by Dr Catherine Armstrong
Putting together funding applications is one of the most onerous parts of an academic's job. They are time-consuming and require many details and alterations and despite putting so much work into them there is only a small chance of reward. But they are an important part of the job, and your application may be successful one time!
1. Get help from Research Office
Most institutions now have a research office that can help you put together grant and funding applications. It is their job to do the difficult bits: making the administrative salary calculations and working out the institutional overheads. They have worked on hundreds of proposals and projects so they will be able to help you to see what works well in your bid.
2. Support from Head of Department/Dean
It is vital to get support from your head of department and/or dean before you get too far along in your application. For the most part they will think that applying for external funding is a brilliant idea, but they also will have to decide on an appropriate time for you to take leave or how much money the university can afford to ‘match' if you are awarded a grant. They will have a large amount of personal experience of applying for funding too, so they will advise you and improve your proposal.
3. Plan which schemes to apply for
There are many different schemes out there and it can seem like a minefield. Each funding body has a wide variety of schemes tailored to different needs, small, medium and large grants, research leave grants, fellowship awards, awards for special subject areas; these are just a few of the sorts of schemes you will see. Decide what it is you need money for and look for schemes that offer that sort of assistance. For example, if you want to run a conference, you will be looking for a small award of a few thousand pounds. An international research collaboration requiring equipment and the hiring of staff will need a much bigger, longer-term award. Some schemes offer money to start research off, others to see it through to completion.
4. Work out what they are most likely to fund
As with point three above, if you have a project that you are about to start and that is a long way from completion, do not choose a funding scheme that demands you produce a published work at the end of it. Each funding body will provide a lot of detailed information to read in advance of preparing your application. Make sure you do read this; it will save a lot of time later on.
5. Allow plenty of time to draft and redraft
Preparing the proposal and supporting case is time consuming and challenging. Each application will be slightly different and will require you to answer different questions. So, do not simply give yourself a few days before the deadline to hastily draw something up and send it off. Give yourself a number of weeks to work on the draft. Polish it up a number of times yourself before sending it out to others to comment on.
6. Let as many people comment on it as possible
It will benefit you to have your colleagues know that you are applying for this money. In their private networks people may know someone on the decision-making board. But more likely they will be able to offer personal expertise based on their own funding experiences and will be able to read through your application and point out errors, ambiguities and areas for improvement.
7. Tailor each proposal to the particular scheme
As with job applications, do not be tempted simply to rehash an existing proposal written for another scheme. Make sure you write something new for each proposal to show that you understand the funding body's criteria and that you want to apply for their funds in particular, rather than simply adopting a scattergun approach and trying to hit as many targets with one application as possible.
8. Double-check you have everything necessary
Each application will require a variety of forms, electronic or paper, and attachments that contain your own data. Make sure you have everything you need. If they ask to see a CV with a separate publications list make sure you have done this! Probably everything will need to be sent off via your Research Office, so make sure it all reaches them safely and in plenty of time to meet the deadline.
9. Begin working on the next one straightaway!
Having done all that hard work and sent the application off, it's tempting to forget about funding for a while and rest until you find out the result of that application. But try to keep the momentum going and look for another scheme to apply for immediately. That way you will keep in the rhythm of it and will be constantly working towards gaining external funding. Many of these schemes have less than a one in five chance of succeeding, so it is important to keep trying!
10. Don't give up!
If you get a funding rejection letter, and chances are at some time in your career you will, don't give up. Many funding bodies take the time to send your submission to referees who will probably have some really interesting points to make in response to your proposal. Take these on board and use them to improve next time. It may take several attempts to be successful but if you take on board the criticism at each stage, you increase your chances no end.