Our Future Research Leaders

Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change
Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies

Profile image of Jo Ingold

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future Research Leaders scheme is an annual grant awarded to high-quality individuals. The scheme aims to equip the grant holder with the “skills set to become the future world leaders in their field” as well as funding “excellent social science research projects.”

Within Leeds University Business School, Professor Jean Clarke, professor in entrepreneurship and organisational theory, and Dr Jo Ingold, lecturer in HRM and public policy, have both been awarded Future Research Leaders grants.

Professor Clarke was awarded £214,658 as part of the 2011/2012 cohort, and Dr Ingold was awarded £260,518 the following year in 2012/13.

Here, Professor Clarke and Dr Ingold talk more about their projects and offer advice to researchers considering applying for the ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme at some point in their career.

What is the focus of your project?

Professor Clarke: My project aims to identify and analyse how successful entrepreneurs communicate with investors. It builds on my previous research on visual symbols that entrepreneurs use, such as clothing and office space.

I started this more in-depth research into language and gesture because although there’s some information out there about what to say in a pitch, and the order in which to say it, there’s little research about how to say it, particularly with regards to what to do visually.

Gesticulation, and in particular hand gestures, can be instrumental in determining whether or not an individual secures funding. Research has suggested that the combination of both gestures and metaphorical language creates the most successful pitches.

Dr Ingold: My research aims to examine the relations between welfare to work services and employers in the different policy contracting regimes of the UK and Denmark.

How societies help unemployed people obtain work is a highly topical issue, particularly during these trying economic times. Governments are increasingly using 'payment by results' models to deliver public services, including 'welfare to work' programmes which aim to help the unemployed into work. Employers are critical to the success of these policies, yet we know little about the 'employer engagement' relationships developed between organisations delivering welfare to work services and employers.

It is intended that the findings from the project will contribute to the design and delivery of employment services.

What appealed to you about this grant?

Dr Ingold: This scheme replaced the ESRC’s postdoctoral fellowship and first grants scheme, so as someone just a couple of years post-PhD, it seemed like an appropriate one to go for, particularly as it's a fairly substantial first grant. The grant is also not just about the research but there is an explicit focus on the development of the PI (Principal Investigator) as a future research leader.

How long should people allow to write the application?

Professor Clarke: It takes at least a couple of months to write the application, but your ideas need to be in place before you even start writing anything; you should consider how the scheme might fit in to your career plan before the call comes out. You also need to allow time to send your application out to friendly reviewers for feedback. Don’t leave it to the last minute! The Research Office team will not thank you for it! If you try to upload it just before the deadline, it will look sloppy and you’ll make mistakes.

What areas did you identify for skills development?

Dr Ingold: My key focus was on research leadership skills development, research skills development and knowledge exchange skills. I felt that these were particular areas that I could point to where I could clearly see how I could develop myself as a researcher. Through the grant I have the opportunity to mentor another early career researcher, as well as to develop my own methods skills.

Professor Clarke: The two main training areas for me were specific to the analysis of visual methods. I did a post-graduate diploma in conversation analysis and also went to the Berlin Gesture Centre. It enabled me to develop skills in another area and extend skills I had acquired during my PhD.

How did you choose your mentor?

Dr Ingold: I was already working with my mentor Professor Mark Stuart on a related project so it made sense that we continued this. Since I arrived at Leeds, Mark has been very supportive of my research agenda and provided guidance and challenge, which helped me when it came to writing this grant to upscale my work. Mark’s strong track record of generating external research income and in leading major practitioner-driven evaluation projects has also been very helpful. 

Would you recommend the Future Research Leaders grant to others?

Dr Ingold: I would definitely encourage others to apply. I think it's an excellent grant that offers a great deal and is also a prestigious award to have on your CV. It's a great opportunity for those post-PhD to undertake their first substantial research project as PI.

Professor Clarke: It’s an amazing experience to get some time to write out your ideas and develop your research. Often in early career years, you become overwhelmed by the teaching. You don’t have the research time you need and can get disconnected; you often don’t even have time to publish. With this grant, teaching time is reduced and you can develop your research strategy.

I wouldn’t just recommend everyone go for it though. It takes a lot of time to apply for the grant. You need to be realistic and consider what your chances are of being awarded it. You should do a cost benefit analysis before investing the time. I had recently published a number of publications and knew I was in a strong position to apply.

Has the grant enabled you to develop skills and carry out research that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise?

Professor Clarke: It really helped me to extend the research I was working on. The most beneficial thing was getting trained in conversational analysis. I went to Loughborough University which does a specialist Conversation Analysis Masters. I developed skills in a whole area of research I’d previously only had a vague familiarity with. If I had had a full teaching load, I never would have had the chance to do that course.

Have you managed to build your network during this scheme?

Dr Ingold: The grant has enabled me to augment my existing networks and to build new ones. First and foremost, it provides resources to develop a new research agenda, which necessitates the building of new academic networks. For example, with colleagues in the UK and Europe I'm part of a network which is developing around employer engagement in active labour market policies. This has led to conference streams and a special issue for a highly ranked journal.

My host institution for the grant is the Center for Comparative Welfare Studies (CCWS), Aalborg University (Denmark), which has led to academic collaborations and to visiting fellows in the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation & Change (CERIC) here at Leeds, and hopefully an ongoing fruitful relationship.

I’ve also built up a network of non-academic contacts, for example I have an advisory board for the project comprised of policymakers, practitioners and other stakeholders. It’s led to some other collaborations across faculties in Leeds and beyond on slightly different research themes, which I hope will lead to further grant proposals and research projects.

Do you have any other advice for researchers planning on applying for this grant?

Professor Clarke: As well as thinking about the time it takes to apply, think through your impact statement carefully – you need to put some thought into the intended impact before doing the research.

Dr Ingold: If you have an interesting topic that has the potential for societal impact it's definitely something to go for. Focus on presenting your project as good value for money, but importantly as being practical and achievable within the timescale. It’s always useful to have previous proposals to look at, successful and unsuccessful.

The Future Research Leaders scheme is open to candidates who have a maximum of four years and four months’ postdoctoral experience and the support of an eligible UK research organisation. For more details about the grant, visit the website

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.