Seed funding opportunities


Although a substantial fraction of the population now receive a university education, subject-based education research at the university level operates on a very small scale and we know very little about how students learn and what the barriers are to understanding and effective learning. The 2014 REF sub-panel for physics explicitly welcomed inputs on physics education research but it did not receive any. Undoubtedly, one of the major factors in this state of affairs is the absence of any sustainable funding route for such research (see

Because there is no funding route, it is very difficult for subject-based researchers in physics departments to develop a stable research group and acquire the same status as those who do research more conventionally associated with physics. And yet, not only is there a clear need for such research but, with practitioners based in the departments, there is an immediate route to impact.

There is one obvious issue associated with developing a sustainable funding stream for this type of research, which is that none of the research councils sees it as part of their remit. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) does fund research into education but, by their own admission, this work is restricted to education in schools; in fact, the type of researcher who carries out this type of work would not have the subject expertise to do similar work on, say, quantum mechanics or electromagnetism. In effect, it is the structure of the research council framework that discourages research in this area.

In order to move forward on this issue, the Institute is trying to engage with the research councils to find a funding stream. However, a legitimate comment from RCUK would be that they do not see any applications for such funding and are, therefore, not convinced there is an issue. But potential applicants for such funding do not see a plausible route and are not prepared to invest time and energy in creating a proposal with little prospect of submission, let alone success. It is the purpose of this project to try to break the deadlock.


The Institute of Physics will provide three grants of up to £10k each for researchers, research groups and/or consortia of research groups to be used to develop applications for research funding from a research council or equivalent body. The grants will be paid as £5k in advance and up to £5k (depending on the amount awarded) when the application is ready for submission. The aim is to be as flexible as possible in terms of what is funded; possible items include:

  • Travel costs
  • Cover costs for teaching
  • Preliminary investigations

Items that will not be allowed are:

  • Overheads, including FEC
  • Direct salary costs for applicants
  • Equipment


Applications should be a maximum of 2A4 pages using 11 point typeface. Diagrams, relevant research outputs, preliminary data, if applicable, may be included as an appendix. The case should include:

  1. The names and affiliations of all the applicants, together with a brief description of their relevant experience, indicating the likely Principal Investigator.
  2. A brief description of the proposed research topic for the eventual grant application (it is understood that this will be lacking in detail at this stage), including an explanation of why this is a good area to explore.
  3. A justification of the funds requested.
  4. An indication of when the final bid is expected to be ready for submission.

The closing date for applications is 30 October 2015 and they should be sent by email to Professor Peter Main ( from whom further details may be obtained.


  1. Applications are welcome from consortia that include researchers from other disciplines, such as another science, psychology or social science, but this is not mandatory. The Principal Applicant must be based in a physics department (i.e. an administrative unit that offers an accredited physics degree) and the final research programme should be centred on physics education.
  2. An individual may be associated with more than one application without limit.
  3. Successful applications will be selected by an ad hoc committee drawn from the Institute’s various networks associated with higher education. No one submitting an application will be part of the judging process.
  4. The intention is to fund research applications, not implementation of research outcomes. That is, while it is entirely reasonable to build upon existing research, the generated applications should describe original work and not the implementation of research outcomes from other work. Selection criteria will be: viability, originality and relevance to physics higher education.  
  5. The final research submissions to the research councils should represent a substantial programme, well beyond the small grants of a few thousand pounds formerly offered by the HEA.
  6. It is expected that the final research submissions should be ready by spring 2016.
  7. Successful applicants will be required to sign a grant agreement as a condition of receiving the funding.