Sunday, November 10, 2013

Planning Ways to Make Your Research Happen

Research Bar
Research Bar (Photo: Rice-Aron Library)
by , The Research Whisperer:

If I had a dollar for every time a researcher declared: “But why didn’t I know about this funding scheme? It’s perfect for my research!” …

In the depths of ARC Linkage and Future Fellowships (and other ‘major’ schemes), I often think of the myriad other schemes out there that require less of their applications, that prioritise different aspects of the research project or the research team.

There are some researchers who should be applying for these other schemes, because  'major' grants are not a possibility. We should say this more often, but we don’t, probably because we have put the major research council grants on a pedestal.

These researchers may be academics from teaching-intensive backgrounds or teaching-intensive institutions. They might have had sustained career interruptions, or come to the research institution from industry/community. There are many reasons, and this may warrant a whole post by itself.

What I wanted to write about in this post is thinking broadly about funding your research, and creating a research plan for it.

In our last 2012 posting, I had advised the following:
Check important grant dates for 2013. There’s no excuse for grant rounds and submission dates to sneak up on you - if it’s a scheme that’s been around, chances are that the following year’s dates will be very similar to this year’s. Occasionally, the scheme might be pulled for a year or so (“under review”), but this is usually flagged by the funding body. Knowing when things will probably be due means you can be  prepared with a project outline, track-record documents, and budget ready to roll whenever the round is opened. Grant rounds are often opened and closed within short spaces of time (e.g. can be one month).
Did you do this?

Researchers in my network are often visibly stressed by the funding applications they are expected to write and submit.

Some of this stress comes from trying to fit grant writing into an already packed schedule, but a fair amount also comes from being unfamiliar with the processes and rhythms of the grant cycle.

To flesh out my suggestions from that late 2012 post, here are some ways to ease the grant application anxiety each year.

It’s particularly relevant for early career researchers who are looking to get on board the grants carousel.
  1. Familiarise yourself with the grants that researchers in your field tend to get. Don’t focus only on the ‘majors’, also look at the seed (or pilot) grants, visiting fellowships, conference grants, and collaborative schemes. There are many ways to ensure that work is getting done on your project, even though it may not be the intensive multi-year investment that we all aim for. Often, a researcher’s public profile will list their grant wins or fellowships. It’s useful to look at these and see whether you’d be eligible and competitive.
  2. Don’t overlook internal funding! There’s sometimes a stigma associated with only scoring internal funding (that is, you can only ever get funding from your own institution but can’t ‘cut it’ externally). I would argue that all early career researchers should apply for internal funds where it is possible to put some research runs on the board as early as possible. A small grant, well spent and with good outcomes, pays off very well in terms of proving a collaborative team’s track-record, and their potential to work on something bigger. Plus it’s a good way to build up a record of demonstrated project management experience!
  3. Research the research that funding bodies want. Many funding bodies publish previous awardees of their grants and fellowships. Check these out - see what kinds of projects were successful and what their scope and personnel were like. Many philanthropic bodies actively encourage researchers to get in touch about what their project is about, and whether it is what the body’s schemes are looking for. The beauty of this is that you find out whether your project idea is worth submitting in the first place, rather than wasting assessors’ and your time by going through the whole process.
When you’ve got a list of schemes that you’d like to try your luck with, check their usual dates of submission. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just missed out for this year, work it in for 12 months’ time. That said, some schemes have multiple rounds a year - make sure you don’t miss the next one!

Other things you should consider when making a grants calendar:
  • What are your institution’s internal submission dates? Most institutions require external grant applications to be processed through them. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that research that takes place under the aegis of an organisation requires the sign-off of that organisation (and that’s not just your Head of School, but usually the person who’s responsible for research for the entire organisation). Added to that is the fact that Research Whisperers like @jod999 and I require time to work with you to ensure your application is well developed and feasible. Account for these internal deadlines!
  • Do you need funding from other sources before you’re allowed to apply for that particular scheme? Some grants require matching funding or a certain percentage of cash contribution before your application is eligible. This kind of commitment from your (or another) organisation needs a longer lead-time than writing the application.
  • Pitching one or two worked up projects can save you time and make your grant writing fairly efficient for a couple of years. With a couple of core projects, this means that the major components of project outline, researcher CVs, and sections of the budget are ready to roll (with tweaking) no matter what the scheme.
And the final piece of advice I have for planning on how to get your research funded? Write early, write often. Grant applications, that is.

Everyone complains about deadlines, but there’s nothing stopping you from writing up a project and getting a team together long before the deadlines start to bite. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose from racing to complete a grant application without adequate time. Don’t be that person.
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