Walk in my shoes (or at least see my shoes)

As I mentioned in the last post, as part of our  Newton Bhabha Fund workshop, taking place in IISER, Pune  (remember, we’re tweeting about the workshop using #CERRI) we visited a number of rural villages to meet villagers, community leaders and officers from Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (MAM), an NGO. Yesterday we ran a debrief and Q&A session to help maximise the value of the visit and as part of this I asked the group to share the value the trip had had.

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Welcome, Maharashtra India

This is a short summary of those discussions. As the workshop goes on I’m sure the value will be felt in different ways, but for now here are the intial reactions. Please note that we only spent a few hours in the villages so no-one is claiming that we’ve got any depth of insight into the experiences of the villagers. However, even though we haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of the people we met, we have perhaps “seen their shoes”.

We asked these questions about the key influences of the visits:

  • what sights and conversations have had particular impact?
  • what key moments have changed or developed your thinking?

(People discussed this in groups so I’ve left the summaries in this format – I’m aware that some will need some clarification or expansion so I’ll add these as I get more information from the groups)

  • I’ve got a real picture of life in an Indian village
  • recognise the food-water-energy nexus
  • seen their low expectations from life
  • need for low cost and maintable technology
  • seen the gap between the rural schemes launched and how they are implemented
  • seen a lack of awarness and priority setting

 

  • importance of a holistic approach – need to blend technology + skills + business plan
  • importance of working with teachers and education
    • develop a proper syllabus on corruption
  • each village is different and one size will not fit all
  • can we find a fine balance between providing development in a culturally balanced way, yet still providing an acceptable minimum?
    • do we need to define a minimum acceptable “village standard”?
  • equity and participation (gender/caste etc)

 

  • awareness
  • demand driven technology
  • exploring opportunities for development
  • empowerments

 

  • to look at energy beyond electricity access
  • LPG stoves – differential adoption
  • villagers interviewing the researchers
  • lack of water for irrigation and sanitation
  • health situation and awareness

 

  • one graduate, religious festival
  • Chullahas
  • challenge for maintenance of tech
  • toilets (as store house)
  • self help groups

In the next post I’m going to share some of the advice we get from the experts who are coming along to the workshop to speak on day 3  (a previous post looked at how we briefed them.)

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Rural Development and Cold Spaghetti

(If you’re mystified by the title of this post I explain it below.)

This blog is part of a series on the Newton Bhabha Fund workshop, taking place in IISER, Pune September 4-8th (we’re tweeting about the workshop using #CERRI)  On day one of the workshop we visited a number of rural villages to meet villagers, community leaders and officers from Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (MAM), an NGO. I’d like to take a moment here to thank Sagar Mitkari from MAM for his time on Monday explaining the role and history of his organisation and for helping to arrange the visit to the villages and the Muktangan Tribal Girls Hostel.

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You can read more about MAM here:

http://www.mam.org.in/

The connection with MAM and the visit was organised by Dr Priyadarshini Karve, one of the workshop organisers and the Director of Samuchit Enviro Tech. Priya’s additional role today was to help us to debrief the group, combine experiences (we split up to visited different villages and there is wider experience in the group of other parts of India) and help us begin the process of idea generation. The debrief was an essential part of the early stages of the workshop, as the village visits stimulated a lot of thinking but also some areas of confusion. We spent the afternoon with Priya identifying our new questions and taking advantage of her huge experience.

We split the group into three subgroups taking care to mix people from the four constituent groups on the course (UK/India/Social Science/Physical Science) and from the three visits. We worked for an hour on the following questions, then Priya answered the emerging questions.

  1. Broaden and Share your Perspectives (this was discussed in the groups)
    • within your group, what else do we know about rural India?
    • what do you think we need to know?
    • what was different about the villages visited yesterday?
    • …and what is different about other rural Indian places?
  2. Seek Clarification (this was the basis of discussion with Priya)
    • what is missing from your understanding?
    • what needs clarification or expansion?
  3.  Identify Key Influences (this was captured at the end to gauge the value of the visits)
    • what sights and conversations have had particular impact?
    • what key moments have changed or developed your thinking?

Rather than give a detailed overview of the problems and ambiguities identified I will select a few and share Priya’s advice. I’ll group some of the questions as they were covered with a single answer.

What do you see as the barriers?

The human element – they may say XYZ when they mean ABC. Problems which are categorised in one way may be something very different = social and economic barriers are easily confused (people can say they can’t afford something rather than admitting they are intimidated or uncomfortable with it). People need to have better understanding of the implications of their decisions (i.e. health impact of cooking with wood fires indoors). Superstitions are still influential, but mobile and television is building awareness of modern lifestyles.

How do we ensure things keep on working when India is changing so quickly? And what if our work impacts in others ways – perhaps by creating conditions which mean people are more likely to leave their villages?

There is rapid urbanisation which is affecting village communities but we also see reverse migration with people preferring to return to village life. Don’t think too much about the how specific individuals might act. Think about how whoever will be living in the village in the future – focus on creating liveable conditions. Also recalibrate your description of yourself – I moved from thinking of myself as someone in rural development to thinking about how I support people to deal with climate change using technology. This reframing can help you focus on what’s important. 

There’s so much diversity, even in the three relatively close villages we saw. How do we come up with ideas which can be widely applied?

Don’t try to – there will never be a single solution, but there is more scope to think in terms of a menu of options for people and to put effort into developing methodologies which will help people identify the right solutions or develop their own.

Why aren’t there more skills development programmes to help people use technology more effectively? Why don’t they use the skills they have to engage with technology? (This was prompted by a trip to a village which had broken technology but there were engineers in the village.)

Must take their aspirations into account. Sometimes programmes are offered but not taken because seen as low status – seen as poor relation to university degree or type of training available in cities. Once people are trained to be engineers and start being paid well for this, they are unwilling to work for nothing in the villages. Think about whether you would do your job for nothing when you get home from work…

There is a need for awareness raising, but in some cases there seems to be awareness but no change in behaviour. What can we do about this?

Villagers are people, just like us. We all know what we should do and what is good for us, but do we do it all the time? No! The same psychology applies. We stick with our habits and so do they. Don’t judge them.

Why do so few government schemes work?

They are conceived in Delhi, sent to state capitals, then to districts then to the block level. At this level they make decisions about what to do and then the village leaders decide how to implement. This is a long chain and the initial decision is far removed from the people affected. There can be social pressure from the villagers to keep the decisions on track, but incompetence and issues like caste will derail things.

Having said this there are examples of things being turned around in villages by people pressure. If word of this could spread, people might be inclined to apply similar pressure. Finding local champions who are respected and influential will also help. Teachers can be very powerful.

What is the energy consumption behaviour in the villages?

There is some data about this in limited projects – I’m involved in one to assess this and the way energy is imported and exported to and from the villages. Some of these studies have uncovered important information which show that villages create more wealth for India than they receive in support and benefits.

Shouldn’t we be tacking the bigger societal problems, particualrly around gender and caste inequalities? 

Although these have a negative impact on our work it would be a HUGE job to change them. You need to focus on what you can change and can do. I can’t see this or many other barriers going away. Work around them.

How far to people plan ahead? Can we get them to see the benefits in the long-term of some of these developments?

Depends on nature of their lifestyle. If agricultural will think in terms of farming cycles – until the next harvest. If “hunter-gatherer” will think about where next meal is coming from. It’s difficult to change unless their lifestyles start to be affected.

It feels like there is a need for more data and better access to data that exists. (Questions about soil and water testing, information on energy usage, geomapping and other data sources.)

There is a need for this particularly if it would be produced with a visual summary to help people engage with it. Pilot projects on soil and water testing have happened but it’s patchy – led in one case by a teacher who gathered and analysed samples from students when they returned to their home villages. Over 5-6 years this has built into a map of a region. Engaging people with the data is a key issue as this will help drive better data in future. 

To paraphrase Priya, she encourages our researchers to focus on what they can do and not be disheartened by what they can’t change. She has learnt that a lot of developments and initiatives come and go, but if you stick to what you see working, you will make progress. She uses the local influencers effectively and she’s defined herself in terms of what is needed and what she can do, rather than what she she was initially interested in.

In the next post I’ll summarise the value of the village visits.

*Finally, thanks to Andrea Buck at Swansea University for the title of this blog. Andrea and I had a conversation about how to drive change in universities and she described it as being a little like a bowl of cold spaghetti. You see the one strand that you want to pull out, but as you tug you realise it’s all stuck together and if you pull really hard it jumps out the bowl and hits you in the face… I love this metaphor and the expression “cold spaghetti” enters my head on a fairly regular basis. Of course it doesn’t imply anything about either Swansea or Edinburgh Universities which are both paragons of effective and efficient decision making…

International Researcher Development

On Saturday I’ll be joining Professor Neil Robertson from our School of Chemistry to travel to Pune, India and deliver a workshop funded under the UK-India Researcher Links scheme funded by the British Council and Royal Society of Chemistry. Entitled “Translating Clean Energy Research to Rural India” the workshop will bring together researchers from the UK and India, working in social and physical sciences to understand the challenges of bringing clean energy technology to rural villages and introduce them to a range of experts who will explain how they have overcome these challenges. My plan is to blog throughout the week on what we’ve done, sharing the good practice that emerges and making the process as transparent as possible to support other researchers and researcher developers. I’m grateful to Neil and other colleagues at Edinburgh for being so open to this idea.

This initial post will share how we planned the workshop and what we’ve done to get to the point of departure. I should make it clear that I came into the organising team very late – the funding had already been awarded. Neil and his co-applicants Dr. Jamie Cross (University of Edinburgh), Prof Satish Ogale (IISER, Pune) and Dr. Priyadarshini Karve (Samuchit Enviro Tech) developed the concept and aims of the workshop; my role has been to think about how these can be successful achieved.

Drawing on my experiences from Scottish, Welsh and other Crucibles as well as workshops on collaboration and intercultural working, I started with the aims from the proposal:

  • To introduce physical scientists to the real-world use of energy technologies in rural India. (A visit to selected villages in Maharashtra at the start of the workshop to inform the subsequent presentations, discussions and problem-solving activities of the workshop.)
  • To introduce social scientists to the latest progress in emerging technologies to raise their awareness of immediate and future technological approaches to pressing problems.
  • To facilitate communication and network building between physical and social scientists.
  • To identify short-term projects for immediate impact to consolidate new partnerships that develop during the workshop.

Although an outline for the workshop formed part of the application, I made a couple of changes – principally building in more time for participants to explore and develop ideas and bringing forward their presentations to each other by a day.  It’s worth noting that Neil and his co-organisers have built the whole concept of the workshop around an initial day spent visiting a number of villages in Maharashtra so that the researchers on the workshop can truly appreciate the context in which their ideas need have have impact and the challenges presented by the environment. I think this will have a dramatic and positive impact on the outputs of the week, and I suspect a very personal impact on all of us. If you are reading this and planning your own international development workshop look out for a blog at the start of next week where I’ll try to capture the day and what it meant to us all.

Back to my planning – I structured the workshop around a set of daily themes which helped me to ensure we had a clear flow to help with briefing speakers and attendees:

  1. Setting the scene and understanding the context
  2. Getting to know fellow participants
  3. Generating ideas, learning from experts
  4. Selecting and developing ideas
  5. Reviewing ideas, the programme and sustaining the network

Having done this and produced a brief outline programme I sent it to a few people who had previously attended Researcher Links workshops (many thanks to Dr Ankush Aggarwal of Swansea University and Dr Hu Du of Cardiff University for their feedback) and made further adjustments to maximise the time for participants to understand each other and start developing their ideas. I wanted to minimise the danger of the momentum that will grow during the workshop being lost once people returned to home institutions and their considerable responsibilities. Although they will be at an early stage, I’ve also included a day where we review the ideas so that further work on them is done with a clear understanding of how they will be evaluated.

The outline programme is here but this is a flexible starting point which we expect to develop during the week once we get to know the participants, hear from the speakers and gauge the demands that the course is making on those attending. In the next blog I’ll explain how we briefed the speakers and attendees.

Translating Clean Energy Research to Rural India Initial Workshop Schedule

 

Reduce Confusion, Manage Expectations

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Photo by amann at Morguefile.com

Last week I was involved in two events which on the surface looked different, but actually covered some very similar themes. The first was the launch of a new PhD supervisors’ network here at Edinburgh. This is part of the Supervision workstream of the Excellence in Doctoral Education and Career Development Programme and was a chance for us (principally my colleague Dr Fiona Philippi, Head of Doctoral Education who leads the project) to share some initial ideas and ask the supervisors present how they would like the network to operate.

As part of the discussion, Fiona illustrated an example of the resources available to support supervision by sharing a version of the Griffith University Expectations in Supervision questionnaire. I’ve used this for many years in PhD induction and “getting started” events so it was interesting to see the reaction of supervisors to the tool which is a series of paired statements which demonstrate the dichotomies possible in PhD supervision. The response was very positive, with all those present seeing the value in having a tool to prompt discussion but also clarify the details of their supervisory approach. No one wants to impose a single, cookie-cutter model on doctoral supervision as the questionnaire demonstrates. People talked about the value the discussions would have to students coming to the UK for their PhDs as it might uncover any assumptions they might have. Most importantly, used well, the discussion will reduce uncertainty and the resulting anxiety for students.

During more detailed discussions, the topic of co-supervision emerged as a key area which needed more scrutiny so we are planning to develop the questionnaire further to help students and supervisory teams work together with more transparency and clearer responsibilities.

Co-supervision is now pretty universal at Edinburgh, both as a means of quality assurance but also often reflecting the multi- and inter-disciplinary nature of many PhD projects. This links us to the second event of the week – the Digital Economy Crucible. I was a speaker at the second Crucible “lab” in Edinburgh last week and decided to speak on the topic of Confusion in Collaboration. This is a interesting idea to explore but I can’t take the credit for the idea which came from Professor Barry Smith at Welsh Crucible when he spoke about the steps to really effective collaboration as being Contact, Communication, Confusion and Conflict.

Barry was one of three “heroes” of collaboration I mentioned in my talk, the others being Professor Catherine Lyall from Edinburgh who’s established a deep understanding of models of collaboration as well as producing a series of incredibly useful practical guides to help people in the interdisciplinary space work more effectively.

Catherine was the “critical friend” for a guide to collaboration I wrote for the Institute of Physics in 2015 which featured my last hero, Professor Tom McLeish. Tom is a physicist so has had a career collaborating with with other scientists in academia and industry, but in recent years has worked within the Durham Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (IMRS) reexamining scientific thinking in the 12th-14th centuries on The Ordered Universe project. A collaborative close reading of works by teams of medieval scholars and scientists is generating new insights into the vital but overlooked foundations of modern science.

The slides from my talk are below, but the key activity in my slot was to get the Cruciblists to talk to someone from another discipline about the assumptions that people made about their discipline or area. Some fascinating conversations followed but I moved them promptly on to try to come up with some new questions to reduce confusion. Their list complements one that was produced by a Stirling Crucible group a few years ago which I blogged about in a former life (Confusion in Collaboration).

Confusion in Collaboration <- The Slides

The questions generated by the group:

DE Crucible Confusion June 2017
DE Crucible 2017 Confusion in Collaboration

My final act was to share the Griffith questionnaire with this group as a final test of their understanding of each other’s research models.

What questions could help you avoid future conflict and bring confusion to the surface?

 

 

IAD >heart< Technicians

The Technicians Make It Happen campaign

 

 

This week’s guest post is a member of a critical, but sometimes unsung, community at Edinburgh – our technical staff.  Marianne Keith is currently a research technician based at The Roslin Institute, supporting the work of a Career Track Fellow into the prevalence of non-O157 E.coli in cow faeces across the UK.

 

I am currently working in a research environment, having chopped and changed several times since starting on my career path back in 2005. I left The University of Edinburgh with a BSc in Biological Sciences (with Honours in Microbiology) with a plan to get a job, save some money, and then do a MSc to bump up my BSc grade. Well once I started working, I never quite managed to start saving money, especially when I left home and I needed to pay for my new lodgings and all the associated bills.

I was actually offered a PhD in Combinatorial Chemistry early on, but declined, knowing virtually nothing about chemistry! Wanting to stay in science, I’ve used my lab skills in a variety of University technical positions. I was a teaching technician for a few years but have worked mainly in research labs, with this being my 4th research laboratory. 13 years out of University, I don’t have the same kind of focused expertise as PhDs or postdocs because no single post requires all the various skills which I have gained to varying levels of experience. Also, nowadays there are many more strengths and abilities which make up a valuable technician, beyond a range of wet lab techniques. Communication is key and I’ve developed a range of skills through my work, but been aware that might be more out there to learn.

This year I made a fantastic discovery. The IAD runs a plethora of courses, most of which are appropriate for both academic staff AND technical staff. There is a misguided assumption by many technicians (and also some academic staff) that the IAD only caters for people who are working towards or already have the initials “MSc” or “PhD” after their name.

I confess to feeling self-doubt when I hear post docs or PhD students present their work, as changing post repeatedly over the last few years has impacted on the depth of my knowledge. This probably influenced my decision to attend the “Assertiveness” course and recently the “Refining Your Presentation Skills” workshop and I can heartily recommend both. I did learn a considerable amount on each day, but most of all, I was made aware that there are other people who encounter the same difficulties in working life as I do. I left each workshop having met new supportive people, carrying a sense of well-being, and feeling slightly more confident each time than when I arrived.

I have now set myself a goal to work my way through all the IAD courses which I believe are relevant to my personal development (regardless of exactly which research project I may be attached to as my career continues), and I would encourage all technical staff to do the same and to take advantage of this excellent resource for professional development.

Many thanks Marianne! This post came about from a conversation between Marianne and Sara at the Technicians’ Support Steering Group which they both sit on. Today (May 30th) is the “Visibility, outreach and professional development – network event”  for technicians, designed to raise awareness of the HEaTED network and various CPD opportunities.

Sara’s slides from the HEaTED event.

And don’t forget – The IAD is here to support all staff involved in teaching and research – we are equally welcoming to academic and technical staff. We’ll be publishing our new programme for 2017/8 over the summer so there’s still time to suggest ideas.

 

Wake up and smell the statistics

This morning I was working with the Researcher Development team on restructuring the section of our website aimed at research staff. Once we’re got some feedback from research staff and those who support them (please let me know if you want to give us your thoughts on our plans), we’ll have a busy summer developing new content, connecting to other support around the University and finding resources from further afield.

After spending the morning continually asking ourselves “what do research staff come looking for and what do they need to find?” I then dashed to join the SRHE “Postgraduate study and employability” conference which was happening just up the road. The reason for my haste was to catch the presentation by Dr Charlie Ball from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit on the postgraduate labour market.

Charlie and I go back a long way – we collaborated on the first ever analysis of PhD destination data and spoke on the phone most days trying to work out how to extract the information we needed from the information we had. I was delighted to hear that after much lobbying (and I suspect some tears of frustration) he has convinced the gods of destination data gathering to include a box on the form which PhD graduates complete which asks “are you a postdoc?” This, along with his excellent work over the last (ahem) years means that we have a much clearer picture of the paths that researchers take through their careers.

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Photo by Luanarodriquez at Morguefile.com

Since the very first analysis over ten years ago, we’ve known that over half PhD graduates leave universities on graduation and never return. Yes, really – immediately on graduation OVER HALF leave academia. We know that those who stay are mostly on fixed term research and teaching contracts (with clear discipline differences in career paths between STEM and AHSS). We know that of these, only a minority continue along the academic path. We know that PhD graduates and former research staff move into a wide array of sectors and roles. Compared to my own time as a postdoc, when our options away from the university or industries related to our research were a complete mystery, researchers now have a wealth of information about their options.

And yet…  some of the old myths seem determined not to die.

One of the clearest messages I’ve had from our schools has been to be really explicit about the small number of academic opportunities available. One of the new developments on our webpages will be a section which highlights the different options and how widely employable researchers are outside universities. I have never seen the solution to the mismatch between the number of researchers we train and the number of academic posts, as taking steps to reduce the former.  Instead I think we should celebrate the value that research training has to both the individual and their future employers.  Let’s face it, populating the labour market with people with high-level critical analysis, a habit of behaving with integrity and personal tenacity is no bad thing.

Someone asked a question about what we it will take to ensure researchers transition more easily into the wider labour market. Charlie’s answer included the suggestion that a wider range of employers should be aware of the value of PhDs – something that is happening through secondments in doctoral programmes and projects like one run by the University of Aberdeen to place research staff for short projects with local companies. (Those of us who have been in researcher development for too long will recall this approach taken with great success by Cardiff University at the turn of the millennium.)

So, today’s post is in part a thank you to Charlie for his work over the last (ahem) years improving the quality of data about researcher destinations and disseminating facts which have challenged a number of assumptions, but also a wake up call to any researcher who thinks that a PhD or postdoc puts them “over the hump” of the journey to an academic career. It’s a counter to any local messages you hear that the academic career is the only real path open and that everything else is a failure or compromise. Or that there aren’t any interesting opportunities out there that would match your interests or values.

Rather tantalisingly (don’t judge me for finding destination data tantalising) he mentioned that comparisons of Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral level destinations show that some career areas appear to open up at PhD level – it would be great to know more about this and to be able to highlight these positive messages about the wider and added value of a PhD. In an attempt to revisit our youth we’re going to try to identify a new project to collaborate on, perhaps on this theme.

My PhD and postdoc experience have paid a dividend throughout my career, not simply because of choosing to work in researcher development, but because of the skills I gained through doing research AND the wider opportunities I took whilst at university. YOUR PhD and postdoc experience will do the same for you, but start preparing for what comes next. The data tells a compelling story. Start building your CV so it tells just as compelling a story about your value.

Success in Funding

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Photo by Quicksandala at Morguefile.com

This blog is based on a talk I gave for our PGCAP. Given that a repeated message during the day was about the appalling tendency of academics to use acronyms that mean nothing to people outside their narrow field, I will of course elucidate… The Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice.

My talk was part of a day delivered jointly between IAD and the Research Support Office (RSO) on the theme of building a stronger research profile. As part of this, participants were given an overview of some key strategic funding opportunities by my colleague, Catherine Burns, from RSO and then asked to consider the funders and schemes best suited to their research experience and interests. I then closed the afternoon with a few perspectives on what makes for a successful application and applicant.

My slides are here (Funding landscape_SS) but I wanted to use today’s blog post to add some detail to the presentation and explain why I made the points it covers. I’ll also try to include what I can remember of the additional points made by Gordon and Hamish from RSO. The presentation was built around 6 big ideas:

  • Pick the Right Funder
  • Understand the Funder
  • Understand the Process
  • Convince the Reader of the Proposal’s Importance
  • Present the Right Profile and Experience
  • Get the Right Support

Pick the right funder 

Once again I used this section to encourage people to feed their inner wonk as I think this becomes much easier if you have read the key strategic reports which are influencing UK research funding. You also need to understand how the University is reacting to these. Our current funding landscape is incredibly complex but that’s good news for us because we have a team of experts who will help you to navigate it.

Understand the funder

Once you’ve worked out the best fit, the next stage is to research the funder. They will usually have a bigger purpose – can you work out what it is? If it isn’t clear from their strategy documents and vision statements, look at examples of successful awards and  how they come to decisions about funding. Looking at the track records of successful applicants will also help you work out what they expect to see in your CV on the way to this proposal. The clues are all out there, but also find out what internal expertise we have – Edinburgh is full of reviewers, panel members and successful grant holders. Pick their brains.

Understand the process

Decisions about the funding usually involve a multistage process. Any proposal must be effective at each stage and meet the needs of the different audiences it will face. The first hurdle is to apply for schemes you are eligible for. Don’t ignore this point because it is always the first thing that any programme manager will say when asked about funding success. (This suggests they spend a lot of time returning unsuitable applications.) The next gatekeeper is the  reviewer, who I described as an expert with a magnifying glass – they will scrutinise costings, feasibility, methodology. Finally the panel play their part, but they have to look from the helicopter. Their concerns are about the big ideas in the proposal – what’s the state of the art, why are you novel and why should anyone care?

Convince the Reader of the Proposal’s Importance

These points came from reflections on proposals I’ve seen over last few years (with the cautionary note that these have mostly been complex EU and doctoral cohort grants). Despite the size and detail in these I can still remember the ones that were well written. I felt a sense of excitement about the research and an almost personal commitment to getting the funding. You want to get reader to feel that excitement. You want them to sense how important it is to you and that they want to play their part in getting it funded. It’s difficult to explain how to do this, but if you read a few successful grants you’ll udnerstand what I mean.

I would find it almost impossible to find the right tone of voice to achieve this on my own, so my advice is to get lots of people to read it as it develops. Look for people who can represent the reviewer and panel perspectives and find a way to convince both sets of decision makers with your writing.

Taking this apporach is also more liekly to result in an application which is easy to read and understand. This often manifests itself as internal consistency – a phrase I first heard from a very experienced panel member. This means that the idea is developed in a way that the reader can follow – all the key information is there and builds to convince that this is the right time, the right way and the right person. Ultimately it achieves the right outcome. When you set the context this leads to the core question which leads to the approach you will take which leads to the results you’ll expect which leads to the grand change in the world you are promising. (At no point should the reader feel baffled about anything that’s suddenly been thrown in – guide us gently through your big ideas.)

Present the Right Profile and Experience

This means that I’m convinced you are the right person for the job. Funding research is a risky business, not just in terms of who you give the money to, but also who you don’t. Every rejected proposal is a huge missed opportunity, so panelists want to be convinced that you are worth that risk. They need to see consistency between your track record and ambition; they need to see you will be able to achieve results because of experience and skills; they need to see you are working with the right people and these people want to work with you. In short, convince them you are safe.

Get the Right Support

This covers a number of ideas. There are the actual “letters of support” which must be specifically enthusiastic and committed. You want them to talk about how important the work will be to them and what a difference it will make, rather than general luke warm sentiments. Whilst thinking about this, remember that you take these people out of the reviewer pool by including them in the proposal, so pause for a moment and think who you want cheering from the inside and who you hope might cheer from the outside.

Anyone who reviews the proposal has the potential to become one of your cheerleaders,  so make it easy to read and easy to review. Understand the review process and structure your proposal to present all the information they need and to be convincing about the strength of your case.

Finally, remember that your reputation may walk into the room ahead of you. Are you out building your profile through seminars, visits, collaboration and engaging with others. What do people say about you and your work? Think about your uncontainable self and make sure that everyone who could be an advocate knows about your plans.  This way they can highlight your potential and achievements to the right people.

The final message is that there is an art to grant writing and it does come with practice, feedback and guidance. To anyone reading this I wish you good luck, but also the message that failure isn’t personal. Keep trying.

A couple of final references:

Arevalo, J. A Measure of Excellence of Young European Research Council Grantees Research Management Review, Volume 21, Number 1 (2016) I spotted this on twitter during the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators Conference which I sadly didn’t attend in Malta. (No, not bitter. I like Birmingham.) It’s not perfect – our local expert isn’t convinced of the link between h-index and success, but it shows that you can learn a lot about funding by doing a bit of research.

The reference above to the “Uncontainable Self” comes via the Digital Footprint MOOC and is taken from The academic online: Constructing persona through the World Wide Web Kim Barbour and David Marshall First Monday Volume 17, Number 9 – 3 September 2012