In today’s ever-shifting political climate, securing funding has never been so competitive for UK-based researchers. However, as Research Strategy Manager (Department of Medicine) Dr Chrystalla Orphanides explains, taking advantage of research support services could be just what’s needed to tip the odds in your favour.
Here are her 8 essential tips for making sure your next grant application is a successful one:
1) Be organised
Be as organised as possible. If you’re going to submit an application that you’re serious about, you should be thinking at least 3-6 months in advance of the deadline about how you’re going to shape it. That means notifying all of the people that you need to notify, including your Research Support team: they can help with the parts of the application that tend to get left until the last minute. This includes things like data management plans, public engagement activities, and pathways to impact.
It’s a question of being well organised enough to access the support on offer both within your Department and across the College.
2) Keep your funding calendar up-to-date
The College has a free subscription to Research Professional, which anyone can access. You can tailor it so that you can find out about the schemes and calls that are relevant to you, way ahead of deadline. In the Department of Medicine, you can also request access to an Outlook Calendar of funding opportunities, and get the deadlines delivered straight into your schedule. This way you can be notified of new opportunities as soon as they’re announced, including internal schemes within the College.
3) Learn from other people’s successes
Your Research Support team can put you in touch with those who have already succeeded in a particular scheme. With a bank of information on previous successful applications, you can get call-specific advice on what works and what doesn’t. The value of thinking ahead and contacting people who have already succeeded is really, really important.
4) Stick to the 5-day rule
Do you know about the 5-day submission rule? The College expects you to have your application ready for checking a minimum of five days before the funder deadline. This means contacting your Section Manager, who can help prepare the budget, well in advance. The 5-day rule gives Research Services enough time to check the application, ensure the project costs are in order, and also check that the application is in line with the terms and conditions for the funder and scheme.
The bottom-line with lateness is that you are more likely to get the support that you need if you can get organised ahead of time. There are teams of people who can help you with your application, and you could stand to lose out if you don’t make use of them.
5) Sweat the small stuff
Many applications fail because it’s clear that they’re rushed, last-minute submissions. You need to make sure that you’re thinking about the finer detail – like font size, word limits, page length – because these are things that can bounce your application back. You might have put a lot of time and effort into your science, but this won’t matter if you can’t stick to the basic rules for submission. Check your application thoroughly before you send it!
6) Get feedback from your peers
It’s common-sense to assume that if your work is peer reviewed by your colleagues, you’ll have a better chance of getting funded. If you can get a draft of your application to your Research Support team ahead of time, they can organise peer review. This generally involves two or more researchers reviewing the work, and giving constructive feedback ahead of the deadline so that there’s time to incorporate this into the application before submission. This includes reviewers who have expertise in your area, but also those who don’t; it’s important that your application makes sense to lay people. The peer review process could be particularly beneficial if you’re an early career researcher without much experience of writing applications.
7) (Interview) practice makes perfect
Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned academic or just starting out, you can never be too prepared for a funding interview. The Department of Medicine runs a mock interview scheme, which allows you to get some much needed practice before the real thing. Your Research Support team will put together a panel to grill you on your application if you notify them ahead of time.
8) Polish your portfolio
It’s important that you manage your existing research portfolio whilst you’re working on new applications. If you need help with anything relating to data management, keeping your Symplectic account up-to-date, making your publications Open Access, or entering applications into the Spiral system, then contact your Research Support team. Making sure you are reporting appropriately on your research and ensuring everything is up-to-date will make applying for new grants much easier.
It’s also important to keep your Professional Web Page (PWP) up-to-date to ensure that you have a well-maintained, visible online research profile. This encourages collaboration both within and outside of the College, and is one simple way of building a network with other researchers.