The effect of impact

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 20 September 2018 under the title “Don’t fear the bogeyman”. It is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


“I … have made impactful contributions to industry and practice…”

As a research whisperer, I spend my life helping people to refine their grant applications. An important part of that is wielding the ‘big red pen of clarity’, and editing their material to help express their ideas more clearly.

You can imagine my reaction when I read ‘impactful’ in a grant application recently. I was appalled. In the Australian vernacular, I nearly choked on my Weeties. This horror appeared in an otherwise excellent application, written by an otherwise excellent applicant. We had words…

At about the same time, Tim Sherratt tweeted:

André Brett replied,

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Laying the research groundwork

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 3 June 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

When I’ve asked researchers about their funding streams, many want to talk about the projects they want grant money for. Drilling down a bit further, however, it becomes obvious that many of the projects aren’t actually projects…yet.

Some researchers have ideas for projects, while others have started initial discussions but haven’t gotten their collaborators to commit to the project yet. Some researchers have said they have a full-fledged project in their head but haven’t talked with anyone else about it. Often, even if the team has come together, the thinking around the project itself has not.

This makes it hard to talk to your university’s grants team because the research project you want funded isn’t properly baked. It’s all still a bit doughy and unformed. I’ve written before about why you should only submit golden-brown applications, and I know how much work it can take to get to that stage.

Most grants teams are fabulous and want to help you submit strong applications to those competitive funding rounds. However, it’s often neither their job nor do they have the capacity to get you to the project grant application starting block with a red-hot project and a team ready to go.

Grey areas

The problem here is the grey area of where this research development happens.

Particularly for early career researchers who may be fresh out of their PhD, starting that next big project—without a supervisor or the scaffolding of a degree—can be a significant challenge.  Read more of this post

Choosing the unicorns – An ECR’s perspective on grant reviews

Emma Birkett is a Teaching Associate in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham and lives in the quiet backwaters of Derbyshire, UK.

Her research examines motor timing deficits in children and adults with developmental disorders, especially dyslexia.

She teaches in the areas of child development, dyslexia and educational assessment. She is currently developing a module for a new master’s programme in developmental disorders, setting up a research project on ensemble timing in children and conducting a study on active teaching methods for her post-graduate teaching certificate.

Emma can be found on Twitter at @emskibirkett.


The other day, I read the guest blog on Research Whisperer by Adam Micolich about capturing unicorns, a.k.a landing your first successful grant application. I found it really helpful for early career researchers such as myself, and wanted to offer another perspective on the funding process: that of a grants reviewer.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two grant submissions.

Unicorn [Photo by Yosuke Muroya | http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamur0w0%5D (Shared via CC BY-NC 2.0)

Once my initial imposter syndrome worries evaporated, I found it was a useful learning experience.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with other early career creatures on their journey towards capturing that mythical unicorn of a successful grant application! It’s really interesting to compare Adam’s and my tips, given our differences in career stage and grant application experience.

The first application I reviewed this year arrived on my desk in autumn. Two colleagues were submitting an expression of interest to a charitable organisation and I was asked to be the internal reviewer. As in many departments, this internal review process is a quality check prior to external submission.

The second opportunity to review a grant application came after a colleague recommended me as an external reviewer to another charitable body.

The first proposal was outside my research area whereas the second was a close fit with my knowledge and experience. Both reviews provided a great opportunity to learn about what happens after grants are submitted and what reviewers expect. Read more of this post

Building your track record

Deb Brian works at the Office of Sponsored Research at The University of Queensland, where her focus is on helping researchers to write better funding applications, and supporting early career researchers and women in science and research.

She can be found on Twitter at @deborahbrian, where she talks higher education policy, research strategy, Australian politics, social justice, and cats. Mostly cats.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight on December 14, 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

As the year begins, many of you will be planning your research for the coming year and identifying funding schemes to target. Some will have received the outcomes of last year’s grant applications and will either be breathing a sigh of relief or girding their loins for the next attempt.

This can be a difficult time, both professionally and emotionally, for early career researchers in particular (see Tseen Khoo’s recent post on academic disappointment).

This is especially so for those in fields where there is an expectation that salaries will be sourced from grant and fellowship funds.

In this era of short-term contracts and reduced security of employment, there has never been more pressure on early career researchers to establish a research track record.

Couple this with declining grant success rates across the board and increasing competition and the situation can become quite daunting. Those who are not successful in becoming one of the 1 in 10 researchers awarded a major grant or fellowship can easily become disheartened.

Some tell me the major funding bodies just don’t care about their field, are biased against their particular methodology, or that it is all a lottery anyway. None of this is true, of course, but – more importantly – it isn’t helpful.

So, what can you do if you are an early career researcher struggling to break into the big leagues of research funding?

Here are five tips for you to help build your track record:  Read more of this post

Mind the gap

“This project fills in a significant gap in the literature…”

“This project will address this significant gap in knowledge…”

Text on a railway platform that says 'mind the gap'.

Mind the gap, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several applications that identify a gap in the literature. The ‘gap’ is a useful way to think about your research. It is often presented as a triangle (or a square):

Poincairre says…
Munroe framed the problem in this way…
Flanders contributed the theory of…
However, between those three approaches, there exists a gap…

Sometimes, this research gap is real. Sometimes, it is a little bit constructed (for the purposes of the theoretical argument, of course). In the end, it doesn’t matter. You’ve found your gap.

That gap in the literature? It won’t get you funded.

If you have a gap, and every other applicant has also identified a gap, then that makes your application just like everyone else’s. It doesn’t differentiate you from the crowd. It is a necessary condition for being competitive, not a competitive advantage. Demonstrating it gets you in the game, but it certainly doesn’t win you the grant. Read more of this post

The cruel world of funding peer review

This article began life as a presentation for Peer review and grant funding: From evidence to practice at Melbourne University, 17 November 2017. Thanks to Adrian Barnett and Philip Clarke for inviting me to speak.


Before I begin, I should point out that I write from a position of incredible privilege. I’m not an academic – I’m a university administrator. I am securely employed, and have been for most of my working life. My job is to help academics find funding for their research.

In that role, I work with Australian academics from RMIT University. I work with artists, designers, educators, social scientists and humanities scholars, primarily on their Australian Research Council applications. A significant number of the academics that I have worked with over the last seven years have been early career researchers, generally trying to win their first major grant.

Early career researchers face a cruel world these days. Even though they are an increasingly diverse cohort, they are still generally imagined as young, full-time academics without significant outside commitments. They aren’t. Many of them have significant responsibilities outside of work, taking care of children and elderly parents or working on limited visas, far from home. Most of them have no secure work, while being expected to take on increasing levels of accountability. Their research outputs, their teaching performance and even their scholarly engagement with the world are under intense scrutiny and evaluation.

All this has interesting ramifications for the peer review system that we use for government grants.

A professor stands at the top of a pyramid of scholars and students. Advice flows downwards and cites flow upwards. When funding runs out, the scheme collapses.

Beware the Profzi Scheme, on “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com

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Why should I bother?

Tim PitmanTim Pitman is a Research Development Adviser in the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University.

He has worked in research development since 2007. His own research interest is on higher education policy, with a particular focus on increasing the representation of disadvantaged students in universities.

Tim tweet from @timothypitman.


Photo of street art by Christos Barbalis | unsplash.com

Photo of street art by Christos Barbalis | unsplash.com

I’ve been working in research development for a decade now and almost all of that has been focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS).

Much of the ‘art’ of finding funding is universal across disciplines, but there’s also a need for research support that is more targeted towards HASS researchers.

I feel this especially keenly every year when researchers are submitting applications for Australian Research Council (ARC) funding (roughly equivalent to the National Science Foundation in the USA and the national research councils in other countries).

Often, institutional support processes designed to improve the quality of Australian Research Council applications appear to focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This can leave HASS researchers scratching their heads, wondering whether that key observation, or sage bit of advice applies to them as well. Read more of this post