Open access grant proposals

US-based biology researcher Ethan White has compiled a list of publicly available grant proposals in the biological sciences (thanks to Phil Ward for highlighting this). Often university research offices make available successful bids to other staff within the same institution, but Ethan and several others have gone further and taken the brave step of making their bids (successful and unsuccessful) openly accessible on the web using Creative Commons licenses.

The list mainly consists of bids to US funders, such as NSF and NIH, but Casey Bergman, based in Life Sciences at Manchester University, has made available a few proposals to UK Research Councils BBSRC and NERC.

Discussing the reasons for making his grant proposals openly available on the web, Ethan White argues that openness is inherently beneficial for science and that giving early career researchers access to funded proposals can help them learn the art of good bid writing:

By sharing our proposals the cutting edge of scientific thought will no longer be hidden from view for several years and that will allow us to make more rapid progress … I think having examples of grants available to young scientists has the potential to help them learn how to write good proposals (and other folks seem to agree) and therefore decrease the importance of grantsmanship relative to cool science in the awarding of limited funds.

On a similar theme, Joss Winn’s LNCD team at the University of Lincoln has made available some successful JISC funded bids on Google Docs. For example, here’s the bid for their £330K funded Orbital project. Arguably this goes further still by making the proposals viewable and editable on Google Docs, meaning others can make comments and even add to the proposal. Joss takes a similar view on open bid writing to Ethan:

I see no benefit to writing bids such as this in private, other than hiding the process by which I write grant applications. The projects I propose and the outputs they generate are all open source and usually promote some variation of openness (open access/source/education/data), so why not start with the writing of the bid? Perhaps someone will be generous enough to contribute in some way or even learn something from being able to see the bids in their raw state. It also stakes a claim on the nature of the proposal, too and with a CC license, the idea is sufficiently ‘protected’.

This is a contentious issue and clearly not everyone is going to be happy to open up their research bids in this way – typical concerns relate to the possibility of ideas being “stolen” by competitors. What do you think? Is this something you’d consider doing with your bids?


Research Funding Toolkit Online

There are surprisingly few books about how to get research funding from a UK perspective, but here’s one that may well be worth reading: The Research Funding Toolkit is based on a series of workshops run at the University of Kent called the Grants Factory. It aims to explain succinctly and clearly how to go about writing research grant applications, including when and whether to bid, how to understand the funder remit, and how to structure and present your application to increase your chances of success.

I’ve ordered a copy and will post a review once I’ve read it. However, I’d recommend that you read the Toolkit Online (i.e. blog) and check out some of the presentations in the Resources section of the Toolkit site. There are already a couple of excellent posts on how to start writing an application and what you need to say in the Case for Support.


What is a reviewer looking for when assessing track record?

Tseen Khoo at The Research Whisperer has posted an excellent summary of what reviewers look for when assessing track records of research grant applications. It’s written from the perspective of the Australian Research Council, but most of the insights are relevant in the UK research context, too. Here’s a snippet, but check out the original post for the full story:

What do I look for when assessing the track-records of researchers on grant applicants?

It’s naff to say this but I do look for that mythical ‘excellence’, which means different things to different people. It’s a factor that also differs from discipline to discipline. To me, excellence means a fabulous publication record (good quality productivity); strong and real networks of collaborators and community/industry links (if relevant); and research that demonstrates this person or team is doing good stuff (whether it’s creating momentum for a field, showing initiative, whatever – basically, making things happen).

The competitiveness of many funding rounds means that excellent track-records become an expectation. As Mark Bisby, former VP Research for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has said: “It’s not a test, it’s a contest.”

Part 2 will focus on assessing an application’s overall feasibility. I’d recommend taking a look at the Research Whisperer blog – it’s full of interesting and relevant posts.


Cultural Encounters: AHRC Infoday

Last week the AHRC held a series of UK-based information days for the recently released HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) Cultural Encounters call. These infodays gave potential UK applicants a chance to find out more background information to the call, and hear from the coordinator of a project which was successful in the last HERA round.

The AHRC has already published the presentations from the event on their website. I attended the session in London last week and my rough notes are available on Google Docs. These should be read in conjunction with the already published call guidance notes [PDF], National Eligibility Requirements [PDF] and FAQs [PDF].

Some edited highlights follow:

  1. Projects must be genuinely collaborative: This is not about creating a consortium where the individual partners carry out discrete research projects and then come together at the end to ask each other what they have learned. The partners must form a genuinely collaborative research team which integrates insights and approaches from all of the institutions involved throughout the project. This point goes for any non-academic partners which are involved in the consortium, too – these should not simply be “tacked on” to tick a knowledge exchange box, but should be integral to the research objectives.
  2. European “added value” is critical: You need to make a coherent and compelling case for why this project needs pan-European funding. Ask yourself why this work couldn’t be funded just by the AHRC, for example. The input of European partners must be integral to the research. Some subject areas can have a national focus, so think about how your research can bring together insights from different research cultures and contexts.
  3. European researchers, not research: The European focus applies to the researchers involved and not necessarily the research: i.e. you don’t have to focus on topics relevant to Europe, what’s important is that you address the Cultural Encounters theme with a research team based in institutions in HERA countries.
  4. Interdisciplinarity: This is not a requirement, but is strongly encouraged. This should not just be about combining insights from different disciplines, but more ambitiously reaching genuinely new insights which seem to shift disciplinary boundaries. Note the research can include non-humanities disciplines as long as it has a clear humanities focus.
  5. Consider PhDs carefully: You can recruit PhDs to your project, but you should carefully consider requesting PhD funding. The work you undertake cannot be dependent on PhD students – they must be able to stand alone, for example if their research takes them in a different direction. The level of work should be appropriate too: this is not a chance to get a cut-price postdoc! Moreover, having a PhD on the project means that your project must be 3 years in length, whereas you get extra flexibility if you don’t have a PhD. On the other hand, PhDs can bring a unique dimension to the project – in CinBA, for example, the PhD students used social media and blogging to help the research reach new audiences.
  6. Focus areas are suggestions: The list of focus areas in the call document is a suggestion of areas you may consider addressing – it is not a requirement. Your research may cut across several of these, or address an entirely different aspect. As long as your project fits within the overarching theme of cultural encounters it will be eligible for funding.
  7. Think carefully about resources available: €1M doesn’t actually go very far when spread across a three year project and split among 3+ institutions research teams. In many UK institutions employing 1 postdoctoral researcher full time for three years plus FEC overheads will eat up nearly a third of that total. Think about whether you need to employ a postdoc for the full duration of the project; could you use their time more effectively by bringing them in six months into the project, for example?

Get in touch with us if you’re a Northumbria member of staff interested in the call and are thinking of putting together an expression of interest.