Thank you to everyone who attended the SPRITE+ early career researchers (ECR) event on writing successful grant applications! The event brought together 30 participants, with 3 presentations, a Panel Q&A and a practical exercise offered to enhance ECR grant application writing skills.
Some excellent advice was shared via presentations by Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Professor David De Roure, and the Deputy Head of Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) on non-academic focused funding calls.
After a short break the participants were presented with 2 applications for funds, and had a chance to test their skills and knowledge in practice, scrutinising and identifying whether a given application was funded or not.
For everyone who couldn't attend the event, we've compiled the answers from the Q&A panel below.
David: doubts on being able to deliver (e.g. the project is over-ambitious). Not asking for enough funds may also be a barrier.
Paul: how achievable the project is – the panel must be convinced that the team can pull the project off. Innovation can push you from borderline to accepted as well.
DASA: desirability – why your project answers the questions of the call. Projects can be rejected if they do not quite fit what the funder asks for. Highlight why your project is important and uniquely addresses the challenge.
Paul: the goal of a grant is to solve a problem, and to convince funders that research is the most appropriate vehicle to solve it. Talking about steps to reaching the goal helps convince the panel that research is the best way to solve a real problem. Be very specific about what your project will achieve, and why research is the best way to achieve it.
Emma: try to be as concrete as possible. Proposals that are logically set out leave a good impression on the ability to deliver.
Emma: interviews can feel scary at all levels. Try mock interview with people whom you trust, but who you know will give you hard time. Make sure everyone on the team knows the bid inside out. Draw a list of possible questions and practice answering them.
David: agree among the team who answers what questions.
Paul: split the topics/possible questions among the team, so that everyone has less work to do. Conveying enthusiasm as to why the project is important may help as well.
David: contact the funder. There may be an FAQ webinar that follows shortly after the call announcement – use it to ask specific questions.
DASA: talk to innovation partners who are regionally based. Webinars usually happen after the call launch where you can find out more about the call.
Paul: You usually have the opportunity to ask questions at the beginning, when the call is first published – use that. Some calls are deliberately vague to see the scope/state of the art in a given area.
Paul: tell a story – why this project is necessary.
David: convey excitement. Innovation is also a necessary component.
DASA: showcase the impact that the incremental changes will make.
Paul: people who squeeze their pet idea into the call.
Emma: something that looks like it took less time to write than it takes to read. Proposals that make the reviewers’ work hard (e.g. by being inconsistent) are also of concern.
DASA: 1-hour rule – it should take no more than 1 hour to read and assess a proposal. If a proposal does not meet scope, terms and conditions, or budget – that is a “red flag”.
David: allow yourself enough time to write it. First paragraph is key.
Emma: don’t waffle. You can almost always cut out 25% of your initial writing. Get straight to the point of your project – most funders are likely to be familiar with the context. Pay attention to the various text boxes, and what they require. Each box may have a specific word/character limit, and a specific question you need to answer.
Paul: you can normally delete the first page in case for support as it almost always has too much context, and not enough about the project itself.
Paul: use your university’s seed funding to develop a small scale project first. Find a suitable co-investigator with whom you have enough combined expertise for the project in a new research field.
Paul: communicate with your team – others in your team do not necessarily understand things the way you do. Keep in touch with your team constantly, and chase each other up on tasks and deadlines.
DASA: make sure you understand each other in terms of terminology, especially if you are from different research fields or languages.
DASA: funders do try to provide feedback. Read it carefully, and try to understand why you were rejected.
Emma: understand the difference between a bad review and poor review: a bad review is a review that sets out flaws in a poor application, but it is justified; a poor review is the one that does not tell you much about your proposal. Also, take opportunities to review others’ grants, but do not be a poor reviewer. A good panel will take into account the quality of the reviews when deciding whom to fund. Some panels allow you to respond to criticism from the reviewers.
David: interdisciplinary proposals can get funding, but it may be harder. Have confidence that they are doable.
Paul: most panels work by assigning a few proposals to each member. Your proposal is championed by that member to the rest of the panel. Each member can get 10-15 proposals to review in a day. During the panel meeting each proposal gets 2-3 minutes of time. Make your formatting clear so that the person arguing your case can quickly find answers to the panel’s questions. Panels are not lotteries, though they are not perfect.
We asked the EPSRC for guidance to help ECRs with grant applications. See what they had to say here.
DASA has shared their top tips for writing applications here.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall has shared her tips on writing grant applications in a video here.
Call for Events is now open! We're supporting Members and Expert Fellows to lead activities that explore aspects of TIPS in the Digital Economy. We will help to organise the activity with up to £5,000 to cover the associated costs.