If you plan to stay on the academic route after your Ph.D., you will certainly, sooner or later, have to apply for some sort of funding, be it for the organisation of a conference or a funded conference place, funding to explore new teaching methods, or – perhaps most commonly – to carry out your research. Funding applications can take as many forms as the projects for which you may seek funding, and – as always – my post and tips are based on my experience within the arts and humanities in particular, and they are also derived, largely, from a number of collaborative (rather than individual) funding applications (see my CV if you’re interested in what kind of funding I’ve been awarded).
THE BASICS: GUIDELINES & ELIGIBILITY
The following may sound like the most obvious “tips” you’ve ever received, but there are numerous funding applications which are unsuccessful for very basic reasons. To avoid this, you now often are required to have your application internally reviewed, but here are some basics nevertheless:
– Check the eligibility criteria for the funding scheme or competition carefully.
– If there are any ambiguities or you are not sure if you’re eligible to apply, get in touch with the funder!
– You don’t want to spend hours on an application which will be rejected outright because you’re ineligible to apply.
– The same counts for your proposed project. Does it match the remit of the funder and the funding scheme?
– Are all the activities you propose (events, field trips, research, etc.) eligible to be included in your application?
– Are all the costs you have listed eligible (there should be a list of ineligible costs in the guidelines)?
WRITING YOUR APPLICATION
– Complete your application with the guidelines to hand.
– There will be specific points you are asked to address in each section of the application.
– Do not omit any of these and use them to structure your response in each section.
– E.g.: if the question is which of the scheme’s aims your project fulfills and how it will do so, provide exactly that!
– Don’t simply list what you will do. List what you will do and how those activities address the scheme aims.
– Your application should always clearly explain why your particular project is relevant and worth funding.
– If your project is collaborative, what is the rationale for and role of the different partners involved?
– If you are asked to describe your project for non-specialists, do so. Not all panel members may be specialists!
– As with any research proposals, be clear in what the remit and aims of your project are.
– What do you propose to do and what will this achieve?
– What will the realistic outcomes be?
– Ensure your costing, too, is realistic. Offer value for money, but work with actual quotes, not estimates.
– Don’t forget any costs! – If your proposed project addresses one of the funder’s current priority areas, say so!
– Think carefully about who will benefit from your project (specialist audience; non-academic audiences, etc.).
– Dissemination: think beyond conference papers. Can you involve members of the public, for example?
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – there are plenty of people out there who’ve submitted lots of successful applications and who are usually happy to help! So:
– Always ask your supervisor, mentor or other experienced colleagues to read drafts of the application.
– You should be able to get help from the Research Support Office (or sth similar) at your institution.
– These people have often dealt with hundreds of funding applications and their insights are invaluable.
– They’re not specialists, but they can tell whether your application fits the brief, addresses all vital areas, etc.
– They can also help you with the costing in particular.
It’s best to start with applying for external funding sooner rather than later. When you are a postgraduate, you are eligible for plenty of brilliant schemes, especially but also beyond those run by Research Councils. These don’t have to be for your Ph.D. project. They can be collaborative ventures such as conferences, establishing networks, etc. and thus can have far wider benefits than simply having external, competitive funding on your CV. Organising a conference or establishing a network will put you in touch with people who may become friends, collaborators, and so on, and they can also connect you with researchers whose work you use and admire. Equally, conference organisation can be extremely valuable and may well result in your first edited publication. When applying for collaborative grants, all the criteria I’ve outlined in the “Committees & Boards” post count! Don’t be dead weight. Get involved, co-draft the application, plan, organise and discuss. It’ll all benefit you in future!
Apart from these benefits, however, there is also the brutal reality: once you are no longer registered as a postgraduate, the external funding for which you can apply drastically reduces. For Research Council schemes you need to be employed by or studying at an institution, and even if you have a post after your Ph.D. you will find there are plenty of criteria you have to meet in order to be a named applicant or co-investigator on a grant application. If you finish your Ph.D. and have no funding experience, it can be a gap on your CV which becomes difficult to fill without an academic position or affiliation (though there are plenty of alternative funding sources; don’t forget small grants by subject associations, etc.). If you’re unsure where to apply for funding, ask your supervisor, colleagues, or the research office (who often come across pots of money that aren’t so obvious). Once you’ve found a funder and scheme you think would work for you, give it a go! All they can say is no, and all this means is you’ll have to try again. Having funding bids rejected is not at all unusual, and it’s better to get used to this early. Practice makes perfect, as they say, so don’t be shy!