Navigating research funding applications can be a minefield for an Early Career Researcher with little or no experience, so we’ve compiled a list of top tips from across the Internet and from experienced OR colleagues with strong track records of successfully securing funding income.
- Ensure you are committed to your field of study but also be prepared to compromise
Successful funding applications take a lot of hard work. If it is your first funding bid, it might be easier to explore what areas of research the various funding bodies are looking for applicants to undertake.
- Consider partnerships
Before writing a proposal, consider approaching potential partners first. Kerem Akartunali advises that external partners (whether a company or an academic elsewhere, preferably overseas) are very helpful. According to Claire McNulty, international collaborations can be of particular benefit to your career because it not only adds impact and reach, but also facilitates access to expertise, facilities and research environments that can significantly broaden your experience and networks. If the project is interdisciplinary, you should take interest in what your partner from another discipline is working on. Tony McEnery recommends taking your time to form ideas and plan applications with individuals you may like to work with.
Using the Researchers Database can help you find collaborative partners.
- Familiarise yourself with the funding application process
David Crosby and Traci Wilson both emphasise the importance of thinking about funding as a PhD student or early post-doctorate academic. David Crosby says that you could observe drafts of work being done within your department to enable you to grasp a sense of the process before having to do a proposal yourself. Traci Wilson also highlights how applications can be submitted for travel grants, equipment, etc., which offers important experience and evidence of your ability to secure funding before you have to approach larger, more complex proposals. Kerem Akartunali stresses that having a well thought plan makes a big difference between success and failure too.
- Decide what you need the money for and have a clear budget
According to Ken Emond, you should investigate possible funding bodies who give grants or fellowships that support what you need money for. In order to apply for these, you should be clear on what it is that you need the money for most. He stresses that you should read the guidance notes carefully so you don’t waste your time or that of the funding body by making inappropriate applications. Colleagues in your department or those within the research office of your university are a valuable source of support and guidance.
- Read the small print and familiarise yourself with the criteria of the funding for which you are applying and don’t submit your application late
Arne Strauss emphasises the need to read and re-read the funder’s guidelines on how to complete proposals; often the authors of funding proposals do not address all points that are supposed to be covered. Matthew Grenby stresses the importance of choosing the most appropriate scheme and reading the guidance thoroughly. You should make yourself aware of any stipulations before investing time and effort into the application. Ensure your application is neatly presented and well structured. Keep to the space provided and make certain any required supporting documents are submitted on time with your application.
- Tell funders how you will measure success and maximise impact
Claire McNulty advises to think about the long-term plan, as many funders want the benefits to last beyond the lifetime of the project. For example, travel grants and workshops happen over a short period but you should explain how you will ensure the sustainability of any links or collaborations that the funding has generated. Think about how you can maximise the impact of your research.
Paul Harper comments that many research funding councils explicitly require you to detail pathways to impact. By its very nature, OR is well placed to contribute to practical problems, so it is advisable (almost essential) to have industrial partners on your grant proposal.
- Stay focussed and develop a realistic and detailed research proposal
Ken Emond suggests that applicants commonly make mistakes because they don’t fully read or answer the questions posed. Applicants can also be over-ambitious regarding expectations of what can be achieved within the timescale. He recommends focussing on what is really important about your research, why you are the right person and how you have the skills and experience to complete your proposal. He stresses that you should write positively and with enthusiasm whilst omitting unexplained jargon.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Christine Currie says that preparation is key. Funding calls always provide a contact email address or phone number, but it is underused by researchers. According to Avril Allman, there will also be someone who can answer other important queries, such as the suitability of your idea in relation to the funding call, that aren’t necessarily covered in the handbook or FAQs.
- Have your application reviewed by both someone familiar and unfamiliar with your specific field
Matthew Grenby says that friends and family may generate questions that you hadn’t previously thought of whilst department colleagues can assist you in considering whether your idea is feasible in research terms. Remember, at the panel stage, applications aren’t reviewed by experts from your specific field.
David Crosby suggests that people within your institution are a valuable source of information to tap into. If they have already been successful in winning funding from the organisation you want to apply to, they will be aware of that organisation’s priorities and can advise on how to pitch your application to them. Kerem Akartunali advises that you make sure your department/school provides you extensive support (e.g. they might reduce your teaching load, provide a PhD studentship if grant successful, etc.), as this seems to be getting very important.
- If you are rejected, persevere and try again
When reviewers make suggestions, adapting and resubmitting an application can sometimes be successful after initial rejection. Christine Curries stresses the need for perseverance and Tony McEnery suggests that rejection doesn’t always translate to mean that a project is completely un-fundable. David Crosby says that rejection should be expected, as success rates can be so low. He recommends that rejection should be treated as a learning point. Jacek Gondzio echoes that point with the recommendation to apply for projects once a year or every second year; he says researchers should not be discouraged by not being funded with their first attempt.