Attracting outstanding research talent to Ireland is one of the principal ambitions of SFI. Since its launch in 2003, the SFI Research Professorship Programme has sought to support national strategic priorities by assisting research bodies in the recruitment of world-leading researchers for Professorial Chairs, or similar research leadership positions in targeted scientific areas. The programme has also acted as a mechanism to support the recruitment of individuals who possess a strong industry background and may also allow for the recruitment of those intending to hold senior roles in SFI Research Centres or other centres of scale.
The SFI Research Professorship Programme will not only provide Research Bodies in Ireland with an opportunity to identify and create strategically relevant, timely and critically needed posts, but will also ensure that those posts are filled by world-class researchers who will be recognised by their peers for their achievements and who will have already demonstrated their excellence by obtaining funding through extremely competitive funding calls (such as those coordinated by the European Research Council and/or major national science funding agencies), or who are able to convince their peers that they have the potential to win such funding in the near future.
Given the outstanding nature of the individuals this programme is intended to support, SFI will commit to providing financial support for up to 10 years through this call. Funding will be provided to successful applicants for an initial five-year programme of work; a second five-year cycle of funding may be provided, following a successful progress review of the initial activities and subject to available SFI budget.
Applications will include a budget tailored to the requirements of the proposed research programme for the first five-year cycle. No maximum budget is applied under this call; however, applicants must clearly articulate the need for the budget and value for money will be considered as part of the review criteria for this programme.
Through this call and in the future, the SFI Research Professorship Programme will introduce preferential themes, which will be associated with areas of key strategic, disciplinary or societal importance, and which are seen as being highly important to Ireland’s research and innovation landscape. Applications under these preferential themes are strongly encouraged. For the 2020 call, there are two preferential themes:
- Female Research Professors
- Joint Appointments with Institutions in the United Kingdom
SFI will consider candidates who do not align to these preferential themes; however, please note that institutions wishing to put forward such candidates will be required to seek pre-approval. SFI must be contacted in advance by e-mail (email@example.com) by the relevant institution, who must provide brief details on the post that the institution wishes to create, the area(s) of research that will be impacted by the new post and the identity of the proposed candidate. SFI will consider the details submitted and will respond as promptly as possible.
Under this call, SFI is reinforcing its commitment to providing opportunities for female researchers through its portfolio of programmes. As laid out in SFI’s Gender Strategy (Strand 2: Gender Balance in Research Teams), a key objective for the Foundation is for 30% of its awards to be held by female investigators by the end of 2020. In addition, SFI is mandating that almost all eligible Research Bodies adhere to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Athena SWAN Bronze and Silver Award timelines to be eligible to host SFI awards (these timelines can be found in the HEA statement on the Athena SWAN Charter in Ireland). To date, Research Bodies in Ireland have rarely attempted to utilise the SFI Research Professorship Programme as a mechanism for the recruitment of female researchers. Nonetheless, it is recognised that addressing gender imbalance in senior academic roles can help to inspire more widespread change at all levels within academia.
SFI acknowledges that many world-leading researchers are keen to have greater flexibility in where they carry out their work and will often manage large teams and have the necessary funding to be able to successfully hold positions in more than one institution or country. Given appropriate resources and ensuring that the activities are properly planned, and carefully managed, such joint appointments have the potential to be mutually beneficial to the institutions involved and to increase the productivity and visibility of the researcher concerned. This call will focus on joint appointments with institutions in the United Kingdom (UK). As well as being Ireland’s closest neighbour geographically, the UK shares many commonalities with Ireland that may serve to enhance the potential for successful joint appointments. Coming at a time when the UK leaves the European Union (EU), the option of a joint appointment with an institution in a country that is still a member of the EU will be seen by many to be highly attractive. Applications proposing joint appointments with any research institution in the UK will be considered through this call, but SFI notes the potentially exciting opportunities available through this programme to create cross-border joint appointments with Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster; such interactions could have the potential to catalyse larger-scale activities in the future, such as creating Research Centres involving institutions on both sides of the Irish border.
For clarity, it should be noted that applications submitted to SFI under Theme 1 may also seek to create joint appointments; however, such appointments may be with institutions anywhere in the world, including the UK. Researchers seeking to create a joint appointment are required to have appropriate research funding available in the country of their overseas research institution; funding provided by SFI through this call may not be used to support research activities in other countries.
Objectives of the SFI Research Professorship Programme
- To provide a mechanism for recruiting world-leading researchers to Ireland’s research institutions
- To encourage institutions to appoint female researchers to senior academic positions in Ireland, as prioritised through Theme 1
- To allow world-leading researchers to hold a joint appointment between institutions in Ireland and an institution abroad; joint appointments with research institutions in the UK are prioritised through Theme 2
- To increase the number of current ERC awardees working in Ireland and to provide a strong platform for future ERC successes
- To increase the number of leadership roles held by Ireland-based PIs in major European initiatives, in particular those supported under current and future European Union Framework Programmes
- To add critical expertise and excellence to SFI Research Centres and other centres of scale
- To increase Ireland’s success in winning top-tier international prizes
- To build reputation that helps to attract new partnerships with industry
- To further enhance the quality of academic outputs from Ireland’s research institutions, such that they are recognised as being amongst the best in the world
- To increase the proportion of invention disclosures, patents, licences and spinouts recorded by Enterprise Ireland that are directly linked to SFI-funded research
In 2018, the Irish Government undertook a review of the objectives of National Research Prioritisation, building upon the original exercise carried out in 2012, and taking into account a number of important challenges and developments, including the growth of disruptive technologies, Brexit and the adoption of UN Sustainable Development Goals, amongst others. Research Prioritisation will continue to demand that the majority of Ireland’s competitive funding is concentrated on areas deemed likely to yield the greatest economic and societal impact. For this call, proposals must either be aligned to one of the 14 Refreshed Priority Areas for 2018-2023, which are the constituents of six broad Research Priority themes that underpin the updated prioritisation exercise, or they must demonstrate significant industrial relevance and strong economic impact. In addition, for this call, proposals will ideally align to at least one of two preferential strategic themes; this call specifically seeks applications promoting the recruitment of female Research Professors and aims to create joint appointments with institutions based in the United Kingdom.
Suitable applicants for an SFI Research Professorship Programme award will be outstanding researchers in academia or industry, recognised as world leaders in their discipline, with a demonstrated capacity for strategic and dynamic leadership on the international stage. They will have already been successful in obtaining funding through extremely competitive funding calls or will demonstrate clear potential to do so in the near future.
SFI expects researchers funded through this programme to be exceptional people with the clear potential to bring about significant advancements for their chosen host institutions and for Ireland as a whole. In addition to their success (or potential for success) in winning competitive funding, applicants will meet many, if not all, of the following criteria:
- Holder of a full professorial position (or equivalent) at a major international research institution, or demonstrating an outstanding career trajectory that indicates that such a position will be earned in the near future
- Holder of a senior position in industry
- Recognised within their field(s) for their influential scientific and/or technological achievements
- Senior authorship of a considerable body of literature that has made a significant impact in their field
- Recipient of significant international awards and fellowships
- Plenary/keynote speaker at top-tier international conferences, and organiser of such meetings of importance
- Distinguished service record on national or international grant review boards
- Successful track record in securing independent funding from competitive, publicly funded sources and/or through private investment
Applicants from industry are required to demonstrate equivalent measures of esteem (e.g., serving on corporate boards, receipt of industry awards or fellowships). A successful track record in technology transfer, technology commercialisation and academic–industrial collaborations, where appropriate, is also highly desirable.
SFI has recently become a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA), and as such is aligning its review and evaluation processes with DORA principles. To this end, all types of research output are recognised and SFI is committed to assessing the quality and impact of research through means other than journal impact factors. In the spirit of supporting open research and as a signatory of Plan S, SFI will also consider a commitment to making data and other types of research, open and accessible.
Expressions of Interest will be assessed by SFI under the following criteria:
- Justification of the need to create a new professorial position, at both the national level (e.g., alignment with areas of current national priority) and at the institutional level (e.g., to help with local strategic objectives)
- Quality and significance of the candidate’s track record, and suitability to hold a senior position funded through the SFI Research Professorship Programme
- Appropriateness of the selected candidate for the position that the Research Body wishes to fill
- Level of planning and demonstrated commitment of the candidate and the host Research Body, including the recruitment package offered, the infrastructure being made available, and the progress already made in completing the recruitment of the candidate
In addition, where candidates are intending to apply as part of a joint appointment, a further criterion will be applied:
- Appropriateness of the planning, and clarity of the rationale for seeking to work in an Irish host Research Body as part of a joint appointment with an institution outside of Ireland
Full proposals will be assessed by an international peer-review procedure. The following, equally weighted criteria will be employed:
- Quality, significance, and relevance of both the recent research record and the career achievements of the applicant, including their suitability to receive an SFI Research Professorship Programme award.
- Quality, significance, viability and relevance of the proposed research programme and its potential contribution to the economic, scientific and educational development of Ireland.
- Quality, credibility and relevance of the impact statement, including the likelihood, scale and value of societal and/or economic effects on Ireland
- Quality, significance, and relevance of the applicant's leadership plan and how it will complement existing management structures at the host Research Body
Reviewers will also be asked to comment on the appropriateness of the proposed budget and team. In addition, for applications seeking to create a joint appointment, the reviewers will be asked to assess whether the plans for such an appointment are convincing and feasible. Reviewers will not be asked to score these aspects, but the comments provided will be taken into account by SFI when coming to a final decision on a proposal; in particular, opinions on the likely value for money demonstrated by the proposal will be carefully scrutinised.