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!

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