#TuesdayTip: find the bigger context for your work

Research and Innovation Development Office

Category: #tuesdaytip

30 January 2018

While I write this, I'm picturing a hypothetical researcher who dabbles in three or four fields close to their heart and sometimes works on outside projects for collaborators.

They struggle to find funding in their discipline as none of the funding bodies or government agencies seem too interested. Clearly they can't keep working for pennies, and now the Head of Department wants to see some progress.

While I write this, I'm picturing a hypothetical researcher who dabbles in three or four fields close to their heart and sometimes works on outside projects for collaborators. They struggle to find funding in their discipline as none of the funding bodies or government agencies seem too interested. Clearly they can't keep working for pennies, and now the Head of Department wants to see some progress.

Sound familiar? We're always coming across fields where there just doesn't seem to be money available for research. And yet, competing academics do seem to find it when they need it. The answer could be to tag on small work packages within your area to someone else's bid, but although this can keep the money coming, it's not a sustainable solution. A better idea is to look for the bigger context, and try to find out how the funding bodies actually understand your field. There might be more help than you realise.

There are a few ways to get better results from your funding searchers. Some will work for some of you, some won't. But remember, help is available from your friendly RIDO team!

Don't be too specific

I've encountered fields for which there is no funder. Imagine you want to fund some work into the living conditions of illegal immigrants from a particular country; there is likely no large funding agency whose goals include finding these results, and yet this is manifestly an issue of concern to our country at the moment. My best advice if you're in this position is to go up a level. Look for funding about living conditions generally, or even about the welfare of people in the UK generally. Once you've found your call, get more specific and check you still fit the eligibility requirements. This way is much more straightforward: you'll find more calls and bigger calls to which you can apply.

Read policy papers and statements

Just this morning I stumbled across a document from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) listing their Areas of Research Interest. This is big news! Now we know that DWP wants to work with researchers involved in areas such as labour market progression, disabled people in the labour market, financial security in later life and many others. This should already be a boost to those ARU researchers engaged in relevant work, and it provides wonderful context for when you next write a bid - refer to it to emphasise the political importance of your work. It also gives context for people who normally don't think of DWP as being within their area - FHSCE researchers now know they can inform this Department on welfare and other issues.

It's key to improve your awareness of what's out there. Have you looked at the Departments of relevance to you? Have you followed recent speeches by the Prime Minister or her colleagues? We can all learn something about current intentions by reading the 25-year environment plan, recently released. The more aware you are of your broader context, the better your chances of finding funding.

Broaden your horizons

The final tip for today is to think bigger. Your field may not benefit much from the incremental funding you win from small UK charities, and even if you know the political context, even if you've looked at other funders, you still might not have great success. Recently I've been pushing researchers towards big, international opportunities, which is opening all kinds of doors. Maybe there's a version of your usual funding charity in the USA with ten times the budget. Maybe there's a Canadian funder routinely supporting work in your field, or an Indian funder desperate to get results in your area. Think bigger, and you might access a whole new series of opportunities. Funders do not exist in isolation - UK charities exist in a context containing the Research Councils and Academies, and they all exist in the bigger context of European and American or global funding.

You've spotted the downsides: it takes more work, bids may have to be bigger and longer, and you may need a good network in the country where your funder is based. All this is true generally (though not always), and it won't be easy. But you'll never know unless you try!

Disclaimer

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