As a grant peer reviewer, I can tell you that funding agencies will be looking for value for money but equally will reject proposals that don’t have the required expertise or experience to conduct the study effectively.
Convincing the funder that you have created a strong multi-disciplinary research team that has the capabilities and expertise to deliver your project, with previous experience of your approach or methods you are using, is critical to a successful grant application.
However, you may struggle to identify who is really needed to make certain your project is completed successfully.
Here are some tips to help you create a unique and convincing research team that rocks.
WHAT ARE FUNDING AGENCIES LOOKING FOR?
An inexperienced research team that fails to convince peer reviewers, or a funding agency, of its capability to carry out the proposed study is a common reason a grant application gets rejected.
You need to convince the funder of the STRENGTH of the research team, which is one of the criteria for research funding.
Funders are looking for multi-disciplinary teams that are well constructed and highly appropriate for a particular project.
They have the necessary disciplinary background and appropriate range of skills, expertise, experience and knowledge base to conduct the proposed research effectively within the available resources.
Funders want to be convinced that the applicants are familiar with the methodologies outlined in the application and that they are well qualified to undertake the proposed work. This will be judged by the track record in relevant areas, e.g. publication output and previous research funding.
Ideally, the research team has a track record of working closely together, including with the proposed collaborators from internal and external organisations.
The research team has previously delivered high quality research and has publications and grants relevant to the type of study design as well as the target population and outcomes of interest.
Are you the lead applicant and an inexperienced Principal Investigator?
If so, you need to obtain the support of a senior colleague, one with a strong research track record, who is willing to mentor and support you to deliver the work plan.
Make this support and the support that is available from your institution clear in your grant proposal.
If possible, it’s important to highlight that you have worked well in the past with research team members who will work on your proposed project – indicating an obvious history of collaboration and the successful completion of previous research.
Remember, funding agencies are looking for the appropriate expertise essential to completing the project.
Strong collaborators with whom you already have an established working relationship are going to be a great choice.
ASSEMBLE A STRONG RESEARCH TEAM
Research team members must have the appropriate skills and expertise to accomplish all the elements of the project. Each included team member or co-applicant must enhance the grant proposal so careful consideration must be given to identifying who you really need to complete your project.
For example, large projects with multi-disciplinary teams will almost always need an experienced Project Manager to ensure the successful delivery of the project.
Most funders want to be convinced that the research team has recognised the importance of including an experienced project manager to manage the study on a day-to-day basis.
You will need also to demonstrate that each member of a multi-disciplinary research team has a clear role in order to answer your research question.
Thinking through the project activities needing completion will help you identify the skills required. For example, if your project is quantitative, it is likely that you will need specific statistical advice in developing your project proposal.
I have met few researchers who understand how to create a statistical analysis plan, including estimating sample size. Therefore, one of the professional staff members needed is likely to be a Statistician.
Indeed, funders will want to see that statistical advice has already been sought in the development of the project and will subsequently be available via a co-applicant or a clinical trials unit staff member.
Do you need a Project Administrator?
Is there likely to be a substantial amount of clerical work, say, booking clinical/participant appointments, arranging meetings, organising travel, purchasing resources?
Are other professionals needed? A Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Nurse, or Clinician?
Remember, it’s important that you demonstrate to the funder why you and your collaborators are uniquely positioned to conduct your study – specific knowledge, expertise, previous work in the area.
Most funding agencies require patient and public involvement (PPI) in either identifying the research topic, research question(s) or in preparing the application. You therefore need to consider active PPI in the early planning stages of your project.
IDENTIFY POTENTIAL COLLABORATORS
It’s not easy coming up with the names of potential collaborators. I know, I've also struggled with this issue in the past. Search through your network contacts. Have you met someone at a conference who has similar interests?
But where to find potential collaborators with a track record of relevant grants?
If you’re struggling to produce a list of possible collaborators, there are places you can turn to. For example, search the funding agency’s website for previous successful grant applicants in your field.
Who are the main contributors to your specific topic in your field?
There may be other sources of useful guidance you could try such as that provided by the funding agency or by your own institution.
RESEARCH ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT
Your University should have a bespoke department dedicated to supporting researchers to submit high-quality grant applications.
This research support service should involve senior researchers within the organisation who are qualified to provide such support.
Ideally, they should be members of grant committees, have a substantial publication record, and have applied for grants successfully. Booking a one-to-one appointment to discuss your needs is worth the time invested.
RESEARCH DESIGN SERVICE
You could try contacting a specialist service for professional advice to improve the quality of your grant application.
The Research Design Service (RDS), with units across the UK, provides guidance to researchers to develop proposals for peer-reviewed funding applications for applied health or social care research. Having used the Birmingham service, and not finding it useful, I'm not endorsing it. Just suggesting that you try the one in your own area, which might be of value.
The RDS is a free service, funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). It should provide advice about academics with a strong track record of winning grants, particularly from the NIHR, who would also be a good fit with your project.
It should be able to provide contact details of potential collaborators for you to contact yourself, or make contact on your behalf.
West Midlands RDS: www.rds-wm.nihr.ac.uk
DEVELOP YOUR NETWORK
In addition to using email to contact potential collaborators, you can expand your network in the following ways:
- Academic research conferences, seminars
- Research Forums, or support groups
- Invited speakers to research groups
- Research Support Department events/training
- Grant body open days and presentations
- Organisational research networking events
- Visit other research institutions
Remember, funding agencies are making substantial risky investments in research teams. Therefore, to raise your funding success rate, you need to not only write a high-quality application that stands out against the competition, but ensure that you demonstrate also that your unique research team has the specific skills, knowledge and expertise to answer your research question and deliver the project on time and within budget.
Now you know what to consider when deciding who is best placed to support your project.
The fun doesn’t stop there though.
Now you need to find ways to expand your network of potential collaborators, develop effective ways to engage with your research community, and develop effective collaborative working relationships with them.
Do you have any specific tips for identifying relevant research collaborators?
Share your tips with us in the comments below.
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This post answers a question submitted to me recently. Maria, a Doctoral Researcher, asked:
How do I gather a research team that will help me apply for a NIHR grant?