Fifteen top tips for getting research funding

How can you increase your chances of being successful when applying for research funding? Here are a few ideas from an AHRC panel member (with thanks to AHRC and the panel member):

  1. Ensure the scheme and applicant are a good match. Funders won’t give millions of pounds to new researchers.
  2. Does the team include an appropriate mix of people? Someone should be able to cover all of the disciplines represented in the proposal, and individuals at a range of career stages should be included.
  3. Remember that the assessors will be both subject specialists (the reviewers) and generalists (panel members). The panel can be targeted through the lay summary.
  4. Use the subject area to define the research expertise of your reviewers. Stating that your research is in the field of philosophy when this is peripheral to the study may mean your reviewers are unfamiliar with your subject.
  5. Imagine your nightmare critic and pre-empt their criticisms; respond to these without being defensive, but without glossing over any problems.
  6. Make the link to the funder’s remit clear. If the panel need to discuss whether or not the project is within the funder’s remit, the project is unlikely to be funded.
  7. Allow time to prepare and write the application. Two months to prepare, and a full week to write the application is to be expected, and then costing, gaining internal approvals etc still need to follow. Successful applications may be useful as a model, but slavishly following them may not succeed as the funder’s objectives may have changed.
  8. The application should cohere as a whole, but not be too repetitive. Stick to the first or third person, ensure it is clear who is meant when you say ‘I’ and make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. If the funder offers guidance on headings for specific sections, use them.
  9. If the funder requires an impact statement, be modest and realistic, set specific goals and milestones and don’t over-inflate your claims.
  10. If your research involves human participants, there will be ethical considerations. If the project involves a collaboration, make it clear who will take the lead for ethical approvals and ongoing ethical considerations.
  11. It’s all in the detail: name which conferences at which you hope to present your work and the journals in which you plan to publish. Explain how the publications differ, and detail which team members will work on each.
  12. When working out the costs, don’t skimp on hours. If you have fractional research assistants, explain why. If you are planning to publish a manuscript, allow time for revision. Don’t make the project cheap just for the sake of it, but make sure it is well considered and achievable within the resources. The reach and significance of the project are more important than the overall budget.
  13. Detail monitoring arrangements for the project: who will monitor progress, within what institutional structures, will there be management or advisory boards and what is the reporting structure? For early career researchers, what monitoring, career development and mentoring will be in place?
  14. Use internal peer review services (at BU, RPRS is available for all research applications) and talk to panellists or peer reviewers for your funder. Some people at BU may have relevant expertise you can tap into – get in touch with RKEO and we may be able to offer some names.
  15. Use your right to reply where funders allow. A critical review is not the end of your funding hopes, and a PI response can be used to elaborate on thoughts you didn’t have space for in the original application. Don’t be aggressive or defensive; it may be worth asking a colleague to read through your response to remove any emotional involvement. Also don’t repeat the positive comments; the panel will see these when they consider the application, and you can better use the space responding to misunderstandings or requests for further detail.

One Response to “Fifteen top tips for getting research funding”