Category / BU research

Meet the Environment Editor for The Conversation

Environment Editor for The Conversation, Will de Freitas, will hold an online training session for BU on Wednesday 27 October.

The session will run from 10.30am to 11.30am over Zoom and is open to all BU academics and PhD candidates who are interested in finding out more about working with The Conversation.

Learn how to consider the news potential of your expertise, how to look for story hooks and angles from the news, and how to write a quality story pitch to section editors.

The Conversation is a great way to share research and informed comment on topical issues. Academics work with editors to write pieces, which can then be republished via a creative commons license.

Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 7.5 million reads and been republished by the likes of The iMetro, and the Washington Post.

Book your place via Eventbrite

With the COP26 climate change conference on the horizon, insights around how to protect and preserve our environment and deal with our changing climate will be high on the news agenda.

A limited number of 20-minute one-to-one sessions with Will are available from 11.30am – 1pm on Wednesday 27 October, to discuss environment-related story ideas. To request a place, please contact

What makes a good grant application?

It’s the age old question, ‘what makes a good grant application?’ Wellcome Trust have recently issued guidance on how to write a good Wellcome grant application, and the good news is that their guidance is useful for almost all grant applications regardless of the funder.

The guidance is summarised below, but you can find the full guidance on the Wellcome Trust website here: 

Before you start to write

  • Check you are eligible – Read all guidance, considering information about eligibility and suitability, what is being offered, how to apply and deadlines.
  • Gather all the information you need – Get as much advice as you can, ask other people if they are willing to share their successful and unsuccessful applications with you, contact Research Development and Support early in the process so we can guide you through the application and internal approval processes.
  • Make sure your proposal is competitive – Discuss your ideas with your sponsor, mentor, and/or senior colleagues. Get input from colleagues who are inside and outside your research field. You should think about the following, and take it into account when you write your application:
    • Your research proposal including the importance of the research question(s), the quality and feasibility of your proposal, how creative your idea is, your knowledge of the research area, teamwork and why a collaborative approach is the best one.
    • You as an applicant including the timing of your application for the stage of your career, your track record and experience, your contributions to the research area, your career development, your autonomy and ownership of the project.
    • Your research environment including how the research environment will support you to do the research, any opportunities for development the host will provide, how you will contribute to a positive and inclusive research culture.

Writing your application

  • Give yourself plenty of time – It’s really important that you avoid rushing your application. Allow plenty of time ahead of the deadline.
  • Other timings that matter – Allow enough time for your application to be approved and submitted by the ‘authorised organisational approver’ at the host organisation. Make sure you’re aware of any deadlines at your organisation that could delay this.
  • Make your application easy to read and understand:
    • Aim your proposal at people who have specific expertise in your field as well as those who have broader research experience.
    • Provide a balanced overview of the background, rationale and supporting evidence. Refer to appropriate studies by others and use preliminary data, pilot studies and/or scoping research to support your research question(s).
    • Give enough detail that reviewers can understand what you’re proposing, how it will be carried out and whether it’s feasible.
    • Request research costs that are necessary for your project. Make sure you’re aware of what you can and cannot ask for.
    • Use a title that is specific and reflects the importance of your proposal. Structure your writing with clear headings and subheadings.
    • Write in clear English and avoid technical jargon where possible. Keep abbreviations and acronyms to a minimum – define them when they’re first used.
    • List all references consistently, using the format requested.
    • Use diagrams and figures where appropriate.
    • Check your spelling and grammar

The above has been amended from guidance originally published on the Wellcome Trust website 

BU support available to increase bid quality – research fundamentals

You will have seen my blog post last week, which provided you with a number of pointers for submitting a good quality research bid. In case you didn’t, please read it here. I won’t go over the same information, but do read it if you want to know about the application timeline, BU processes, and what support information is available to you when writing a bid.

This week, RDS and academics will provide you with a series of blog posts about what makes a good quality bid, what success looks like, and how the RDS Research Facilitators can support you. To start your week off, I’ve outlined below some of the options available to support you with research bidding.

Let’s start with what’s available to you under the Research and Knowledge Exchange Development Framework (RKEDF). We will shortly be publicising a range of opportunities to progress your research bids at BU. Do keep an eye on OD’s Calendar of Events for upcoming activity. We will also be posting when new opportunities are finalised.

  • Research Council Development Scheme –  is a coordinated, targeted set of activities designed to inspire and equip BU researchers to achieve greater success with Research Council funding. The third cohort was cancelled due to the pandemic. This will be reintroduced in early 2022 to those on the third cohort. Any vacancies to join the cohort will be advertised.
  • Faculty Grant Hubs – led by RDS and academics, this was trialled in FMC in the summer and will be rolled out to the other faculties in due course. The Grant Hubs tend to be four sessions held over a month for academic staff (mainly ECRs), and include advice by experienced academics on how to write a research application, a writing day, peer review sessions, and EAR (see below) support.
  • Research Leadership Programme (RLP) – ECR and mid-career cohorts – RLP develops and enhances wider research-related skills through workshops, action learning, and progress reports. The focus is on research leadership, project management, networking and dealing with risk and uncertainty.
  • External application reviewers – will be provided to academic staff preparing research proposals to prestigious funders and those identified to work on major and strategic bids. ECRs, NERC standard grants, attendees of the Faculty ‘Grant Hubs’ and other bid writing sessions, and cohort members of the RCDS, will also be given priority to work with an EAR.

In addition to the above, we will run ad hoc bid writing sessions for certain calls. STEAMLabs will be held for each SIA and Global Engagement, to form collaborations and generate bids. We will continue with the weekly funder briefings. There will be a fair bit of training on research methods this year, as well as many more opportunities. Therefore, keep an eye on the blog for what’s new and upcoming.

What’s available on the blog?

The Research Funders Toolkit contains a host of information to support you when bidding for research. The Research Funders’ Guide gives an overview of the main funders, including links to their essential documents. Do explore these two resources for the latest information. Not sure where to start? Our Research Lifecycle guides you through all aspects of research and includes useful links to essential information to help you in your research career. Finally, it also helps you identify your RDS support and faculty contacts. Meet the RDS team here.

I hope that’s given you a ‘starter for ten’ in terms of developing your research at BU and contributing to the research aims within BU2025. On Friday, there will be a post about RDS Research Facilitators and what they can do to support you. Do remember that you also have a Faculty Research Mentor to help guide you through the world of academic research.

Good luck and once you have been awarded your grant, our skilled Project Delivery team are there the rest of the way to help you manage your funding. More from them in the next few weeks.

Research Professional – all you need to know

Every BU academic has a Research Professional account which delivers weekly emails detailing funding opportunities in their broad subject area. To really make the most of your Research Professional account, you should tailor it further by establishing additional alerts based on your specific area of expertise. The Funding Development Team Officers can assist you with this, if required.

Research Professional have created several guides to help introduce users to Research Professional. These can be downloaded here.

Quick Start Guide: Explains to users their first steps with the website, from creating an account to searching for content and setting up email alerts, all in the space of a single page.

User Guide: More detailed information covering all the key aspects of using Research Professional.

Administrator Guide: A detailed description of the administrator functionality.

In addition to the above, there are a set of 2-3 minute videos online, designed to take a user through all the key features of Research Professional. To access the videos, please use the following link:

Research Professional are running a series of online training broadcasts aimed at introducing users to the basics of creating and configuring their accounts on Research Professional. They are holding monthly sessions, covering everything you need to get started with Research Professional. The broadcast sessions will run for no more than 60 minutes, with the opportunity to ask questions via text chat. Each session will cover:

  • Self registration and logging in
  • Building searches
  • Setting personalised alerts
  • Saving and bookmarking items
  • Subscribing to news alerts
  • Configuring your personal profile

Each session will run between 10.00am and 11.00am (UK) on the second Tuesday of each month. You can register here for your preferred date:

9th November 2021

These are free and comprehensive training sessions and so this is a good opportunity to get to grips with how Research Professional can work for you.

Have you noticed the pink box on the BU Research Blog homepage?

By clicking on this box, on the left of the Research Blog home page just under the text ‘Funding Opportunities‘, you access a Research Professional real-time search of the calls announced by the Major UK Funders. Use this feature to stay up to date with funding calls. Please note that you will have to be on campus or connecting to your desktop via our VPN to fully access this service.

Centre for Seldom heard Voices – online lunchtime seminar series 

Join us at our first Lunchtime Seminar this October. Email for the online link.

Octobers Seminar – 12:00-13:00 on 27th October

Mark Berry will be presenting our first lunchtime seminar on ‘The ethics and challenges of semi-covert research with active drug dealers’

Ethnographic research with offenders has become increasingly difficult to carry out in the UK and internationally. Requirements of institutional review boards (IRB) are stringent. Research that involves fieldwork in high-risk settings is often turned down, which in effect silences the voices of vulnerable and marginalised populations within them. Furthermore, witnessing and recording crimes that are not known to the police is risky and could put the researcher in a position where they are legally obligated to give up the information. Ethnography with criminals may also require elements of covert observation in order to be successful and protect the safety of both the researcher and the researched. Covert research is especially difficult to get approved and is frowned upon for being deceptive. It can, however, benefit participants by illuminating hidden injustices, whilst leading to proposals for progressive policy change. This talk draws upon data from a 5-year semi-covert ethnography of the illicit drug trade in a city in England. It outlines the ethical and methodological challenges of conducting ethnographic research on hard-to-reach criminal groups.

BU Matched Funded Studentship Competition 2022 – Update

The funding call for the BU Matched Funded Studentship Competition 2022 will be announced shortly.

Currently, approximately one third of our postgraduate researchers are supported by BU studentships and BU is committed to continuing this support. This year’s competition will include opportunities for a limited number of matched funded PhD and MRes studentships.

While the details of the process are being finalised, it is time to:

  • consider potential research projects which align to the Strategic Investment Areas as identified in BU2025, or that have been identified as strategically important by Faculties
  • approach potential external match-funders to discuss financing and project interests
  • convene an interdisciplinary supervisory team which must include at least one MCR or ECR.

External match-funders would be expected to contribute approximately £26,000 – £27,000 for a three-year PhD towards the stipend and research & development costs, with BU providing 50% of the stipend and full fee waiver. The allocation of funding will be overseen by the Studentship Funding Panel.

Full details will be published on the staff intranet, with notification on the Research Blog and via email.

RDS Funding Development Briefing spotlight: British Academy Small Grants

Reminder: The RDS Funding Development Briefing spotlight will be Wednesday at 12 noon. The spotlight will be on the British Academy Small Grants.

We will cover:

  • Overview of the new schemes
  • How to apply
  • Q & A

For those unable to attend, the session will be recorded and shared on Brightspace here.

Invites for these sessions have been disseminated via your Heads of Department.

Celebrating national Research Administrators Day! How have research administrators made a difference to you?

National Research Administrators DayLast Saturday (25th September) was national Research Administrators Day, so this week, RDS are celebrating the wonderful research administrators at BU that develop, support and enable research activity at BU. The breadth of activities that our colleagues play an important role in is extensive; from the development of funding applications (using the mind-boggling financial methodology and systems our funders require), the submission of complex returns such as the Research Excellence Framework  (apparently, it’s supposed to be less bureaucratic now?) through to the day-to-day management of grants (and if you’ve ever been involved in an EU audit, you’ll understand the complexities of this).nunziato caption contest

Allied throughout the research lifecycle are our specialists with expert knowledge in myriad of essential areas including technology transfer, research ethics, public engagement, clinical governance and the development of impact case studies. To name but a few!

Why do we need research administrators?

It wasn’t so very long ago that academics were expected to understand and execute all aspects of research and knowledge exchange. However, as the research ecosystem has matured and government investment has increased, professionalisation has accelerated. But why do we need specialist staff for this? Reasons include:

  • Our funders require it. Many (including UKRI, the British Academy etc) require applications to be submitted through a dedicated office having completed institutional checks (normally coupled with a complex set of systems to navigate). They also require many returns to be co-ordinated at an institutional level.
  • In a world where information is ever more prevalent, we have a key role to play in horizon scanning for policy developments and funding opportunities that will impact the University’s research trajectory.
  • We figure out how to make things happen (research projects, establishing new initiatives etc), co-ordinating across departments.
  • We engage nationally and internationally to embed good practice within BU.
  • We ensure our academic community can focus their precious time on making the magic of research happen; not reading the latest 4,691 page missive on the specificities of EU post-award processes* etcetera.

This is of course just a snapshot and if you want to read more, I’d suggest taking a look at this article published in Nature, which highlights that “With research administrators doing all that work, scientists can be left to do the good work they do in the world.”

How can I get involved in celebrating BU’s Research Administrators?

Research Administration is not a career for those seeking glory or riches, in-fact, it’s probably one of the worst career choices if either of those is your primary motivation.  So, what does motivate people to become research administrators? Over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of ‘Research Office’ staff (at BU and beyond) stay in the profession owing to a love of research and a desire to make a difference to society. My colleagues are also inherently helpful people who derive great professional satisfaction from solving tricky challenges to enable their colleagues and ensure the University progresses its research agenda. These unsung heros would never say it, but they so also appreciate to know that their efforts are noticed and valued by the community that they serve.

So, if you would like to celebrate our Research Administrators, please email me directly with your feedback on how important research administrators are to you, so I can share your comments (anonymously or not) with the wider team.

Personally, I would like to say a huge thank you to the wonderful team within RDS who I couldn’t be prouder to count as my colleagues. It is a diverse team that brings a breadth of expertise to the University, often working under considerable pressure with few resources. Congratulations to you all on National Research Administrators Day (week).


*I jest, but only slightly!

BU research published in Science – footprint study changes our understanding of human migration

How and when humans first colonised North America is a question that has long puzzled researchers. A groundbreaking new study by BU academics has shed new light on patterns of migration and reveals that humans may have reached the Americas 7,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The study, written by Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds and published in Science today, reveals that human footprints discovered in New Mexico date from 23,000 and 21,000 years old. The discovery has the potential to radically change our understanding of when the continent was settled and suggests that there is much still to be discovered about migrations and earlier populations in this part of the world.


The footprints were left in soft mud on the shores of what was once a shallow lake which now forms part of Alkali Flat – a large playa (a dried desert lake) at White Sands, New Mexico with the tracks seeming to be left mainly by teenagers and younger children. Seeds found in layers of sediment above and below the footprints were radiocarbon dated by the US Geological Survey, providing the research team with very precise dates for the footprints themselves.

Professor Bennett said: “The footprints left at White Sands give a picture of what was taking place, teenagers interacting with younger children and adults. We can think of our ancestors as quite functional, hunting and surviving, but what we see here is also activity of play, and of different ages coming together.  A true insight into these early people.”

The pioneering research has been featured heavily in the media this morning with front page links on BBC News, The Times, The Guardian and many other media channels.

Science is viewed as one of the most prestigious academic journals with competition to be published so intense that less than 7% of submissions are accepted. Professor Bennett and Dr Reynold’s groundbreaking article highlights their decades of hard work and expertise in paleontology, human evolution and environmental & geographical sciences.

Bidding for external research funds?

The good news is that a lot of BU’s academics are bidding for external research funding. Our numbers of bids in preparation is up by 20% on pre-pandemic levels. This is helping BU build a healthy and sustainable pipeline to good quality research.

If you’re planning to submit a bid, you’ll need to be aware of the application timeline and the various processes involved in the submission of a bid. Please ensure you read the application timeline when considering what to apply for (in addition to RDS, the following BU teams may need to be involved: UET, Legal Services, Finance). In short, a fully completed intention to bid form must be received by RDS at least four weeks before the funder call deadline.

Unfortunately, due to the high volume being processed at present (and staff shortages), we will be unable to accommodate any bids under the notice period.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to ensure a smoother process and good quality bid:

  • Please read the funder guidance to ensure that you are eligible to apply, the deadline is doable, and that the funding provided will be financially acceptable to BU (the costing and pricing guide for R&KE activity will help, as will the fEC thresholds);
  • If partners are involved, you need to ensure you have these in place as their costings will need to be included in the bid. If they are international or industrial, due diligence may need to take place at pre-award stage and so a longer lead time will be needed (we’ve produced a Leading an external research application guide, which will be useful to you when partners are involved);
  • Ensure your intention to bid (ItB) form is fully completed before submitting to RDS. This saves on multiple email exchanges to finalise the form (we’ve created sample costs to help you get an idea of budget and whether what you need to complete your research is achievable with the funding on offer);
  • Finally, run your ideas/draft bid past your peers, research mentor, or Head of Department. Constructive criticism will help improve the quality of your bid and reduce the need for last minute changes. If you have a long lead in time, an RDS Research Facilitator may be able to help review your bid content, or one of our External Application Reviewers (EARs) may be able to critique it (please see here for more information on which bids are eligible for an EAR).

Good luck and thanks from all in RDS.