Funding your Research

Newton Fund: Latest Opportunities

25th Sep

This is simply a reminder that there are a range of funding opportunities currently open as part of the Newton Fund. The latest live opportunities can be found here. The Newton Fund’s aim is to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of collaborating countries.

To be eligible to apply the activities funded under the programme need to demonstrate that they are aiming to contribute to a reduction in poverty, and aim to further sustainable development (development that is likely to generate lasting benefits for the population of the country to which it is provided) or improve the welfare of the population of Newton Fund countries. More information about this criteria can also be found on the Newton Fund website.

If you have a potential partner in mind and you wish to explore an application then now is a good time to start talking to your research office!

Have an idea – how do you start the application?

17th Sep

So you have an idea for a research proposal but now you are sitting in front of a blank computer screen waiting for the words to magically appear. This should be easy right? We all know it isn’t but we all know time is precious too, especially when developing a research proposal as well as continuing with day to day teaching and academic work. So where do you start?

Someone recently sent an interesting web-page to me which has a useful schematic on it that provides a quick pointer on what your research proposal needs to cover and it challenges you to produce a short summary, a couple of paragraphs long, that will form the basis of your proposal. I think that irrespective of whether you are stuck for inspiration or not this is a good place to start. The website itself is a resource targeting early career researchers and is US based but lots of the messages and ideas on it are useful wherever you might be based. You can see the website here.

The website author, Dr Karen Kelsky, has produced a grant proposal template and you can see that here. I would suggest that before you get too bogged down in funder guidance or drafting the application form I would write out the research, using the structure Dr Kelsky has provided. Once you have this, share it with someone, a colleague, a research officer, your family or a complete stranger! They will soon tell you whether it makes sense or not. Pay particular attention to the ‘Gap in knowledge’ section which is essentially the ‘Who cares?’ question. Be clear about why your research is important and should be funded.

After you have this summary you are in a good position to launch into the full application, making sure you start that budget early and make sure you give yourself plenty of time too! What do people think of the template? Is it a good place to start? Is it missing anything important?

Updates to website!

17th Sep

After a quiet (ish) summer I have started to update some of the material on the website. In particular I have added a new ‘Useful Links’ section where I have included websites that may not all be directly related to HE and research (although many are) but may be of interest as you develop your academic and research careers.

I have included a number of networking sites, ones which if used well can really raise the profile of your research and help you make connections that may lead to new collaboration and research opportunities. I’ll continue to update this as the new academic year progresses and if you do have any suggestions as to other resources that I could put on the site then please do get in touch.


Really important advice! think about the way you structure and present your research. Ask yourself the question, are you really the first? And even if you are, is that a good thing? I know it is a question I ask all the time when reading proposals that make such claims.

Horizon 2020 – Recruitment of Experts

12th Aug

The European Commission is currently asking people to register as an expert for future assessment rounds of Horizon 2020 funding. Being a part of the assessment process gives you insights into how good proposals are written (as well as bad ones!) and will give you a sense of the types of things that are funded through the programme. If you are interested and serious about research funding in Europe then you should register your details. The expert process can lead to growing your own professional network as well, potentially opening up new opportunities.

The call from the EC can be found here. If you haven’t previously registered on the EU portal then you can do that here. You will need to select the ‘External’ registration link. If you are interested in finding out who the experts were that scored the latest rounds of Horizon 2020 funding then these can be found here (you will need to scroll to the bottom of the page).

Remember, if you do register to become an expert then please let your university research office know as it is useful to understand what ‘experts’ you work with when developing and supporting research funding applications.

The roller-coaster ride of research support

Over the last couple of weeks, right at the height of the academic off-season, the three universities that I support have received the outcome of a number of funding applications. These applications have ranged from large three years projects through to much smaller six month research programmes. Not surprisingly, like any university, the results proved to be a mixed bag. It’s tough getting the results as a PI. The amount of work that goes into an application can make a negative result feel like a real kick in the teeth. I feel for the PI’s I work with as sometimes these applications can feel like my applications too. The crafting of every sentence, budget line or research question can be challenging but I enjoy it.

Part of my job is (I think!) is to pick the PI’s up when they get rejected. I can tell them that success rates are low across the board, the schemes are all competitive, their application was good, they should take any feedback on-board and maybe, just maybe they were simply unlucky. This isn’t always easy though, especially when I feel that the research application was interesting, well constructed, met funder guidelines and areas of interest, was good value for money and a credible PI was fronting it. There were at least two recent applications where that was the case and I, like the PI’s, were bewildered by the rejections, particularly where no feedback was offered. I know this isn’t an uncommon position but that doesn’t always help.

So this isn’t a post about how to get better at writing grant applications, it’s not got any great pearls of wisdom in it either. I simply wanted to get off my chest that sometimes I don’t understand why some projects aren’t funded and I have to keep on trying to learn. I, like the PI’s, need to pick myself up and dust myself off and go again. I’ll support the next application and the one after and I’ll try to make sure they are as strong as possible, drawing on the experience I and others have. The roller-coaster will continue. This roller-coaster always has the support staff going along for the ride! I’m just not sure that any of us can ever get off so I’ll keep trying to enjoy it as much as I possibly can, rejections or not!

So you have been awarded your grant…

Winning grants is tough, in fact we know it is really tough. Much time and energy is spent (often on lots of unsuccessful applications) in the process of developing a grant proposal. Whether you are successful or not will depend on many different factors but when you are successful that’s when the real challenge can start! To help make sure you deliver your grant effectively I have highlighted a number of areas below that you should be thinking about quickly.

For many of the following tasks you should always work closely with your Research Office or administration and finance colleagues. They will be able to help make sure that your research runs smoothly and you can get on with the most important and interesting parts. Having said that though, you are the PI, so you need to know where things are at on your project as in most cases the funder will come to you first if they have any questions. You remain responsible for making sure things run smoothly. Just make sure you use the support infrastructure surrounding you!

1) Set up the project: When you develop your application you are normally asked to provide a project plan. This may be in the form of milestones and usually is structured so that research is completed over a number of phases on a particular time scale. Make sure you get this out and check it is still deliverable. If you need to make significant changes then talk to the funder as well as your support teams. Once the final plan is agreed then make sure you stick to it! It can be useful to put milestones for outputs, reporting and meetings etc in your calendar so that you can keep on top of the project.

Part of your project set up may involve recruiting staff. If this applies to you then talk to HR as soon as possible. Any delays in staff recruitment can result in delays to projects and possible loss of part of the grant income.

2) Contracts: Your funder will send your university a contract for the research. Your university administration will handle the bulk of this but you should also take the time to look at the contract and make sure that at the very least the components relating to any deliverables make sense and are correct. Your support teams should point out any tricky clauses or issues to you but make sure if you have any questions that you ask for clarification before going too much further.

If your research involves working with other partners then it is likely that you will need to put sub-contracts in place. You can support this process by helping to facilitate conversations between your administration colleagues and that of partner universities. It is worth always keeping your Co-I’s in the loop so they can help resolve any issues quickly at their end if required. They don’t happen often but if everyone is up to speed they can always be resolved more quickly.

3) Working with Finance: Get advice and support from finance and build relationships with them. Hopefully you will already have a good relationship with them as they will have helped to develop your original budget. Finance can be an important ally and always (try) to see their nagging as a way of making sure you deliver the grant and spend money on eligible items! Making sure you spend your grant is an important part of delivering the research. Funder reporting will normally involve financial reporting so staying on top of this is important!

If you can keep on top of and address these three broad areas from the moment you are awarded the grant then you will go a long way towards successful delivery. You may encounter problems as you progress; this is common. If this occurs then always talk to your research office. Most problems can be resolved, especially if they are flagged up as early as possible.

And one last thing…..Remember; if you don’t spend the money you can’t claim it. The impact of this can be both personal and institutional reputational damage. Keep on top of that project from day one! Are there other areas you should be thinking about to make sure your research is delivered successfully?

British Academy competition timetable – start preparing now for the Autumn deadlines….

28th Jul

Really useful outline of various timetables for British Academy Research Funding calls coming up in the Autumn. A range of opportunities exist ranging from small grants to larger fellowships. Like all funding calls competition is fierce but by starting now you give yourself the best chance of success.

Join the British Council Peer Review Panel for Newton Fund applications

Becoming part of a peer review panel is a really useful way of gaining experience of the grant making process from the funder perspective. It is also a great way to network and meet other academics and researchers who may have similar interests. Everyone should always be looking at these opportunities – the latest from the British Council is below.

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