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C-DICE Sandpits: A unique developmental opportunity that contributes to the Net-Zero agenda

C-DICE Sandpits: A unique developmental opportunity that contributes to the Net-Zero agenda

The C-DICE programme aims to enhance the development of postdoctoral researchers whilst advancing the Net-Zero carbon agenda. Research sandpits are a key mechanism that we use to achieve this goal.

Sandpits are defined by UKRI as having “a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants –  including some active researchers and other potential users of research outcomes – to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to address research challenges”. They are a means to develop novel interdisciplinary research.

The C-DICE sandpits bring together interdisciplinary teams of postdoctoral researchers who use their skills and expertise to address ‘real-world’ challenges in the fields of infrastructure, cities and energy.

What is the C-DICE sandpit process?

At the end of an anonymous review process, successful applicants are invited to join 5 online sessions. Although residential sandpits foster connections in a shorter period, the online format enables postdoctoral researchers from across the UK to juggle their current workload and personal commitments. The total time commitment is 3 days, split into 4 half days and one full day. In 2021 C-DICE ran two sandpits that brought together 30 researchers from 13 partner universities.

Individual researchers form teams of 2 to 5 members midway the sandpit process. Each team identifies and refine its research question, and then designs and develops a project to address it. In addition to the collaborative sessions, the C-DICE sandpit also provides developmental opportunities. Postdocs can learn more about shaping a tractable, fundable research project, working collaboratively, and writing a good funding proposal. At the end of the sandpit process participants are invited to apply for funding up to £30,000.

We are extremely grateful that Dr Joe Shearring and Dr Sinead Balgobin, the EPSRC Heads of Regional Engagement for East Midlands and West Midlands respectively, contributed to our sandpits. They offered invaluable insights from a funder’s perspective and joined the review panels.

What are the career development benefits of joining a C-DICE sandpit?

Sandpit participation offers postdoctoral researchers a great opportunity to extend their network of colleagues across disciplines and universities, especially for those who recently moved to the UK.

‘As a new researcher in the UK, some of the short-term benefits of attending Sandpit 1 included networking, getting to know what fellow researchers in the field are doing, and learning more about the funding bodies in the UK and the way they work.’

Dr Sanchari Deb, Research Fellow, EUTOPIA Postdoctoral Fellowship, Warwick University

Participants also have the chance to work across disciplines to foster new collaborations and to develop interdisciplinary, creative and innovative solutions to the problem they identify. The sandpits provide postdoctoral researchers with the unique experience of leading, developing and pitching an interdisciplinary funding application. The seed-corn or pathway funding of £30,000 offered to undertake research and development work may lead to a larger funding bid and a more sustained research project.

As part of the sandpit process, participants also develop their research skills, in particular project development and applying for funding. Participants are encouraged to reflect on the skills they developed and their career development.

‘It was fun doing something different from what you are doing everyday. It was also a great opportunity to see how researchers from other disciplines think, how they approach research problems from different perspectives; and to get involved in the application process and understand it better.’

Dr Yesmeen Khalifa, Research Associate, Keele University

The majority of the participants indicated that their line managers supported the sandpit application and allowed them to attend the sessions. This indicates that principal investigators understand the beneficial impact that sandpit participation can have on postdoc careers.

The contribution of successful proposals to the Net-Zero agenda

The first sandpit focused on Net-Zero solutions that are compatible with promoting circular economy convergence. The winning project will analyse the decisions behind retrofit interventions on residential properties. The second sandpit explored approaches to promoting user-driven adoption of Net-Zero solutions. The winning project will use choice experiment to explore willingness to change behaviour.

Upcoming C-DICE Sandpit (May 2022)

The applications for Sandpit 3 will open early next week. Please look out for the theme this sandpit will explore. More details will be available on our Sandpits page.

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