Winning research funding for a PhD or postdoctorate isn’t easy but can be hugely beneficial. Obviously there are the monetary benefits, which are always welcome, but there’s also the gravitas of gaining the funding. If you manage to secure sponsorship or funding from research councils or any other parties then it seems to give your research that little more weight, as it shows that organisations trust in what you’re doing and want to back you.
Applying for research funding can be rather daunting, but here are some top tips you should abide to give yourself the best possible chance of being successful…
Know who you’re applying to
There are seven research agencies in the UK:
- Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Science & Technologies Facilities Council (STFC)
Each of these agencies have their own set of criteria and guidelines on how you should apply. Make sure you know what these are so you don’t miss something vital on the application. For example, the ESRC gives the following criteria that all successful applications should have:
- promise excellent research
- be of value to potential users outside or within the research community
- convince of the ability to deliver research
- demonstrate value for money (not necessarily the same as cheapness).
If your application answers each of these then it probably has a chance with ESRC, although each funding body will likely have their own set of guidelines.
Familiarise yourself with the grant writing process
Obviously the actual grant writing process will ultimately determine whether you’re successful or not, but if you don’t familiarise yourself with the whole process and hope that you nail it first time, then there’s a good chance you’ll fall short. Speak to people within your school at university and ask to see examples of past applications and ask them for help. There’s bound to be someone around who has undergone the process in the past.
There should also be plenty of opportunity during study prior to your PhD or postdoc when you can apply for funding. This will give you practice on applying so it’s not quite as daunting, and it also shows, should you be successful, that you’ve won funding in the past. This will show that you’re worth investing in and work heavily in your favour.
Justify your costs
Don’t just expect to ask for money and have it handed to you. You’re going to have to justify what you need the money for and exactly where it’s going to be spent. Be as specific as possible so that the funding bodies can see as accurately as possible where their money is going. Will it be for travel? Focus groups? Rental of equipment? Try and break it down as much as you can. Many funding bodies will also be looking for value for money, so try not to be too excessive in your valuations, although always be realistic about how much you’re asking for.
Content is key
What you write in your application is ultimately what decides if your application is successful, so make sure you’ve included everything you need to and that you’ve delivered a convincing, watertight argument as to why you should get funding. Why is your research important? Why now? Why are you the person to undertake it? You need to sell yourself and your research, and your enthusiasm about it is of vital importance. Have a look at this thorough guide to what you should cover in your application from the ESRC. Again, other funding bodies will likely have their own advice and guidance, but this is a good place to start.
Don’t give up
Success rates for research funding are around 20%, sometimes lower, so there is a good chance you won’t be successful in your application, especially on your first attempt. However, don’t make the mistake that many applicants make and simply give up. Just because you weren’t successful this time, it doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future. You should get feedback on your application, so take it into account and improve on it next time. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, either of people at your university or directly to the funder – they can help with everything from the suitability of your idea to help with making sure you’ve included everything in your application. It can be disheartening to miss out, but don’t let that deter you.
If you need any additional information about applying for research funding, then you can contact the relevant agency listed above, or you can get in touch with Research Councils UK who offer support across a wide range of issues.