What to think about before you apply

Before starting the application, it is important to prepare effectively. Research the funder, talk to the person administering the grant and engage people who could support your application.

Research potential funders

Look at their websites and call relevant people. Use this initial scope to decide whether to apply.  There will probably be more than one relevant funder, as many of them have overlapping priorities.

When looking for the right funder, consider the following questions:

  • What kind of grants to they offer? Do they run restricted calls or are they a purely reactive funder? Find this out and note the deadlines.
  • What career stage (for example PhD or fellowships) do they fund? Are you eligible?
  • What stage of research do they focus on: basic, applied, clinical, implementation?

Research the funder you’re applying to

Once you have decided who you are going to apply to, research them in depth to learn about the application process and review panels. This will help you tailor your application. Consider:

  • Review panels

The people on review panels will make the final decision on whether to fund you, so anything you can do to make their work easier is beneficial. Make sure your application is easy to read. In addition, if there are few respiratory researchers on the panel, the application will need to be accessible to non-specialists. Find out who is on your panel online, or by contacting the research funding office. Application panels change often so check back regularly.

  • Administrators and managers

The person who knows the most about an application process is the funder themselves. We highly recommend you contact the person or team running the grant so that you can gain an in-depth understanding of their process.

  • The Wellcome Trust recommends that those interested in applying organise a time to come in, or give them a call.
  • MRC recommends you organise a phone call with the programme head. For asthma, this is the cardiovascular and respiratory medicine programme.
  • NIHR advises applicants to consult their strategy, and to focus on how the research will eventually benefit patients and on collaboration. It also suggests emailing or calling the research manager if you have further questions about the application and review process.
  • Researchers who have been successful with that funder before

If this is the first time you have applied to a funder, senior researchers who have submitted successful applications are an especially useful resource. Having been through the process multiple times, they will know how to present research in a way that appeals to funders.

It is never too early to start speaking to them. Early career researchers and PhD students can also approach senior colleagues and ask to sit in on grant applications. Use the experience of senior colleagues to learn ‘grantsmanship’.

It is also a good idea to get senior colleagues who are not specialists in your area to look over your application. They will know what the funder is looking for and will be able to tell you if you have been clear when setting out your case.

  • The funder’s goals and philosophy

While you are researching a funder, think about their long-term objectives. Funders give researchers money for a reason, and understanding these reasons will give you: a better understanding of the type of research projects and programmes they will support, the criteria they are using, and their application process.

For example, the NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Their priority is research that can be used to improve the treatment and care of patients. If you are applying to the NIHR, the clearer you can make the link between your research and better outcomes for patients, the stronger your application will be.

Make sure you have the basics covered

Double-check you are eligible for the grant, that you have a clear plan and that you have the right people supporting you– for example, statisticians or computer scientists.

Start planning your application as early as possible

Application forms are long and it is unlikely that you will have all the information to hand. In addition, various people at your institution will also have to complete sections and/or approve your application - and making last minute changes might require going through that process again. So, give yourself plenty of time to complete and submit your application, without having to rush or risk missing the deadline.

Applying early not only gives you plenty of time to prepare you application, but it also allows you to start a conversation with the funder so you can develop in-depth understanding of their application process.

Apply at your best

You will be competing against researchers from many other fields, so apply when your CV is at its best. This might mean waiting for any relevant research to be published before you apply. Remember: all funders run multiple funding rounds every year, so opportunities do come around again.

Network and collaborate

A key part of writing a good application is throwing the net wide to find people who could add to your application. No one is an expert at everything and the best research projects draw on a wide pool of expertise.

Both the MRC and the NIHR tell us that asthma applications perform well on most counts but asthma researchers, on the whole, need to be more collaborative. Look beyond your department and institution for people with knowledge and skills that will improve your research.

Promoting team science is a strategic priority for the NIHR and the MRC, and all the major funders consider collaborations when assessing applications. Applications that do not involve an inter-disciplinary team will struggle in the final stages of the application process.

Approvals and regulations

If your research involves human participants or animals there are a set of ethics and safety policies that must be adhered to. The NIHR and the MRC have teams that can help you make sure that your application conforms with the relevant regulations; the MRC has a regulatory support team and NIHR has regional research design services.

Ready to write your application?

Read our guidance on writing a convincing application