Before applying for a grant

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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 do 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 are 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. If there are few respiratory researchers on the panel, the application will need to be accessible to non-specialists. In addition, Asthma UK always includes patient representative as part of our review panel and this is an increasingly common feature across funders so you may be asked to write a lay summary of your research proposal. 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 requires applicants for Partnership or Programme grants, and those applications with exceptional costs for research being undertaken overseas, to get in touch with the relevant Science Programme Lead with a copy of your CV and a short synopsis of your research project. For asthma, this is the Population and Systems Medicine Team. Other applicants are also welcome to get in touch to discuss their application and eligibility.
  • NIHR advises applicants to consult their strategy, and to focus on how the research will eventually benefit public and social care 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, 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 NIHR, the clearer you can make the link between your research and better outcomes for public health and social care, 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: most 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 MRC and 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 MRC and NIHR, 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. NIHR and MRC have teams that can help you make sure that your application conforms with the relevant regulations; MRC has a regulatory support centre and NIHR has regional research design services. In general, NIHR funds applied health and care research and does not fund basic research or work involving animals or animal tissue. MRC requires you to specify the number, sex, age range and state of health of the human participants. You will also need to indicate how informed consent will be obtained and whether the participants are, for example, patients, healthy volunteers or individuals in a control cohort.

For those conducting animal-based research, governmental and AMRC-registered funders need you to demonstrate how your methodology adheres to the NC3Rs principles of replacement, reduction and refinement. The NC3Rs website publishes helpful guidelines and resources for researchers working with various animal models.

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Read our guidance on writing a convincing application

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