Sometimes a kick in the teeth can be good for you!

My rationale needed to be contextualised, my aims were too tentative and I had a weak dissemination strategy. Apart from that my bid had potential.

This was the feedback I got on a two-day course run by the Missenden Centre on bidding for research funding. John Wakeford and his small team of experts began by painting a rather dismal picture – an institutional success rate of more than 50% is rare apparently. And this does not necessarily mean that the amount of bidding should be increased, rather it’s better to ensure that every bid is precise, well-crafted and perfectly pitched.

The course was structured around presentations on the national context, the processes of the research councils and, most usefully, dissection of our own bids. My group was small and we quickly learned not to be too precious about surrendering our proposals for scrutiny. The critique we got from each other, from the facilitators and from the research development officers (who joined us on day two) was invaluable and I left with these key lessons:

  • Take time to prepare a robust bid – rushed responses to late calls are rarely successful;
  • Make sure the bid is going to the right place – make sure you know exactly why a particular body should fund your research;
  • Build in plenty of time for peer review – even minor errors can have a disproportionately negative effect;
  • Be bold and convincing about the impact your research will definitely have;
  • Write like a journalist – seduce and engage your reader – minimise the chances they have to say ‘no’.

And now I have some revisions to do…


The RDU has funding available to send BU academics on external proposal writing workshops, such as the one Mark went on at the Missenden Centre. If you’re interested in attending then email me ( to discuss the workshops coming up.