The art of persuasion: SRHE workshop on preparing research proposals

Emma Coonan

Category: Centre for Innovation in Higher Education

10 August 2018

In May 2018 I attended a workshop at the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) on writing bids for research funding.

Writing funding bids is a really big element of my role as Research Fellow at the Centre for Innovation in Higher Education (CIHE), and one I’m slightly taken aback to find myself enjoying! Composing grant applications doesn’t have a reputation for making people spontaneously dance with joy – quite the opposite: according to The Guardian it’s “time-consuming, tedious and …. stressful”. So if you don’t happen to find it strangely satisfying (or even if you do), I thoroughly recommend SRHE’s one-day workshop.

The day was a great mix of expert advice, group discussion and activities. Our three facilitators – Pam Denicolo, Carol Spenceley and Marcella Acuna-Rivera – had an astonishing amount of experience between them of all the different elements and phases of putting together a really strong bid, from researching the funder’s particular quirks and specifications through to being able to articulate to a layperson why your research matters.

In the morning we had a go at ‘translating’ our research projects into short, persuasive pitches and gleaned some excellent pointers from our three facilitators. These included:

  • The success rate for winning grant funding is around 10% – so don’t break your heart over failed bids. Be prepared to make lots of them.
  • Preparation is crucial: Pam suggested that if you can possibly wait until the next funding round it’s worth doing so, in order to spend the time putting together a stronger proposal.
  • Know the funder: Understand its mission/remit and how its fits the objectives of your research; Look at its website to see what it has funded previously and consider how those bids were framed.
  • Look out for smaller organisations that have very specific criteria: You can apply to several of these to support different aspects of the same project.
  • A pilot study with preliminary findings may well help your application – It shows validity and applicability as well as commitment.

My CIHE colleague Cassie summed it up brilliantly: “You’ve got to make it easy for them to say yes”.

In the afternoon we did a team based peer review activity, looking at the two-page research bids we’d each been asked to write beforehand. I found this a terrifying prospect, as I am usually overcome with horror at the thought of anyone at all reading anything I’ve written (which is a bit of an impediment for a researcher, frankly). However, it was reassuring to discover that everyone else felt exactly the same - and it turned out to be a hugely valuable experience.

Spurred on by the promise of a prize for the best overall bid, each team reviewed four applications (all from participants in other teams). We were given a common set of judging criteria and had to mark each aspect out of 5. It was fascinating drawing on what we’d learned in the morning. For instance, some applications were very detailed, but difficult for non-specialists to understand; We could probably all have done more to articulate the impact our research would have on society; and lots of us had forgotten to include a section on why we would be the right person, with the best combination of skills and experience, to conduct the research.

Oh, and the prize for the best bid? Well … I won it, pictured below. Being a bid-writing nerd definitely has its benefits!

Image of book Transforming Teacher Research


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