Funding your Research Blog

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
2015
admin

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.

Work backwards

23rd Jun
2015
admin

Really useful advice. The process may vary slightly depending on the funder and your own universities procedures but the broad principles are the same. For those that work with me they will already know that I talk a lot about making sure you give yourself enough time to develop a strong application and this process must include the internal sign off and peer review / feedback. The tips included in this post are well worth adhering to.

The challenges of being a Research Administrator…

This blog doesn’t provide any specific tips on how to apply for grants or have a successful research career but is a self-indulgent post promoting a blog post which interviewed me! I was interviewed recently by Piirus regarding challenges in research management. You can read the blog Piirus Interview. If you have any comments or thoughts on the issues raised in the interview I would love to hear them.

Scholarly editing and networking

29th May
2015
admin

Another way to network – not just for doctoral students, the ideas within the post can be applied more widely, especially to early career researchers. I’m aware of a few examples of where editing opportunities have created research collaborations in the future.

Networking to success

15th May
2015
admin

When talking to academics it is apparent to me that networking is often underestimated in the grant getting world. Lots of people think they should be applying for funding themselves, where they are the PI and they may or may not have supporting CoI’s. This can work and can be appropriate but will depend very much on the type of funding scheme you are going for, the size of the project, the type of research and the track record of the PI. If in doubt then talk to your research development staff and they can help you to determine what is the best route for you to go down.

Working with other people, whether they be from your own institution or beyond, is a really important way to get known and get yourself attached to other grant applications. It should be obvious that if you put in an application and nobody reviewing it has either heard of you or read any of you work and you are doing research in their field then the odds of you getting the funding are pretty slim. Would you lend money to someone who had no credit history? The funders will look at distributing their ever tighter funding pots in the same way. Publishing is a key route to getting yourself out there and known but there are other things you can do, networking being one. Networking may involve presenting at relevant conferences but could include simply attending these conferences or engaging with academics interested in your areas of research through online forum’s, special interest groups, twitter, blogs or by setting up your own groups whether they be face to face or virtual. There is another way though which is gradually becoming more popular and that is to use web profiles that are yours alone and sit outside of any profile you may have on the university website.Taking this approach is not a panacea to networking but can be an important part of the process. There are three established or emerging platforms that can be used to share information and tell the world about your work. These three platforms have slightly different foci but all can be useful depending on what you want to do:

1) Piirus – This is a relative newcomer to the networking game. It emerged in the UK but is now a global platform that looks to connect researchers together. Researchers populate their own profile and can search for people with particular expertise or for those who might have a shared research interest. The good thing about the site is that everyone on there is open to connecting with people so you are pushing at an open door. It is free to set up a profile and is worth engaging with if you are active in research or looking to become more so.

2) Linkedin – This website is targeted more at the business world than that of academia but if you are interested in making policy connections and getting your publications noticed by business people, policy makers and local communities then this could be the site for you. It is free to join although paid for accounts with more functionality are available. You can put your career history on here, connect with a wide range of people from outside academia (as well as within) and you can join groups, publish posts and be as active as you like, even on the free membership.

3) Academia.edu – This is the worlds largest site for academics to make connections and share research papers. They boast that by placing papers on their site they can increase citations by up to 83%. This site can be very effective if you want to upload your papers and research and enable other academics to search for and cite it. Over 21.5m academics are members and it is straightforward to set up a account.

All three of these offer a slightly different service and can enhance your profile both within the academy and beyond. If you haven’t signed up to one or all of them you really should consider it. And then get out there are present your research wherever you can as well! Are there other online platforms out there that academics should be engaging with? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Don’t be late

21st Apr
2015
admin

For all the PI’s out there, please do keep this in mind, it can only strengthen the chances of success. There are always exceptions to any rule but springing applications upon support staff late i the day does nobody any favours. 🙂

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