Funding your Research Blog

In defence of the crowd

A really interesting read. Crowdfunding is not well developed as a research funding option here in the UK. I think it should be considered more carefully by universities and academics alike. For smaller research projects with clear and tangible public benefits it is worth exploring.

Research Impact Network Event – **NOW OPEN FOR REGISTRATIONS**

28th Feb

Impact within research in HE looks like it is here to stay. Following the REF Impact continues to develop and evolve and the implications for HE institutions, academics and administrators continue to be important. As a result of REF Impact there has been a growth in the number of resources available to help people incorporate Impact into their research. One such resource is the Research Impact Network. They hold a number of useful events and workshops, the latest of which is outlined below. Well worth attending if Impact is a key part of your role.

Time to write a grant application? Give yourself Time!

To pull a strong application together there are three key things to do (well there are lots of other things as well and blog posts will come in due course regarding them but these three I believe are key!). They are the three things that I keep coming back to when approached about grant writing tips and advice.

1) Give yourself time – an application written quickly, in only a few sittings rarely reads well and is usually easy to spot. One significant drawback of a quick application is there is little time to edit it. Good editing will help to make sure the application flows and therefore has an internal consistency. Further to this it is likely the research will have poorly thought through research questions and budgets. I have written about budgets previously and this can be accessed here. In essence I would suggest that whatever time you think it will take to write a strong application you will need double that time!

2) Answer the questions asked – sounds simple doesn’t it? It should be simple but it can easily forgotten, especially when you are close to your research. This is totally understandable but can lead to questions not being answered correctly or fully. My personal favourite is when a funder asks for a description of the aims and objectives. Often answers will start with a paragraph or two of context before listing the aims. This isn’t necessary, there is normally space for context and background information elsewhere in the proposal so it is best to put that text there. Just list the aims and objectives if that is what is asked for. Both reviewers and funding bureaucrats will like you if you do this (I know, I used to be one!). Keep it simple and if you have doubts about whether you are answering the questions then the third key thing to do will help address this.

3) Make sure you ask colleagues and research support staff to read your application – This is incredibly valuable. This process can be uncomfortable, particularly when the research idea is so important to you but by sharing your application with people who you trust will give you honest feedback your application can only be strengthened. This could include sharing you proposal with academic colleagues in your institution or a wider network. It may also involve sharing it with research support colleagues. By sharing it with both groups you will get insights from both technical and generalist readers which is important given that you will have both technical and more general reviewers looking at your proposal after it is submitted. Take any feedback offered and think through what it means. Adapt your proposal accordingly and ask people to read it again. Research support staff exist to read applications! Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and to debate points, it can really help clarify your thinking.

If you can successfully achieve all three of the above then you will submit a credible application. Even if it is not funded (hopefully it will be) you can use the information again for future applications and I can guarantee the time spent isn’t wasted. Are there any other key tips you should consider? There are lots of resources out there and some links to these are listed on the homepage. Happy grant writing!

Let’s talk about Ethics

16th Feb

Ok, I know nobody wants to talk about ethics! It never ceases to amaze me how little understanding there is of ethics in research within the Humanities and Social Sciences. I think sometimes people see ethics as a barrier or a problem when in fact it can be a really useful process to go through which can help you think through your research design and hopefully avoid (or at least manage) any potential problems in your research.

Most funders expect a proposal to address the ethics of the research within the application. Some approach it as a tick box exercise but more often than not there is now a requirement to explain whether there are any ethical issues with your research and how you will deal with them. On quite a few occasions academics have forwarded their response to me and it has said something along the lines of “The research raises a number of ethical issues and to address these an application will be made to the university ethics committee”. There is no doubt that this is a start but funders will expect a more coherent and nuanced explanation of the ethics issues raised and how they will be addressed. They want to know they are not giving their money to a maverick!

So where do you start? The university research office (if you have one) is the best place to go if you have initial questions but there are a number of on-line resources that I think are really helpful in giving both an overview of ethics in research but also help you to think through your own research design and its implications.

The British Sociological Association has a really useful guide to sociological research although it applies more broadly than that. Another useful Social Science resource has been produced by Lancaster University. Finally, a broader research ethics check list has been produced by the UK Research Integrity Office and this provides a good standard for research throughout the HE sector.

If you are after a good resource to keep on your bookshelf then this review might help. It provides a useful summary of Ethics and Values in Social Research by Paul Ransome. It is on my list of books to read! Perhaps ask your university library to get a copy?

No matter where you are in the ethics process there are resources available to help, you just need to know where to look and who to ask.Hopefully the resources described above can help you to get started. What tips do you have for working through the ethics of research projects and navigating the subsequent ethics approval processes?

New ESRC Funding Opportunities

13th Feb

Two calls have been announced recently by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which will be of interest to people within the Social Sciences. More details are provided below. I will endeavour to put funding calls of interest on this site but if you aren’t linked to a university (and even if you are!) I would suggest following the brilliant blog produced by the Research and Knowledge Exchange team at Manchester Metropolitan University. Their blog can be found here.

Research seminars and Strategic networks competition 2015/16

Funding is available for UK research organisations to hold Research seminars and Strategic networks for groups of academic researchers, postgraduate students and non-academic users from different organisations. This call closes on 8 April and further information can be found here.

ESRC-DFID Education and development: Raising learning outcomes in education systems programme – 2015 call

Pre-call announcement

ESRC and DFID are pleased to announce that we will be inviting applications to a second call under our Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems programme in March 2015. This £20 million programme is generating world-class cutting-edge social science research that addresses key questions on learning outcomes within education systems in developing countries. Further details can be found on the ESRC website.

For more general funding information and current calls then please use the links on the right hand side of this page which take you directly to some of the major UK and international funder websites.

To Tender or not to Tender….

18th Jan

Having come from a background in consultancy and government where tendering for work and evaluating tender proposals was an everyday part of life it surprised me greatly how tendering for research work is not something that commonly occurs in the academic community. There are and always will be exceptions to this with some departments gaining most of their research income through tendering for research work from governments, charities and other agencies.

I recognise that not all tendered work will either meet the definitions of research, be they the Frascati definition or the REF definition but there is a great deal of research work that is tendered and can be usefully used to develop subsequent publications and dare I say it, Impact! For some academics tendering can be seen as responding to other people’s research agendas and as such, won’t meet their own academic or research goals. This is undoubtedly true in some cases but creative thinking can ensure that the research work undertaken contributes to their specific research interests. Talking to your research development officer or team can help here.

Tendering for research work is a useful way of building a research profile, gaining an understanding of how to write research funding proposals and how to manage a research project and budget. This can be particularly useful for early career researchers or smaller universities starting with a small research base.

Despite this I understand that tendering can be stepping into the unknown for many academics and a lack of knowledge regarding how to tender can put people off. Tendering doesn’t have to be difficult but there are some key rules you should follow and it is really helpful if the university or department concerned takes the time to set up professional templates that can be easily adapted to meet each unique tender opportunity. If your university doesn’t have any templates then talk to your research office or ask colleagues who may have tendered for work before, there may be useful examples that can be used to develop templates.

To help demystify the process I have included a simple guide to tendering for research work below. It covers the basics and should enable the development of professional and competitive tenders. I hope you find it useful. Let me know if you have any suggestions or other ideas to help develop great tenders.

Developing Tender Proposals

The Research Project Budget!

It is not uncommon when developing a research funding application for the budget to be left until the very end and sometimes it becomes a last minute thing! Many academics will see the budget as a wholly administrative task and not something to worry about. It is often viewed as something that can be done by someone else. I don’t agree with this approach and I encourage all academics to think about their budget right at the start of the development of an application. This is important for a number of reasons including:

  • The process through which a budget is developed helps to map out the research, what resources are required and whether it is feasible. It can provide an early ‘sense check’ for the research. By developing a full and comprehensive budget early on it is easier to make adjustments to meet funder guidelines and subsequently identify where there may be shortfalls that need to be met from other budgets. I believe you should start with the full picture and see if the research project will work!
  • The budget can act as a guide to ensure that the written narrative in the proposal is internally consistent. Often when budgets are left to the end of the process things are included in the budget which are not referenced in the text or vice versa. In addition the budget may not match the methods. For example, getting the right number of interviews or trips is crucial both in the budget and the text and shows an attention to detail and a good overall understanding of what you are trying to achieve.
  • The early development of the budget may steer you towards different funders. I have worked with academics in the past who wanted to apply for grants like the ESRC Standard Grant Scheme but after working up a budget the total cost of the research came in much lower than the £200,000 threshold for the scheme. By developing the budget early we can focus our efforts on more appropriate funders.

Now that I have convinced you to start developing the budget early on I know many people start to panic about what should go into the budget. The key thing is don’t worry! All budgets, like applications or journal articles, go through a number of drafts in order to refine them and make them as realistic and robust as possible. Having said this I know it is useful to have a template to start the thinking process. As such the following list should help in developing the first draft of a budget:

  • Start and end dates – are they realistic for the project? Do they fit with the funders guidelines?
  • PI and Co-I time – How much time will be spent on the project?
  • Other researcher time – Will other researchers need to be appointed? If so, for how long and are they full time, part time etc?
  • Travel – Where will you need to travel to conduct the research? How will you get there – train? Plane? How many trips are required?
  • Consumables – these should generally make only a small proportion of costs but are any required? Laptop? Dictaphone? Check the funders guidance.
  • Transcription – How many hours of transcription? Who will do this? Is it in house or outsourced?
  • Experiment costs – Are there any costs to hire equipment or to pay for participant involvement in any experiments?
  • Conferences – Will you be attending any conferences to share findings? Where are the conferences? Are they within the project dates? Are they appropriate to your research?

This list is just for starters. The more you map out your research at the beginning the more detail will be included in the early budgets which will only strengthen the proposal. Lastly, it is worth remembering, you will need to justify your budget? Most funders will expect you to justify the amounts you are asking for so be ready to explain what you have done and why! Further really useful information regarding budget development can be found on the Research Whisperer Blog here. Any other thoughts and suggestions are welcome – what are your tips to developing a good research proposal budget?

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