract of employment of 0.2 FTE or greater, which included a primary employment function of undertaking ‘research’ or ‘teaching and research’, with any HEI or other organisation, whether in the UK or overseas, and

b. They undertook independent research, leading or acting as principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant or significant piece of research work. (A member of staff is not deemed to have undertaken independent research purely on the basis that they are named on one or more research outputs.)

The following do not meet the definition of an ECR (this list is not exhaustive):

a. Staff who first acted as an independent researcher while at a previous employer – whether another HEI, business or other organisation in the UK or elsewhere – before 1 August 2009, with a contract of 0.2 FTE or greater.

b. Staff who first acted as an independent researcher before 1 August 2009 and have since had a career outside of research or an extended break from their research career, before returning to research work. Such staff may reduce the number of outputs submitted according to paragraph 92a.iv (career breaks).

c. Research assistants who are ineligible to be returned to the REF unless, exceptionally, they are named as principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant or significant piece of research work on the census date and satisfy the definition of Category A staff  

ECRs may be submitted with fewer than four outputs without penalty in the assessment, as described in paragraphs 90-100 and in the panel criteria and working methods documents.