They usually know about the biggies (e.g. ARC, NHMRC in Australia) but, outside of these major national schemes, many are in the dark about sources of funding.
Finding sources of funding is something everyone assumes everyone else already knows, so admitting that they have difficulty tracking down grant money makes them feel inadequate.
The funding directories and databases (e.g. COS and SPIN [you’ll need an institutional log-in]) to which many academics have access can be a hindrance as well as an asset. The sheer number of options – many of them not quite the right field, geographical fit, or amount of funding – can prove paralysing.
Added to this is the harsh reality of the pressures in many universities for academics to show a consistent, positive track-record in snagging external monies. In fact, many promotion criteria state that the academic must have been successful in winning grants, and some even specify the funding source (e.g. “Thou shalt get an ARC.” – see discussion of Cat.1 grants below).
This post maps fives steps that will help you refine your hunt for research funding, and hopefully set you on the path to grant-seeking glory:
1. Think about your project and field of expertise.
For grant-hunting purposes, the way that you would generally describe your research area may not be the sexiest way to package it.
To draw from a personal instance:
My work mostly focuses on the cultural production of people of Asian descent in Australia. Broadly speaking, my projects and publications thus far sit in literary studies, cultural studies, history, and under the umbrella fields of Asian Studies and Australian Studies. Funding schemes that would suit my work (aside from the open schemes of the Australian Research Council) include the ones focused on understanding society, social cohesion, migration and culture, emerging communities, or diasporic communities. I would probably not have as much luck talking about my work as ‘multicultural’, about ‘identity politics’, or focusing on ‘ethnicity’, as these are terms and dynamics in the field that have become passe.
It helps to think of this: What is your work’s broader sphere of influence? Is it community engagement? Workplace equality? Agricultural sustainability?
The lesson here is twofold:
- Get to know what broader terms that attach to timely research in your field (e.g. in my example, I’d known for a while that ‘multicultural’ research had an olde worlde taint to it; everyone’s all about the social cohesion and emerging community angle these days…).
- View your project/initiative from the research funder’s perspective: Can they tell their stakeholders that you’re going to spend their money well (e.g. can you – with integrity – spin your fruit-fly research into a ‘food security’ project?)?
We’re used to thinking of our research areas as very particular kinds of creatures, but they are inevitably a part of larger, often multidisciplinary, herds.
2. Work out what the money will be for.
Are you looking for travel money to visit colleagues (and make progress on a collaborative idea) or carry out some fieldwork? Is it a multi-year, multi-team project? Do you want to do some ‘proof of concept’ work?
This is a very straightforward element to clarify for yourself and your team, and it will winnow the funding opportunities nicely.
3. Should I care about “Category 1”?
Every country has big-ticket ‘tier 1’ granting schemes. In Australia, these are refered to as ‘category 1’ schemes.
Research grants at Australian universities exist in an undeniable hierarchy:
- Category 1: Australian competitive grants as registered by DIISRTE.
- Category 2: Other public sector research income (includes funding from non-Cat.1 Australian government departments, state and local governments, government business enterprises)
- Category 3: Industry and other research income (includes a very diverse range of funding, like international research grants, contracts, bequests and donations).
- Category 4: CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) research income.
More detail can be found in this handy guide to funding categories prepared by Monash University.
So, why should you care whether it’s Cat. 1? Money’s money, right?
Cat. 1 grants are valued above all others because they help determine the size of an Australian university’s research block grant. Therefore, the university execs will love you more if you bring in a Cat. 1 grant; they get the actual grant money, plus more money! This means, of course, that Cat. 1 grants are usually the most competitive of all to get.
Sure, Cat. 1 grants can be important in the greater scheme of an academic career (particularly in terms of promotion), but many institutions are happy with any external funding. Scoring a non-Cat. 1 grant does not mean you’re scoring a smaller (or less well-funded) project.
4. Talk to your university’s research office professionals.
(I was going to make this #1 but didn’t want to appear too self-serving…did it work?)
We’re here to help. No, really. We are.
The Research Whisperer team is two of four senior advisors (research development) at RMIT University in Melbourne. Our role is to match funding opportunities to researchers, advise and assist with grant applications, and develop research culture and funding activities.
We can help you develop your project description, work out budgets with you, tell you which schemes tend to prefer what, flag funds that have your research area as a priority, strategise how you present your track-record or team…and much more.
But we can only do this stuff if:
- we know about you,
- you give us enough time to give you advice on grant strategy and development, AND
- you have time to implement this sage advice.
While your university may not have people in our specific kind of role, your research office (RO) usually:
- Runs funding information workshops and seminars.
- Knows a helluva a lot about what opportunities are out there.
- Can give you valuable tips on how to put together your application, and review it for you.
And, as the savvy researchers know, all university research offices have very exclusive bags of grant-winning fairy-dust to distribute to those who get in touch early and treat us right.*
5. Be proactive about accessing opportunities.
When you have a clearer idea of the specific funding opportunities you’d like to apply for, do as much as you can to ensure the information comes to you!
You can do this by signing up to:
- Academic associations and professional bodies whose mailing lists provide already-targeted information.
- Funding bodies who are your prime targets for research money. For example, many philanthropic and government units have mailing lists you can opt in on.
- COS or SPIN (mentioned above) – you can create a personalised research scheme search that delivers opportunities to your email Inbox.
More generally, you can start putting together your own funding calendar. We sometimes do this for our researchers, but you can easily do it yourself! It’s a calendar with the regular deadlines for the schemes you want to aim for – this means that you’ll keep track of when you need to ramp up the grant writing and the deadlines you’ll have to observe. Many schemes have short ‘open’ times (e.g. 1 month between the grant being open for submissions and the final deadline). Unless you have a project ready to roll off the blocks, it can be difficult to pull it together well in that time. Grant preparation and writing should be treated as a year-round task!
Of course, the act of applying assiduously for research funding needs to go hand-in-hand with building an impressive track-record and a convincing research team (see Research Grant Applications 101 for the basics).* This statement may not be true.