Monday, 13 June 2011

Fellowships Applications: Notes from the Grants Factory

‘I looked at the criteria and thought, ‘that’s me!’’ Prof Darren Griffin kicked off the latest Grants Factory event by highlighting the importance of ‘fitting’ the funder’s scheme. The event focused on fellowship funding, and Darren was talking about his experience of applying for a BBSRC Career Development Fellowship.

Fellowships offer more flexibility and freedom than standard project grants, but both you and your research have to be ripe for it. To do so you have to piece together the past, present and future of your research, and demonstrate its momentum and trajectory.

Prof Paul Allain continued by highlighting the necessary ‘craft’ in preparing a fellowship application:

  • Read the guidance, but also read the guidance for the funder’s other schemes so that you can understand the specific aims, and specific requirements, of the fellowship. Where the funder has stated their ‘strategic priorities’ make sure that your fellowship fits with them and, ideally, show them how it does. Quote their Delivery Plan back at them;
  • It’s all about the person, stupid: highlight your ‘pedigree’, and how previous work, publications and practice lead inevitably to this fellowship. Show how you are the person, the only person, who can deliver on this research. Create the picture;
  • Use diagrams and timelines. This both breaks up the text (see below), but also gives a sense of certainty and deliverability – making the ‘picture’ more believable;
  • In terms of the language, keep it simple. No jargon. Check and double check for typos. Make the format clear, with paragraph breaks and bullet points. You’re not writing for an academic journal, and the requirements are different here. As Paul said, ‘you can’t be too subtle.’ Use frames and signposts, interlinked phrases, repetition and emphasis;
  • Don’t hypothesise: what are you actually going to do? Avoid hesitancy and conjecture, and use active verbs. You want to develop a sense of a momentum that can’t be stopped, and that you’re ready to go if they give the word.
As with all funding, you’ve got to think of the peer review panel members on the train, rattling towards London for the panel meeting. They’re reading through applications for the first time. There’s someone barking into a mobile phone next to them, and a child bouncing on the seat in front of them. The conductor’s coming down the aisle in one direction, and the refreshment trolley down the aisle in the other. Take pity on them, and keep your application simple, realistic and compelling. They need to know quickly and clearly:

  • Who are you? What's your research? Why now? (‘Tickets from Birmingham New Street, please’)
  • Why should I care about any of it? (‘Can you hear me? We’re just going through a tunnel...hello?’)
  • Okay, okay, so you're right for the fellowship - but what are you actually going to do - and can you succeed? (‘Mum! Muuuuum!’)
  • How are you going to tell people about your findings? (‘Tea, coffee, hot chocolate?’)

If you can do that, and keep their attention amongst all those distractions – well, yours is the fellowship, and all that’s in it. As Kipling very nearly said.

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