Thoughts on getting funding – a WriteFest20 blog

During November we’re running a hefty series of writing support activities including writing hours. I’m facilitating one this morning and decided to use to the time to add a post to the IAD blog which has been a little neglected of late. The topic requested by one of the participants was some guidance on getting funding.

I have to start with a firm shove towards our marvellous Edinburgh Research Office who are our resident experts on the topic of all things research funding related. Every school and centre will have expert support and across the Office are staff with a range of specialisms. So, my first piece of advice is to talk to your School/Institute research office to find out how your local support is structured and who to talk to (this being Edinburgh, there will be a range of local arrangements). There’s also a list of the ERO contacts for each school or institute. If your centre isn’t on this list, there’s also a full list of ERO contacts.

My next bit of advice is to look around you and see who does research which has a degree of similarity with your own and find out where they get money from. Most papers will include an acknowledgement to the funder who supported the work, so start to build your list. Funding opportunities develop and change constantly, so there’s no guarantee a specific scheme will still be available, but you’ve got a starting point in the shape of the funding body and you can always approach them to ask if an expired scheme has been replaced by something similar.

Even more efficient is use of the Research Professional service – they will email you details of funding opportunity that match the profile you create when you  start using the service (one that you can change as your eligibility or research interests change). There’s a section of the ERO website which explains what Research Professional is and how to sign up including some short videos to help you.

So having made the connections and set yourself up, the opportunities will hopefully start to become more apparent. The next step is to think about how to turn the opportunity into a successful award. The very first Pop-Up IAD session back in March 2020 was on fellowship funding so I’ll stick to headlines here:

  • Again, start with ERO. Their “Winning Research Funding” resources includes a section on “Crafting Your Application” with links to previously successful applications
  • Read the applicant guidelines. I know this seems obvious, but both applicants and research support staff waste endless hours if an application is put together without careful and close attention to the funder’s guidance. It doesn’t matter how beautifully crafted your application is – if you aren’t eligible, don’t include all the aspects required or ignore key aspects you won’t be funded.
  • Talk about your research. Obviously you need to be a little cautious about who you share your new ideas with, so build up a small network of people that you trust, who have experience of getting funding and who know enough about your work to help you articulate your case to best effect. Talking about your research will require to you present your ideas in a different way from writing them down and might help you come “unstuck” when writer’s block hits. This advice came from a senior academic many years ago and I’ve found it really useful, especially when people ask me lots of questions as this usually surfaces the assumptions and gaps I might not spot when writing.
  • Start writing early. Your ideas may develop and will probably improve over time. Start on your case for support as soon as you can and show it to people (see above). Ask them to be “critical friends” to your application and highlight what you can improve.
  • Start doing all the administrative but time-consuming bits of the grant early. I have an email trail from a few years ago when I thought I was in the final stages of submitting a grant and estimated how long I thought it would take to finish the administrative aspects. It took roughly ten times this! Don’t underestimate how much additional time you’ll need to get forms and figures into the funder’s portal. You want to have time to spare to review your case for support, not getting stressed about the postcodes of any collaborators.
  • Prepare for the next stage as you write. Think about who might review it and choose your language carefully to direct the proposal to the best reviewers. This isn’t to say the kindest reviewers or the easiest ones (although if you can manage that, please share your tips), but those who can review most fairly and effectively. Some funders will also allow you to make some suggestions for reviewers – choose these with integrity!
  • Also think about whether you will be interviewed – this is more likely with fellowships and with very large scale awards. The interview questions will be based on the funder’s criteria and you should talk to ERO about whether any colleagues in the university have been involved in panels and can share insights (like these from the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship panel)
  • Sadly, you also need to be ready to be resilient. There’s huge competition for funding at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. Talk to a mentor or more experienced colleague about how to manage the disappointment and remember that in writing a proposal you WILL have developed your thinking which will help with future proposals or even a publication. The relationships you build with partners will still be there and you will hopefully receive enough feedback from the process to improve your approach the next time.

I will close with a reminder that these are personal reflections based on my own grant writing experience and from working with individuals over the years. You should gather similar perspectives from those in your own research area and again USE THE ERO!

And if you’d like to join us for a future WriteFest20 session, you can see what’s available and book on from our WriteFest20 page.

Special thanks to Myria for the suggestion of this topic!





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