If you have recently completed your PhD, you will have become used to a model of working defined by that experience. This means, depending on your discipline, that you will have been working alone or in close proximity with your supervisor only. Your project will have been narrowly focused and will have had clearly defined goals, i.e. the achievement of a PhD award. While the PhD provides scholars with excellent research preparation in some ways, in others it leaves you unprepared for planning a large research project after your PhD that will win you funding and a strong research reputation. This article explores how to adapt your researching style to large grant-winning projects.
Act as researcher on someone else’s project
Your first step after doing a PhD will usually be to act as a junior researcher or research assistant on someone else’s project. While this will probably be poorly paid and for a short term, this experience certainly does give you background skills in a number of areas such as funding applications, time and money management, producing outputs (perhaps publications or online resources) and also managing input from a number of different stakeholders, such as individuals or organisations.
Once you decide that you are ready to run your own research project, the first step is to network. Large projects are not the result of the work of one individual (although they often need a single driving force to keep momentum going, especially in the planning stages). When you have an idea for a research project and with the potential to bring in large sums of money and result in significant outputs, you will need to ask others to come on board.
There are many ways of doing this. Contact important scholars individually via email (although a personal introduction usually works much better than a speculative email). Discuss with colleagues at a conference in the relevant field. Contact scholarly organisations in the same topic area and ask their secretary to distribute an announcement asking for interested parties to contact you.
Hopefully you will attract a small core of scholars interested in collaborating with you and together you can move the project forward.
Your project planning should have several distinct aspects. Firstly limit the boundaries of the topic you wish to address. Set out your research aims and key research questions.
Then you need to think about the mechanisms by which research will happen: where will it take place, who will do it? These practicalities will help you to determine how many collaborators you need and how much funding will enable the project to proceed.
How will the research be disseminated? Will you be producing articles, books or digital resources? Will you hold conferences or colloquia to explain your findings?
Any research project in UK academia now has to think of two other key issues: interdisciplinarity and ‘impact’. How will your project address issues and involve scholars from disciplines other than your own? And how will it reach out to include non-academic institutions and how will it ‘impact’ on public opinion or policy? Your university and funding bodies will want you to illustrate that your project addresses those issues.
Finally, the issue of funding. Where will you apply for money? Which grants, funding bodies? Will your universities or research institutes provide any money? This is crucial to all research projects and will determine whether you can proceed with your research or not. It will also take a great amount of time to apply for such large grants, with complicated forms and a number of parties needing to be involved. So, it is important to allow plenty of time to prepare your funding applications.