Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Leverhulme Fellowships: Notes from a Panellist

Prof Davina Cooper
Last week we ran a Grants Factory session on Leverhulme Trust Fellowships. Prof Davina Cooper from Kent Law School offered some thoughts from her time on the Research Awards Advisory Committee which administers a number of Leverhulme’s fellowship schemes, and my colleague Brian Lingley provided some notes from the session below. 

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These notes are specifically directed at social science projects; some of them will also be applicable to other kinds of projects.

Keep It Engaging, Interesting and Clear
The panel covers a wide spectrum of disciplines and panel members participate in making decisions outside their own specialist areas. Therefore:
  • Demonstrate what is intellectually exciting and interesting about your project, including how it contributes to wider debates beyond your own probably narrower topic
  • Convey the complexity of your thinking and analysis while using a language that will engage the non-expert. Be attentive to how academic and technical terms can be understood differently in different fields, and where necessary explain your use of terms. 
  • Think about the format and layout of your proposal to make it as readable as possible. 
  • It may be helpful to use a larger font, leave white space between paragraphs, and use bold and italicised text to highlight headings and key points.

Demonstrate Why It Is Important
There is a limited word count available to you, so don’t spend too long on scene setting. However, you do need to frame your proposal; it can be helpful for reviewers and panel members if you identify the current debates or conversations you are entering; what the prevailing understandings and narratives are, and what your project will add. 
  • Does it challenge a prevailing common sense?
  • Does it fill a “gap”?
  • Does it add texture and nuance to an area that is already understood in more general, skeletal terms?
  • If your work is particularly topical, it is helpful to check research data-bases to identify other ongoing work in the field. Finding other current research doesn’t negate the value of your project, but do explain how your proposed research relates to or complements other current work – proposals sometimes set out their work as if no one else is working in the field; identifying wider intellectual energy and other academic efforts and engagement also helps demonstrate that the area is important and intellectually topical
  • Communicate the significance of the proposed research, why you are the right person to do it, and (if you can) why it is important now. (Topicality may relate to current debates, findings, new lines of thinking etc. It doesn’t have to mean the topic is currently salient beyond the academy.)
  • Don’t just tell the reader that it is important, demonstrate why it is.

Balance: Framing Questions, Explaining Choices
Good proposals convey the quality of sophisticated analysis the applicant wishes to pursue. This may be through discussion of methodology, the questions posed, or a brief account of the sorts of argument or analysis provisionally planned.
  • Highlight challenging aspects of your methodology (eg an innovative new approach or more practical challenges, such as a difficult to reach sample of people), and show your expertise to meet these challenges.
  • Make sure that your chosen methods address the aims and objectives of the proposal.
  • Explain any contentious choices or choices that a reviewer may ponder over and like an explanation (eg if a project is framed by a particular time period, involves a particular country, particular authors or theorists, or themes… why these ones?).
  • Applicants sometimes spend insufficient time framing questions. Good questions should convey the sophistication of the project and the debates in which it is immersed.
  • In a social science project, try and avoid simple descriptive questions unless this is at the heart of the contribution the project is making.

Appropriate Outputs
Leverhulme fellowships tend to focus on academic forms of dissemination, although non-academic dissemination and engagement can be valuable if they fit with the project’s aims and objectives.
  • You don’t need to say you will publish in “high impact journals”; it is better to be more specific to give an indication of the kinds of journals you would seek to publish in (eg, more interdisciplinary journals, mainstream disciplinary journals or more specialist ones).
  • Only say that you will write a book if this is genuinely part of your plan; it is not required in order to get funding.

For Early Career Fellowships, Head of School Statement Is Important
For the Early Career Fellowship Scheme (ECF):
  •  it is advantageous to demonstrate that you have some track record in academic publishing, e.g., a published refereed journal article.
  • As part of the proposal, the host Head of School needs to write a statement on institutional commitment and contribution – it is worth ensuring this is not a bland, generic statement of commitment, but shows how the proposed research plans and the ECF will contribute to the school and vice versa. This statement can make a difference to the funding decision.
  • The ECF proposal is sent to referees before it is reviewed by the panel. It is important that your referee genuinely knows you – don’t just go for a big name that you met once at a conference if they are not familiar with your work.

For Research Fellowships
For the Research Fellowship Scheme (RF):
  • The panel shortlists proposals before they are sent to referees; hence the importance of earlier comments about making your proposal engaging and accessible to a generalist.  
  • Although you are asked about study leave in the application, recent study leave will not disqualify your application.
  • The RF scheme doesn’t have to be for a new piece of research – it can be used to complete a previously started project.

 For International Academic Fellowships, Collaboration Is Key
The International Academic Fellowship Scheme (IAF):
  • This is not just for a piece of overseas research, it should be a collaborative exercise with the overseas host institution where both sides gain from the experience; this mutual benefit should be clearly set out in the application.
  • It doesn’t need to be a new relationship, pre-existing is fine.

And Finally...
  • Leverhulme has no substantive priority areas, each application is considered on its merits.
  • Leverhulme doesn’t have a policy regarding Open Access journals. However Open Access charges can be included in project budgets, but should not represent more than 25% of your 'research expenses' for a Fellowship. It is important to note that the Trust can only help with charges incurred during the life of your award.
  • Leverhulme do not prefer applications from elite or larger institutions and are attentive to the range of institutions to which fellowships are awarded.

We’re extremely grateful to Davina for making the time for this workshop. 
Unfortunately, because of her workload, and potential conflicts of interest with her role as a Leverhulme panel member, Davina is unable to offer feedback on draft applications.

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