Funding your Research Blog

Research management in small institutions – ARMA here we come!

Research management in small institutions can present unique challenges. I have talked about some of the positives before and now I am pleased to report that I, and a couple of colleagues from St Mary’s and Sussex Universities, will be presenting a workshop at the ARMA Annual Conference in June exploring the challenges of Research Management within smaller institutions. Below is the title, abstract and learning aim for the workshop:

Title: Research Management in Small Institutions: Lessons for growing research cultures


With the ever growing competitiveness of the research funding landscape smaller institutions are recognising the need to be innovative in order to increase their share of research funding. Many have started to professionalise their research support through implementation of new approaches to resource sharing and collaboration as well as building internal research infrastructure that is more common to larger institutions. But how can you drive these changes when resources are restricted and institutions have been predominately teaching-led in the past? This workshop, led by Leeds Trinity and St Mary’s Universities with input from other smaller institutions including Newman and Bishop Grosseteste Universities, will provide a unique insight into developing and implementing research strategies and culture when budgets are tight and you are starting from a low base.  The workshop will outline examples of research development structures whilst also describing a number of practical approaches to developing research culture, using examples of grant development support, research management systems and career development support for researchers. These approaches may be of benefit particularly to staff operating at departmental/faculty level across a range of institutions.

Learning outcome:

“Participants will, through a greater appreciation of research development in smaller institutions, be equipped with ideas and examples of how research culture can be developed and income can be grown from a low base.”

If you are coming to the conference then you would be more than welcome to join our session. The new conference website has just gone live. You can find out all about the conference on it and specific information about our session here. Hope to see you in Birmingham!

Who cares? You need to convince the funder that they should care

About three years ago I attended a funding workshop where an external speaker presented their take on how to structure, pitch and write a funding proposal. I think the focus was on European funding but many of the messages were applicable across a range of funding schemes both within and outside the UK. There was one message though that came from that session which has stayed with me since and that involves one key question (and a number of sub questions) you should be asking yourself as you develop an application.

That question? Well it’s a simple one – ask yourself ‘Who cares?’ To help think through a question like this I find it helpful to imagine describing your research idea to a member of your family, or perhaps a friend who is unfamiliar with your research and then think about how you would answer the ‘Who cares?’ question that they pose at the end of your description. If you can convince your friend or family member that they should not only care but take an interest in your research (part way to impact already….!) then you should be in a position to build a strong case to a funder.

What I particularly like about this question is that it is abrupt and shocking. Most people are experienced at explaining their research (although some are better at this than others!) but being challenged with an abrupt question like ‘Who cares?’ can catch you off guard and should make you think quickly and on your feet about why your research is important and why people should care. In my own work, supporting academics across a number of institutions, I will sometimes challenge research ideas in exactly this way. Getting your head around the question and making sure that your answer is convincing, credible and robust is a great first step in creating an effective argument to a funder.

If being so blunt is too jarring first thing on a Monday morning or early on in the drafting process then you might want to consider the following questions and make sure that you can answer them. The answers to all of these should appear in your application and are sub-questions of ‘Who Cares?’:

  1. Why this research question/s? (Remember, just because something hasn’t been asked or investigated before it doesn’t mean that it is important or worthwhile)
  2. Why you? (Why are you the best person or the best team to lead this research? Think about who your competition is and make sure you present a strong case for you)
  3. Why now? (Some funders might love your idea but not be convinced that now is the time to fund the research. They might find other proposals more convincing when it comes to the timeliness of the research. Make sure you are clear as to why this research needs to be done now)
  4. Why this funder? (Thinking about who is best placed to fund your research is really important. Think carefully about how your research aligns not only with eligibility criteria but also with strategic goals or research themes of the funder).

I love the ‘Who cares?’ approach. It can really help sharpen thinking and give you a great platform to build a strong funding application. Make sure you are asking yourself this, and the sub-questions, at every stage of the application.

On leaving home and growing up

Great blog about leaving the comforts of your ‘academic home’ in order to learn and grow in your research. Food for thought for those pondering their next research move.

Writing a research application? Make best use of university resources

Research Offices and support staff in institutions have lots of resources available to help researchers identify funding, draft applications and make sure that their application is approved (and hopefully successful!). Support is usually at the end of the phone or email or you may be able to pop into a dedicated research office. Much time is normally spent by the research office making sure that the right resources are publicised widely and that people are aware of them but we know that we may not always get this right and that you may forget (or not know) what is out there as that important email is buried at the bottom of the in-box.

As I have travelled around various different institutions (from the large and prestigious to the smaller with less resources) providing training for academics interested in research I have been struck by just how many of them don’t know that they have access to a huge range of resources at their fingertips and that most of it will provide all the basic information they need to start the journey towards a successful grant application. These range from search tools to find funding, advice from successful applicants and making sure their on-line profile is up to scratch!

So if you have an idea but don’t know where to go for support then you may want to start with the following:

  1. Go on-line from a university networked computer and see if you can search on one of the two most prominent research funding databases, Research Professional or Research Connect. These are mines of information and can help you identify the right funding opportunity without having to resort to Google or other search engines. Most universities subscribe to one of the two and both are very easy to use. You can set up your own account on these websites and get the latest funding opportunities sent straight to your in-box.
  2. It is always worth looking at your own universities research pages. These may be on the internet (but may be restricted to the Intranet) and they will usually outline what internal support will be available to support research.For example, if your institution runs internal research support or sabbatical schemes then you will find details of these here. These schemes can be ideal for testing out collaborations, research ideas and to undertake pilot data collection which can give any future external funding applications a boost.
  3. Speak to your colleagues, especially if you are aware of them having received research support funding. Ask them about their experiences and how they identified the right funder. This can be a really productive way of finding out some useful hints and tips and they may even share their successful application with you.

Okay, so these next two aren’t strictly related to your university but they should be easy to do and useful when navigating the world of research funding.

  1. Are you a member of any academic societies, external research groups or organisations or subscribe to particular journals within your field? If you do it is worth checking out their websites as they may have specific resources that apply only to your field or may be accessible to members only. If there is a group or society you always thought you should join but haven’t got around to yet then now might be a good time to engage with them and join up.
  2. Twitter and the power of social media. If you are already on-line and have a Twitter account then make sure you are following those funders that are relevant to your field. Funding organisations tend to tweet the latest opportunities and it is a great way to find out first what new opportunities are out there. In fact, making sure your digital identity is up to date and contains relevant information that potential funders and collaborators might be looking for is really important. To help you achieve this you may want to undertake a Digital Identity Health Check. This is easy to do and can help to increase your visibility on-line. In addition you may want to try and engage more widely with social media and if that is the case then the following book exploring social media for academics is a great starting point.

These five things will help you access plenty of resources that are out there and waiting to be tapped in to. All of these things can be (and should be!) done in conjunction with conversations with your research office. Do people have other tips they would want to share? There are bound to be other approaches and resources out there (including internal ones) that can be simple to implement and help you find out how and where to apply for funding. If so I’d love to hear about them. Good luck with that application!


ISRF Mid-Career Fellowship

The Independent Social Research Foundation have recently opened their Mid-Career Fellowship competition for researchers working in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The Foundation wishes to support independent-minded researchers to explore and present original research ideas which take new approaches, and suggest new solutions, to real world social problems.

The scheme is open to European based scholars who are at least ten years post PhD. The fellowship can last for up to one year and will fund up to £60,000 to enable buyout of teaching and administration costs. They may match fund research costs in conjunction with the host institution but the total cost must not exceed £60,000.

The ISRF describe eligible research as “Innovative research which breaks with existing explanatory frameworks so as to address afresh empirical problems with no currently adequate theory or investigative methodology. Innovation may also come from controversial theoretical approaches motivated by critical challenge of incumbent theories.”

The deadline for the application is 4pm (UK time) on the 19th of February 2016. The application form is on-line. Further information can be found on the ISRF website. If you are interested in applying then please contact your institution research office.

My blog: 2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

ISRF Mid-Career Fellowships

Then Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) will launch their new Mid-Career Fellowship funding call in January 2016. The  Foundation wishes to support independent-minded researchers to do interdisciplinary work which is unlikely to be funded by existing funding bodies. It is interested in original research ideas which take new approaches, and suggest new solutions, to real world social problems.

The scheme supports innovative research which breaks with existing explanatory frameworks so as to address afresh empirical problems with no currently adequate theory or investigative methodology. Innovation may also come from controversial theoretical approaches motivated by critical challenge of incumbent theories.

The ISRF will fund up to £60,000 over 12 months which can be used to buy out teaching and administrative responsibilities. ISRF generally expects applicants to be 10 years post PhD and be in a salaried position at an HE institution. Applications close at 4pm on 19th February 2016.

Further details can be found on the ISRF website.  If you are interested in applying for this call then please speak to your university Research Office in the first instance.

ORCID expands in the UK

Research Council’s UK have just announced that their on-line grant systems will be in a position to record ORCID identifiers from early in 2016. Further information relating to this change can be found here.

ORCID is an international system that assigns researchers who sign up with a unique digital identity. This digital identity enables an accurate record of research outputs to be kept for individuals researchers irrespective of any changes to home institution or even if they were to leave academia altogether. It will provide a simple way that people can see all of the research for an individual, thus hopefully making research more discoverable. Individual academics or researchers can find out more about ORCID and sign up if they wish on the ORCID website.

Although having an ORCID identifier is not compulsory for all funding applications in the UK some funders now require you to input an ORCID identifier when you make an application. These include Wellcome Trust and NIHR for all personal award applications.

If you haven’t yet signed up to get your own ORCID identifier then now may be a good time to do it!

Some advantages of being small

Whether you are a researcher, lecturer, administrator or research support team member working for smaller institutions can often feel like being at a disadvantage. Now, clearly there are some challenges but it isn’t all bad as I have discovered over the last year. As a smaller institution there are some things we can do better than large ones and these strengths and opportunities should be exploited wherever possible. So don’t despair, we can do the following:

  1. Get decisions made more quickly: Getting access to senior people is much easier. Senior academic and administrative staff have a good handle on the needs, priorities and resources of the institution and can say yes/no much more quickly. Getting a contract signed or proposal submitted can be quick and (relatively!) painless. It can be that the culture is a little more ‘Can do’ and less ‘there are rules we need to follow’.
  2. Share intelligence and research across the university: Being small makes it easier to share information. It doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges but making sure people know what is going on is easier as there is often just one place to go for information or you will always bump into the right person in the corridor on the way to get a coffee! This can help us to respond quickly to changing conditions or new opportunities.
  3. Learn from each other and identify and use skills promptly: It is always useful for people to know what skills other people have. It can help to build research collaborations, enable the sharing of good practice and helping to transfer skills and knowledge either informally or through formal training. We can always do better at formally recording people’s skills and affiliations but even without a formal record by talking to each other we can usually respond quickly. Research days that involve most of the academic community really help here.
  4. Provide support across disciplines: Small institutions tend to have smaller departments. Whilst this can at times mean there isn’t a critical mass to make things happen if one or two people are not around it does often mean that we can get a range of disciplines in a room together to talk research, hear about each others research and provide feedback or ask questions in an engaging and supportive way. It also makes my life more interesting! I’m not restricted to supporting academics in just one discipline so I learn so much and am exposed to a range of ideas and funders. I believe this makes it easier for me to support a range of academics, hopefully they agree!
  5. Know who to go to for advice: You will almost always know who you need to go to to get answer or to get help. In larger institutions in can be confusing to navigate your way around various support services or internal structures to find the right person or answer to your question.
  6. Stand out and show off our strengths and expertise: People tend to notice you if you have a big win or success at a small institution. This recognition is not just internal but can be amplified externally. Shouting about your strengths isn’t always easy when you are small but with the right promotion and internal support it can have a big impact. The successes can rub off on others too. Even small successes can help create vibrant research cultures in smaller institutions.

Some of these advantages do have their downsides (for example with number 5 if the right person is out of the office it may be harder to get things done!) but on the whole I think that with positive management and leadership these can all help to shape positive research cultures. Small institution know they may not have the same levels of support or infrastructure when compared to large universities but having worked at both ends of the spectrum I’m aware that small can indeed sometimes be beautiful. Are there any other advantages, or dare I say it, disadvantages?

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