I had been an active university researcher between 1998 and 2012, first as a student at different universities where I completed my Honours, research Master and PhD degrees, prior to my engagement in research as a staff member at RMIT University. During this time, I built an intricate knowledge of all matters pertaining to the research cycle, from the academic perspective, from being actively and personally involved in these areas for a number of years. Since 2013, I have maintained involvement with universities, although not necessarily in the research space. What I will describe below pertains to the traditional and typical research cycle in an academic environment. However, the research scene is changing, and one could say is really being shaken-up by the entry and rise of crowdfunding not too many years ago. While it started slowly, it has certainly gained traction in recent years as a legitimate source of research funds, with numerous universities seeking research funding through such channels. While it doesn’t have the prestige of the high-level nationally or internationally competitive grant funding schemes, many small projects have been funded through crowdfunding, whether it be seeding to generate some proof-of-concept results, or for undergraduate students projects. Either way, or for other reasons, universities and others, are turning to and exploring crowdfunding as a way to further their research agendas. While we shall not go into crowdfunding any further here, it is an area that needs to be seriously considered, and included, I believe, in the range of options that researchers pursue for external funding.
To secure funding, particularly external Category 1 funding on the former Australian Competitive Grants Register, it is a must ultimately, to have an understanding of national research priorities, as advised by the federal government. Once an understanding is gained of these, then usually an understanding is gained of research priorities at all lower levels, so at state, local and institutional level. However, each lower level has a specific focus, but this focus must align within part of the national research agenda, as set by the federal government. Thus, it pays to be fully aware that each level of a university (department, school, faculty) has their own research priority and that these need to be matched with the (changing) research priorities of a funding or industry body, in order to maximise the chances of a successful application.
When assisting with compiling grant applications, and hence learning the process, it pays to become fully aware of strategies used to maximise success. One of the most important strategies, where permitted by the funding body, is to actually contact the research manager responsible for that particularly program that you intend to submit to and discuss your proposed application with them. This can give very competitive insights into how to give your application an edge over others. For larger funding schemes where this may not be possible, such as ARC, it is advisable to study closely previous successes. In particular, it would be considered important to the minimum requirements in key areas (such as in-kind, but more importantly cash contributions) to be exceeded, in relation to the funding request from the Commonwealth.
Since essentially, all of the research I’ve undertaken has been in the university environment, I have an extensive knowledge of the higher education research process and as I have been a university-based researcher, I completely understand the needs and nature of researchers at universities. For example, I understand the need to obtain funding to pay for consumables and research staff/students to undertake the research and that there are a few selected schemes which are usually most appropriate for a given academic, based on their research interests. Very few schemes accept applications at any time, and therefore it is normally the case that academic and research administrators would be very busy during particular periods of the year, especially during the deadline period for major funding schemes, such as those of the ARC and NHMRC. Furthermore, as I have liased with different research administrators (financial, contractual, business development and others) over the years and therefore understand the financial and contractual requirements when setting up a project. As a result, I understand the complete research cycle in a university, as outlined below:
- Formulate the research idea
- Discuss the research idea with the funding body if possible
- Research through the Internet or elsewhere about specific strategies to maximise success in that particular funding scheme.
- Attend workshops if necessary to learn about that particular funding scheme and how to maximise success
- Write the (preliminary) application
- Submit the application to the university’s research office for checking, feedback and approvals.
- If a preliminary application, it may be rejected or you may be asked to submit a full application
- If not a preliminary application, there may be an opportunity to respond to preliminary feedback, such as the ARC rejoinder process.
- Should the application be successful, a contractual research agreement showing expectations, budget, intellectual property and other aspects needs to be signed by the funding body and the university.
- An account is then opened and the funding body is issued an invoice for that first payment.
If you want to know more about how I can work with you on your grant application, to maximise your chances of success, please do get in touch – Dr Philip Button … firstname.lastname@example.org