Making a successful grant applications
19th November 2010
As the research funding environment becomes ever more competitive Dr Roger O’Sullivan, Director of CARDI reflects on what makes a successful research grant application:
The Health and Social Care - Research and Development Office recently held a seminar focused on enhancing the competitiveness of funding applications from Northern Ireland. Participants had an opportunity to hear from those who regularly submit successful research bids, funders of research and those who sit on assessment panels. While focused on those involved in health and social care research, the points made at the seminar are critical to all research fields including ageing.
Matching your proposal to the call
A recurring message from presenters was to match a research proposal with the appropriate funding scheme. It is key to understand the funder’s focus and the grant programme’s terms of reference. As one funder said, “don’t just read but also adhere to the guidelines!”
Prof Alan Stitt, from the Centre of Vision at Queen’s University Belfast indicated that while “grantsmanship” is important, it will not help a bad research idea became a high quality application. It can, however, help turn a good research idea into a proposal that will have a chance of being funded.
Some ingredients for success
Professor Frank Kee, from the Centre of Excellence in Public Health, highlighted three ingredients for success:
Professor Kee also stressed the importance of avoiding statements such as: “there is no data on...” or “this has never been done...” as he argued this is rarely the case. Applications, he said, need to be highly logical, achievable and clearly written but overall, the key to success is to prepare and balance innovation with feasibility and a realistic budget.
Dr Janet Valentine, of the Medical Research Council, encouraged applicants to use the assistance of a critical friend on coherence of the case as well as to seek guidance from funders when in doubt of eligibility.
If at first you don’t succeed...
A recurring message throughout the day on the theme of being successful in a grant application was the need to remove sensitivities and understand the “odds of success”. Very few people are successful on their first grant application. Rather it is typically achieved by perseverance through disappointment, reflecting and learning from mistakes, preparing the ground work combined with research rigour.
In sum, successful research applications are the result of preparation, hard work and learning from past mistakes.
Dr Roger O'Sullivan