Last week I attended a useful “Research Roadshow”, and I thought it might help to write a few brief notes. We started with an overview of the Research Excellence Framework from Andrew Atherton, who set out the university’s position, and what academic staff needed to do. Essentially, the university is aiming to submit in 14-16 units of assessment, and looking for an average 2.5 star rating. Andrew felt that we were very much on trajectory, but reminded us that, even though the REF assessment will not take place until the end of next year, given the length of time it takes to get a journal article published, deadlines were, in reality, much sooner.
All academic staff should produce 1 output per year in a “peer recognised outlet”. That could be a “prestigious conference” or an exhibition, as well as a peer recognised outlet. Secondly all academic staff to contribute to external income generation, although that doesn’t necessarily mean research grant income. It’s nearly as important to produce data about and awareness of what we’re doing as it is to produce income.
Next Paul Stewart, pro-vice chancellor for research, gave us a talk on how to raise one’s profile, since research funders have to know who you are. If you have no status, no history, it’s unlikely that they will give you any cash. It doesn’t matter who you are. You must have visibility. It is thus important to have a broad portfolio. How do you market yourself? Paul’s answer, (which, predictably enough, I was pleased to see) was “Blog!” Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. You need to show the funding agency that their money is doing something useful. Let’s face it, if somebody submitted a bid to you, the first thing you would (probably) do is to Google them.
Any bid needs to demonstrate
- a contribution to the economy
- improved competitiveness for research funding
- Improved credibility with the sector.
Paul also stressed the importance of placing your outputs in the Repository, stressing the importance of describing yourself in glowing terms. As researchers, we are products that we want to sell.
There was then a brief talk from Lisa Mooney Smith who suggested that there are roles that should take a lead in enabling research and that it would be useful to develop an academic interactions map, essentially a document that each member of staff produces and makes available to colleagues, listing their various research roles and interests. Perhaps we could develop the on-line staff profile pages a bit here. How does one do research? Why does one do it? Who does one do it with?. How do you get that first introduction. She suggested that it would be good for colleges, faculties and departments to develop a mentoring system.
The session then split into three workshops. I attended one by Martin Pickard which dealt with writing a successful bid Martin’s key points were
- It’s a competition. A game
- The best strategy will win
- Beware of traps.
The things you need to tell funders is why your bid is useful, How it would bring in further research. You meed a plan, need to argue that plan, and have every element of it justified.
NEVER SET OUT TO WRITE AN APPLICATION – You build them brick by brick, argument by argument, justification by justification. Explain everything. Attack the call remit. Don’t make the assessors think. After all nost decisions are made by a lay panel and you have to tell them why should they fund you? They’re not interested in your research, they’re interested in their remit.
Outside your speciality you must explain:-
- Why the project is important and needed
- Why your proposed approach is special and exciting
- What the outcome of the project will be
- Where it fits to the call
- Why this research will be of such enormous benefit
- How the impact benefit will be achieved
- How you plan to build the evidence
- Identify and promote your USP. (Unique selling point)
Focus on exploitation as well as dissemination – Give the name of a big international group you have been working with. It’s not enough just to say it. You have to have the project ready to go with the members of that group, and show that you are ready.
There are two phases to the project
You must justify the project quickly. Decisions are often made in a couple of minutes. They might be revised later, but that’s unlikely. rejections are often not because of what you say but because of what you fail to say
You have to have, concept, rationale, current position & problems, objectives, deliverables and how your project will progress beyond the current state of art, in the first five or six lines. If you can do this it will put the rest of your text in a very positive light.
Here you set out the methodology and work programme. What we’re going to do, how we’ll do it, why we’re doing it this way, and prove that this is the best way to do it. In other words you need a clearly defined plan, objectives, targets and deliverables set, risk analysis worked out, and a clear dissemination and exploitation plan.
We were told that 50% of rejections happen in phase 1. 50% of what’s left fails at phase 2 which still leaves 25% of the original applications in with a chance. So how do you get to the top?
Impact and benefit is the key to this. That doesn’t necessarily come from a peer reviewed paper, (useful though that may be). The new methodologies use you use might have more impact. It’s really down to the effect that your project that might have. Every research proposal should always have at least 3 USPs
Martin concluded, rather counterintuitively by saying that the way to get all these messages across is never to use 3 words where 6 will do. You have to explain what you are doing to the assessors. Each sentence should say more than one thing. They’re not (usually) experts in your subject.
All in all it was a very useful afternoon, and quite well attended. Now, I’ve just got to go and find a project!