Research funding boost
In order to fund our research, academics dedicate hours of research time to drafting funding proposals in the hope of securing a grant from an external funder. In Arts & Humanities, the three main awarding bodies are the AHRC, the British Academy, and the Leverhulme Trust.
In the 9 years of my academic career (post-PhD), I have applied for 7 or 8 grants of varying sizes, and been awarded 4, from each of the three funders. It’s a strong hit rate, which shows I’m doing something right, but I’m aware that success on a grant proposal is dependent on multiple factors. For me, one of the most important things is spending enough time writing the proposal and thinking through every detail of the project. I’m fortunate that, because of my first career in investment banking, I’m not afraid of putting together large budgeting spreadsheets to fully cost the grant, working with research office staff at my university to account for all the elements correctly. The costings segment of the proposal so often puts academics off (at least in my field) and it’s part of my mission to help break down those barriers to make the grant-writing process more manageable, sharing examples and best practice where possible.
The most recent grant I’ve been awarded is by far the largest of my career, and it’s hugely exciting (full details to be announced when I launch the project later in the year!). I started drafting the proposal and assembling the right team in January 2014, but the project idea had been in germination since the end of my last grant (an AHRC Early Career Fellowship) in 2011. So when I finally submitted the proposal in October 2014, I was on about draft version no.20, but after nearly 3 years of planning, and 10 months of solid drafting and redrafting with my international collaborator, I was confident that I had considered all the elements carefully. For a project that will last 4 and a half years, it’s a big undertaking! 3 months after submission, reviewers’ comments came in, and I had a week to write and submit my PI response to the funding body (interrupting my study leave research plans for that week). It then took another 3 months before I heard the grant award outcome. Actually 6 months is a pretty speedy turnaround, so I’ve been particularly fortunate this time (on numerous levels!).
For now, however, it’s business as normal. I’m still on study leave, I’m still writing my book, but I’m also starting to process the grant logistics to get everything in place to hit the ground running when the project officially starts in July (as my study leave comes to an end). I’ve noticed, though, that my mindset has already changed: I have a renewed confidence in the project and feel validated that a major funding body sees the importance of this research into French poetry and song. Being awarded the grant is a huge boost, mentally and financially. Yet I’m all too aware of the confidence-sapping you can get when a grant is turned down. This time round, my hard work has paid off; but I’m pragmatic enough to know that it won’t always be the case, and academics need the right support whatever the outcome.