Friday, 2 December 2011

Thinking in CinemaScope

With the recent doom laden news about small grant funding, academics are having to Think Big when it comes to projects. Yesterday's Grants Factory workshop focused on how they could develop their ideas in 'CinemaScope'.

Liz Mansfield kicked off by sounding out the participants about their hopes and fears for the session. Common threads emerged: how should I start? What should the scale be? How do I integrate different work packages, and how should I deal with uncertainty? What costs should I include, and how can I justify them? What should my submission strategy be?

Jon Williamson took over to talk about how to develop a research funding profile, how to 'upscale' a project, and the pros and cons of large collaborations. He suggested that a 'funding profile' was a crucial element of a grant proposal, providing reassurance to the reviewers and panellists that you can lead a larger project and can deliver the goods.

Whilst not everyone will have a gilt edged funding profile already, you should demonstrate how you have already engaged with external funding, and successfully managed an award - of whatever scale. There is a natural progression, from PhD award to postdoc fellowships, conference grants and small grants. Other grants, such as networks, demonstrate how you have coordinated different partners. All these grants provide the platform, the background, the foundation for the larger projects.

If you haven't secured funding yet, don't give up hope: you could think about acting as a Co-I on a project led by a more experienced PI, or have in place a strong project management framework, including a committee whose members have been project leaders.

But how should one start planning a project? Liz Mansfield suggested that, rather starting with a research question, or even with the final outcome, you should leapfrog to the point when the project is done and dusted. For her the starting point should be the memory of it: how is it remembered? How has it been assessed? How has it been judged?

This may seem simplistic, but pause for a minute and try putting this into practice. What is your area of research? What is your ultimate goal? From that point, work backwards and work out what steps you will need to achieve that goal. By thinking of the final memory, it will force you to be realistic about both the methodology, but also about the dissemination. And, for both, it will force you to think seriously about the resources you will need to effectively fulfil them. The beauty of this is that it will give you a macro oversight of your project that will naturally trigger questions about how best to construct its framework and micro management.

We're hoping to run the session again next year and, in the meantime, are planning to run a series of 'mock panels' in the Spring Term at which applicants can sound out others about their projects. Do get in touch if you're planning a large project, and want to move it from TV to the cinema screen.

1 comment:

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