So you would like to find some research funding? Here are a few points to remember.
It is a team sport, not an individual sport
You can try to write the bid all by yourself, but it is easier, and more likely to be successful, if you find some help from…
- Departmental colleagues; especially those who have already won research grants
- Research Office colleagues; they are trained and experienced in knowing the main sponsors and helping to write successful bids. They will also know the procedures for getting your bid approved within the university.
- Finance Office colleagues; they can sort out the budgets for you. They understand your university’s approach to Full Economic Costing (FEC), which is required for many bids.
- potential collaborators; whether in academic, commercial or not-for-profit organisations
Contact these people early in the bid process. Your finance office may well be used to academics asking them to sort out the bid budget on the day before the bid deadline. If you are a senior professor you may well get away with this approach, at the cost of some unpopularity. Newer members of staff will find an earlier approach to the Finance Office gets a more-helpful response.
Think about a collaborative bid. This may be interdisciplinary within your university, intercollegiate with other UK universities, or international, perhaps to the EU Framework Programme.
It could be a collaboration of equal partners, or your research could ‘piggyback’ on a large bid by an eminent professor. They may have the contacts and track record to increase your chances of success – and working with them can give you valuable experience.
There is a wide choice of potential sponsors
Of course, every researcher would like a large multi-year grant from the relevant Research Council. But do consider other sources.
Most Finance Offices produce regular ‘Research Grant Capture’ lists. These are distributed to Heads of Department and other senior academics. If you can get a copy, it is possible to see which academics have won funding from which sponsors. Then go and see the relevant academic, congratulate them, and ask how they did it.
When you have chosen which sponsor you want to approach, try to make contact with a named individual in the sponsor body. They can help answer questions that may arise as you write the bid.
Sponsors have different requirements
It is fun writing about interesting research. But the sponsors want other things. Check the submission deadline. Is this an electronic deadline, or does the sponsor need signed paperwork?
What are the time and budget limits for the bid? So-called ‘three-year’ programmes often need to finish after say two-and-a-half years, perhaps as there has been a delay in launching the programme.
Does the sponsor want to know how you will protect and exploit any inventions during the research? If they do, ask your Research Office to write this section for you. They will have done it for other funding bids.
What are the audit requirements for the project? Progress reports – how often? Timesheets to support finance claims? European Structural Fund (mainly ERDF and ESF) projects often have onerous reporting requirements. Identify these at the time of bidding rather than eighteen months into the project.
Give yourself enough time to write the bid
Many people find it helpful to write a first draft of the whole bid in ‘bullet point’ format. Give this to your colleagues and collaborators for comment, to see if there are additions and changes they can suggest.
Think carefully about the budget. Discuss this with your finance office. The ‘full economic cost’ of the bid is likely to be higher than you expect. And don’t try to skimp on proposed salaries of any staff you wish to recruit. Offering the best salaries you can afford will increase the chance of recruiting excellent staff and keeping them for the duration of the project.
Think about milestones for the project. Two or three milestones per year is normally appropriate. For collaborative projects, major meetings of partners should also be scheduled into the project plan.
If you need the bid to be ‘signed off’ within the university, check that the key people – or their deputies - will be available when the bid needs to be signed.
This sounds like a lot to take into account. But it gets easier with practice.