Having to apply for external (or even internal) funding is without a doubt an increasingly important task for researchers and lecturers at Nordic universities. Despite the importance, it is easy to get lost in the academic jungle when funding hunting. That is why we wanted to make an easy and straightforward list of what we believe are some crucial points to keep in mind when applying for funding.
1. Develop your idea
Before applying, you need an idea of what you want to achieve with the precious funds received from someone else. Furthermore, your idea should be well formulated, and you can often involve good friends and colleagues as sounding-boards in the early stages.
2. Embrace collaboration
Surely, sometimes you’ll get an idea from reading a call with a deadline a few weeks later, and your colleagues will possibly aim to submit for the call. In this case, you will all feel short on time, but do not forget that it would be a great way to cooperate in the application process.
The process of developing your idea – even with collaborative help – is a process that takes time, which brings us to our next point: Start early.
3. Start early
Applying for funding takes time. More often than not, applying for funding is more time consuming than writing a project description and submitting. In addition to a good and well-formulated idea, you should also have an understanding of who your core team will be – and those in the core team should be aware of it. Having a core team develop a good project proposal can take longer than what you hoped for at first – so start early.
4. Read the call thoroughly
The short version of this point is: Read the call an extra time – preferably three times (although, it wouldn’t hurt to read it a hundred times).
The reason for this is that funding resources are limited, so the requirements and limitations of a call are important to understand. Very often, one can be so enthusiastic about a good project idea that one neglects the finer details of the call. Forgetting to take these details into consideration can result in your project proposal being rejected simply because it does not meet the goals that the funder had when making the call.
Furthermore, is can often be helpful to understand what the funder wants from announcing a call. By this, we mean that it is very helpful to know the context of the call, such as public reports, political decisions, white papers, and so on.
5. Contact administrational support
Contact your administrational support – and contact them in time. In a worst-case scenario, the project economist is fully booked, and you won’t have a proper budget for your project.
When you apply for funding, your project will most likely affect your institution’s resources in one way or another. This could be anything from time, money, human resources, or infrastructure. The administration probably has a certain overview of the resources available at your institution, and they can help place your project in a bigger context in the department’s advantage.
6. Update your CV and use the correct format
If you have spent 10+ years building the perfect CV, and now you have to boil it down to two pages with a specific font and font size, this won’t be your favourite activity. But you are making it easier for the evaluators to understand what you know and what you can do – and you don’t want to annoy the sacred evaluators.
In this case, it could be smart to adapt your boiled-down CV to the competences required in your project. It may take some time, but in the process you will forcefully evaluate your CV according to your project’s competence requirements. And if you are still uncertain about what to prioritise, ask an experienced colleague for input.
7. Let others read through your project proposal
Input from your peers is some of the most valuable input you can get in the process of writing a project proposal. And by this, we mean input from outside your core project team. Naturally, your research group should be part of this process, but researchers from other fields and administration can also provide different perspectives and help to improve your project proposal.
Also, if you are an experienced applicant, involve your junior colleagues. This can get you fresh input unsoiled by the tunnel vision of academia, but will also help increase the competence and scientific understanding of PhD students, research assistants, and others with less experience than you. Sharing is caring.
8. Don’t aim for a last-minute submission
If you have made this mistake once, you will never do it again. Don’t aim for a last-minute submission – not even a last-hour submission.
If the application portal allows you to, submit every time you update your draft.
9. Take the evaluator’s feedback into consideration
Naturally, you would take all the feedback you get in the project-development phase into consideration.
But after submission and evaluation, you will most often also receive feedback from the evaluators of your potential funder. This is very valuable feedback, and should be a starting point when you continue to develop your project.
The harsh truth that few talk about is that a project proposal is rarely accepted on first submission, but you can’t avoid the truth by skipping the first submission.
When you have submitted once, much of the work has already been done. You have a developed an idea (point 1), and thus you have a head start on everybody who hasn’t started early (point 3).
To summarise, applying for project funding is teamwork, and teamwork can take time. All you learn and your experiences should be shared with the people around you – not only your project core team, but also at your department and in the Nordic network. Only in this way we can collectively increase the project competence within media and communication research in the Nordics. It is not done in a jiffy, but is absolutely possible with a bit of long-term thinking and persistency.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash.