How to write a good research funding application

How can one write an application effectively to maximise the chances of success?

By Seema Sharma

Grant writing for research funding can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but one that underpins your academic success. We’ve put together some useful pointers and advice to help you with the application process.

Do your background work: Funding bodies, eligibility and guidelines

Prior to starting a grant proposal, it’s essential to study your funding source. Ask yourself— is this the right funding body to apply to, for your proposed research? What details are included in the funding opportunity announcement? What recent grants have they approved in a similar specialism to yours? What are their other calls to funding? Does your research match their priorities?

If you feel that your research traverses two disciplines, one of which your funding body may not cover, it’s worth contacting them to discuss the details and relevance.

Individual funding bodies have differing criteria for research funding applications that need to be followed closely, with many opting for online submission. For example in the UK, the Research Councils (RCUK) use a Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) form. Whilst the framework is very similar, each of the seven individual councils that make up RCUK, have differences in guidelines, page length and format. Further details for RCUK are available here. Individual councils also provide case studies of best practice applications that can be useful to read as a pointer.

In the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an online submission system using an SF424 form, again with a defined format. They provide online tips to help with completing your application.

All funding bodies will provide guidelines for submission, usually available as a document to download from their site. These must be read carefully and digested. Any applications must strictly adhere to what’s stipulated, as you risk your proposal not being accepted at all, or annoying the panel and reviewers before they’ve even given consideration to the content, however outstanding, if you don’t.

Be aware of the different sections they need from you and the page limit. If it’s a few pages — you can’t include every detail, but will need to be succinct and prioritise the key facts that are asked for. Take care to emphasise how your proposed project fits into their criteria, at every stage of the application.

Leave plenty of time

You need to allow yourself plenty of time ahead of the deadline, to prepare a grant application. Each section requires due care and attention, with time set aside for you to review and get feedback from colleagues before submission. Reviewers complain that it’s sometimes clear that researchers have spent the majority of their time on the case for support, rushing critical areas like budgets and an impact plan

Be clear and get feedback in advance

Outstanding research that receives good peer reviews from the experts in the field is essential to your grant application’s success. However, bear in mind that some members of your reviewing panel may not be specialists in your particular field. As such, clearly articulated statements on the significance of the project for a lay research audience, are also crucial to include.

Try to articulate how your work is going to change things, transform thinking in the field or advance research. It’s an area that has to be perceived as important within your specific discipline and beyond. A useful way to get feedback for improving clarity is to ask colleagues, who are not experts in the field, to read it and provide input, making adjustments as required. Furthermore, asking colleagues, who have applied successfully to the same funding body, to review the proposal can prove invaluable.

Explain the impact

Most grant applications include a section for you to discuss the impact of your research. It’s acknowledged that some proposals result in an academic advance in understanding, without an immediate applied impact. If this is the case, bear in mind reviewers will expect you to know and state how your research fits into a pathway that will lead to an application.

If there is a clear academic impact, the panel will want to know how you will deliver this to relevant peers and get the message out, beyond relying on others to read a publication. Examples here would be through conference engagements or collaboration. If your research has a wider societal or economic impact, public engagement should also be discussed.

Choose the best team for the work

You need to include the details of a strong team to deliver the research and stipulate exactly what they will be doing. A common grievance from reviewers is that researchers include a name that is well known, just to influence the panel, without specifying a clear contribution. If a junior researcher is going to be doing the majority of the work, you should be clear about that. Additionally, your role in the project should be clear. Your application may require you to attach a short form CV or resumé for all those individuals involved in the project.

Budget carefully and provide value for money

Your application should be presented as good value for money to the funding body. All aspects of the project should be budgeted for. Reviewers tend to pick through things quite carefully, to insure the individual components of the project have been appropriately costed. Over-costing can kill your application. Ask yourself, does the advance you will make in the field justify the cost of the project?

Provide a clear methodology

Reviewers focus most on the quality of the core research in your application. As such, it’s important to explain and reference detail of the methodology and experiments. Make sure you include data analysis methods — sometimes requested in the form of a data management plan, and avoid being vague.

In summary: 

Avoid common pitfalls:

  • Writing only for specialists in your field
  • Proposing a project that does not meet the funding call criteria
  • Not allowing yourself enough time
  • Over-costing or poor budgeting
  • Neglecting the impact plan
  • Not clarifying your role or contribution in the project
  • Unclear methodology
  • Repetition

Given the constraints on public funding, judging panels for grants and peer reviewers will select proposals that, not only include outstanding science or research, but also incorporate carefully thought out plans to reach end-users, represent value for money, with methodology that’s clearly detailed and budgeted.


Need Funding Opportunities? Mendeley Users: visit Mendeley FundingMore Information

Introducing Mendeley Funding

Mendeley Funding is a new tool to help researchers find the opportunities to launch their projects.

Researchers are under more pressure than ever before to secure the money they need to do their work. The funding exists: the predicted worldwide spend on research in 2016 was $1.9 trillion. This was an increase of 3.4% on the previous year.

But with so many grants available in such a myriad of subjects via such a large variety of institutions, how can a researcher match their aspirations to the right opportunity?

We’re pleased to announce the launch of Mendeley Funding.

Mendeley Funding is a new tool which catalogues funding opportunities from across the globe. It includes calls for proposals from prominent organisations including the European Union, government departments in the United States like the National Institutes of Health, UK Research councils, and many more.

By using Mendeley Funding, Researchers can:

  • Search for relevant funding
  • Save interesting opportunities
  • Access detailed information about funders

For more information, visit http://www.mendeley.com/funding. Then sign in to Mendeley, access the tool by using the link marked “Funding” in the toolbar, and get searching. A world of opportunities awaits you.

On Mendeley Careers: Artificial Intelligence: Technology at Work

As machines become more intelligent, what will the future of science and research be?

On Mendeley Careers, we’ve just published an interview with Professor Paul Chung of Loughborough University; we’re looking at the future of science, research, work and society as Artificial Intelligence research advances:

Artificial Intelligence is one of the ‘hot topics’ in science; recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk announced he was beginning a new venture, Neuralink, to “merge the human brain with AI”. But apart from visions of cyborgs dancing the heads of science fiction writers, what are the implications of Artificial Intelligence? For the general public? For researchers? And for the future of employment?

Click here to read the full interview.

Need Funding for Your AI Research?

Here are some of the latest funding opportunities for artificial intelligence and robotics researchers provided by Mendeley Funding:

Country Organisation Opportunity
USA NASA Artificial intelligence for human space exploration applications
USA Department of Defence Spectrum allocation using Artificial Intelligence for software defined radios in a tactical environment
USA Department of Defence Joint Program Committee-1 (JPC-1)/Medical Simulation and Information Sciences (MSIS) research program utilizing Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for Medical Training Needs (MACH Learning) award
USA Oak Ridge Associated Universities ORNL Critical infrastructure modeling post-master’s research associate
USA National Institutes of Health BRAIN Initiative: Team-Research BRAIN circuit programs – TeamBCP
USA Oak Ridge Associated Universities Imaging, signals and machine learning post-master research associate
USA Department of Defence Robotic following using deep learning
UK University of Southampton PhD Studentship: Enhancing Autonomous Guidance & Navigation with Deep Learning AI Technologies
UK Coventry University Associative Neural Networks Model for Developing Emotional Communication for a Robot Buddy
UK Coventry University An Empathic Robot Companion to Improve User Mood and Well-Being
UK Coventry University Robot Homing Deeply Reinforced by Another Robot
EU Horizon 2020 Interfaces for accessibility – RIA Research and Innovation action
EU Horizon 2020 Advanced robot capabilities research and take-up – RIA Research and Innovation action
EU Horizon 2020 Advanced robot capabilities research and take-up – IA Innovation action
Australia University of Newcastle, Australia PhD Scholarship – Power Engineering, Sensor Technology, Artificial Intelligence

Mendeley Brainstorm – Send in the Clones?

Twenty years ago, the first sheep was cloned; there have been huge advances since.
Twenty years ago, the first sheep was cloned from an adult cell; there have been huge advances since.

Twenty years ago, Dolly, the first sheep cloned from an adult cell, was revealed to the world. Since then, cloning and genetic manipulation technologies have advanced considerably. Should we welcome a new era of genetic science? Or is our knowledge growing faster than our wisdom? We are looking for the most well thought out answer to this question in up to 150 words: use the comment feature below the blog and please feel free to promote your research! The winner will receive an Amazon gift certificate worth £50 and a bag full of Mendeley items; competition closes April 12, 2017.

Hello, Dolly

On February 22, 1997, the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced the arrival of Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. According to the Institute, “in the week following the announcement…(we) received 3,000 phone calls from around the world”. Dolly had captured the public’s imagination about the potential of cloning, which at one point had been thought to be impossible.

Spinoffs

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, the 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine was intellectually stimulated by Dolly’s arrival. He subsequently investigated how the adult DNA which had been used to create Dolly had been revivified. The eventual result was “induced pluripotent stem cells”, which “have become a scientific workhorse, providing limitless supplies of differentiated cells and tissue for use in the lab” (Economist, 2017). They also are “an invaluable tool for modelling human diseases and screening drugs” (Economist, 2017).\

Moral Objections

Cloning technologies have always been controversial. Many ethicists and public figures have questioned whether scientists have the right to “play God” and alter the building blocks of humanity. Some countries, including the United States, have implemented restrictions on this research.

Send in the Clones?

Are these concerns overblown? Or is our knowledge growing faster than our wisdom? What is the future of cloning in your view? Tell us!

Need Funding for Your Research?

Here are some of the latest funding opportunities for biology researchers provided by Mendeley Funding:

Organisation Opportunity
Oak Ridge Associated Universities Molecular biologist research opportunity in plant viruses
University of East Anglia Cloning and expression of topoisomerase genes from Trypanosoma brucei
Developing methods for genetically encoded unnatural amino acids to develop novel proteins
National Institutes of Health Cancer and stem cells epigenetics
Ancillary studies to the NIDDK intestinal stem cell consortium
Spermatogenic stem cell culture systems to preserve and restore reproductive capacity in males
Stem cell-derived blood products for therapeutic use: Technology improvement
John Templeton Foundation Genetics – Large grant
Genetics – Small grant

About Mendeley Brainstorms

Our Brainstorms are challenges so we can engage with you, our users, on the hottest topics in the world of research.  We look for the most in-depth and well thought through responses; the best response as judged by the Mendeley team will earn a prize.

References

Gene editing, clones and the science of making babies. (2017). The Economist. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21717035-ways-reproducing-without-sexual-intercourse-are-multiplying-history-suggests-they-should [Accessed 23 Feb. 2017].

Hello, again, Dolly. (2017). The Economist. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21717028-twenty-years-ago-world-met-first-adult-clone-sheep-called-dolly-her-legacy-lives [Accessed 23 Feb. 2017].

The Life of Dolly | Dolly the Sheep. (2017). [online] Dolly.roslin.ed.ac.uk. Available at: http://dolly.roslin.ed.ac.uk/facts/the-life-of-dolly/ [Accessed 23 Feb. 2017].

On Mendeley Careers: Brexit & Science – Brexit Means What?

As the United Kingdom departs the European Union, what is the future of British science and research?
As the United Kingdom departs the European Union, what is the future of British science and research?

On Mendeley Careers, we’ve just published an interview with Dr. Anne Forde of Cambridge University; we’re trying to get to the bottom of the complex issue of Brexit and Science in the United Kingdom:

“Brexit means Brexit” according to Prime Minister Theresa May; however, this statement masks a series of complex questions. For example, what will be the future relationship between the United Kingdom and European Union? Will Britain participate in European funding programmes such as Horizon 2020? Will researchers from the European Union still flock to Britain’s globally renowned universities to do their work? How are the universities adjusting to these seismic changes?

Click here to read the full interview.