How to win funds & influence people

Winning funds & influencing people

Winning funds & influencing people

Today I delivered a workshop at UWE entitled “How to win funds & influence people“. This is an event aimed squarely at researchers who are wanting to know a bit more about the process of applying for research funding, an introduction if you like as opposed to a masterclass in bidding.

I started the day by asking the participants where they wanted to go with their career – something that one might think is obvious to most – but I’ve found that many researchers have no real understanding of their options and wish to remain in academic research as a default position as recently highlighted in a report from Vitae – “Straight Talking

The realities of academic research

I pointed to the reality of being an employed researcher on a research-only contract by highlighting some of the criteria required in the role profiles illustrating the point that getting involved in writing bids for research funding at the earliest opportunity is advantageous if not expected. It also served the purpose of making research students aware of the difference between postgraduate research study (oh the halcyon days!) versus some of the harsher realities of working as a paid researcher.

How is research funding distributed in the UK?

I then summarised where money for research comes from, I’ve written about this more extensively here, to try and raise awareness of this. I remember not being remotely aware of the sources for funding as a postgraduate researcher but actually I believe it is more important than ever to get a handle on this. It’s one thing to have an understanding about the funding bodies but it is quite another to really understand the politics involved as well.

Here’s a really useful factsheet that explains how funding for research in the UK works, it’s well worth a read.

Next up came an explanation of costing – now this isn’t something I am a particular expert in – but I offered this fundamental truth to researchers:

There is a difference between how much a research project costs to do and how much the funder will pay (the price)

 I know many experienced academics who still don’t understand this, it is fundamental to informing how you would put a bid together in terms of asking for resources. I’d encourage all researchers to start thinking about this and seek out the advice. The Research Whisperer blog is a great place to start.

Here’s the prezi that summarises all that:how to win funds

Read the guidelines!

Read the guidelines!

Read the guidelines!

All flippancy aside, it’s amazing how many folks ignore what the funders say they will resource in what area and when so ignore at your peril.

Searching for the right funding opportunity

I then gave an overview of a database that UWE subscribes to, Research Professional. We discussed hints & tips on how to get the best of the search function (start broad with topics then narrow in) and how to set up automated alerts to ease the burden.

Making Connections

We finished off the day by focussing on a further fundamental truth about research funding:-

Collaboration is where it’s at

More and more research funding is being awarded to collaborative ventures. This means it is imperative that you build up a reputation as researcher to make it easier to find other researchers to work with.

This brought up the topic of networking. I decided to approach this from a slightly different perspective, rather than advising folks to get out there and press the flesh (which is the standard take on networking) I empathised with the notion of being a shy connector as set out by Sacha Chua.

Her presentation on networking as an introvert speaks volumes…

I also showed the TED talk by Susan Cain about how it’s harder (takes more energy) for introverts to interact in a world geared up for extroverts… (more info on introverts/extroverts)

So there it is, an introduction to research funding in 10 points:-

1) Do you want to be an academic researcher?

2) If so, applying for funding is integral to the job/success

3) Understand the funding landscape

4) Start small and build your track record

5) There is a difference between how much research costs and how much will be paid for (price)

6) The funder determines the price

7) So remember the 3 Rs (Read the guidelines! x 3)

8) Get into the habit of horizon scanning for funding opportunities

9) Find conference funding and put yourself out there

10) You can’t do this alone, collaboration is where it’s at

Questions, thoughts are most welcome. Maybe you have some advice to share with aspiring researchers?

Show me the money!

Last week UWE held one of its bi-annual Researchers’ Forums. This is an event that we have been running for a few years now with the intention of sharing information with and seeking feedback from research staff in the university about issues and/or initiatives that affect what they do. At the last forum in September of last year, we had a very interesting day facilitated by Kate Tapper (Bud Development) that saw both researchers and their managers/principal investigators in the same room at the same time (anyone in the field of researcher development will know this is not easy to achieve!) discussing how best to support the career development of researchers. Probably the most important thing that came out of that day was that researchers wanted their managers and/or leaders to give all the facts about the environment in which they work.

When it came to putting together the programme for the Researchers’ forum this time around, it was decided to honour that request so the senior management in research were asked to come and explain where the money for research comes from and, more importantly, how was it spread around the various activities that UWE undertakes.

Thinking back to when I was a research student and then subsequently a post doctoral researcher, I had no real clue as to how the funding of research really worked, I had some idea but was never really sure of how it was decided who gets what. All I could be sure of from my perspective was that one had to put a lot of effort into writing many applications for funding and seeing very few of them being rewarded as successful. As the years have rolled on and I’ve been immersed in the wider world surrounding research, I’ve a much clearer idea of how it works yet it is still fairly complicated.

I was cheered then when I came across a guide published by the Research Information Network (RIN) that sets out the how the funding of research works on a national level making it that little bit easier to “Show me the money”.

This source for this file is here

The majority of funding for research comes via two routes from Government which is why it is called the “Dual Support” system.

On one side, the Treasury hands over a sum of money to the Government department Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) which is then distributed to the UK Research Councils (there are seven of these that cover the broad discipline base). Universities then make applications to the Research Councils for a number of different schemes.

On the other side, again the Government hand over money to the national funding councils (HEFCE, HEFCW & SFC) which distribute money to universities based on what is called a Quality Related (QR) funding allocation. This is decided by a peer review assessment on a range of subject areas that takes place every 6 years or so. The next exercise is two years away and is called the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

There are a few other avenues of research funding for example, charities and other government departments that support fairly specific areas of endeavour as well as the private sector who, usually, have a vested interest in the outcomes of the research. Increasingly important is the research funding that is available from the EU.

Why does any of this matter? The distribution of research funding has become something of a game, rather like playing in the football league where the top premiership teams have access to a disproportionate amount of the funding available where as the lower league teams have to work hard at ‘staying up’ and much of the success to be had depends on team tactics.

The best advice that I can give to aspiring researchers is to learn a little bit more about the rules of the game and how to play them to your advantage.