Grant writing guidance - Learnings from an ECR workshop

12 Jul 2023

For early career researchers (ECRs), writing grant applications can be a new challenge during or after their PhD. In this blog, ARC North Thames researcher Dr Tiyi Morris describes a recent workshop for ECRs about writing grants, highlighting some key considerations for those writing a grant for the first time.

On Tuesday 2nd May 2023, I attended a workshop for grant writing run by the UCL Health of the Public Early Career Researcher Committee. There were 12 places available, and attendance required me to submit a proposal in advance. The organising team shared the proposals with everyone attending to support peer-to-peer learning, as we were able to get ideas from each other's work.

At the session, we each gave a three-minute presentation on our respective proposal. Groups of four early career researchers, each guided by a senior academic, reviewed the proposals one by one and discussed their merits and opportunities for improvement. This allowed us to identify the following learning points:

  1. Building on previous work

This was important to support our applications with existing literature and to emphasise the need for the research. In some cases, there was a literature review or some existing work by the group that could be mentioned in the grant application. Showing previous work could also support the work that we may undertake with the prospective funding.

  1. Clear research outcomes

We discussed how to define the scope of our projects and how to express the clear aims for the funding. We also discussed what we hoped to achieve with the funding, and how we could define that within the grant application. Laying out clear aims and objectives for your proposed work can help make your application stronger, particularly when these are targeted to the stakeholders who will use your research, e.g. patients or clinicians.

  1. Transferrable findings

Our session also emphasised that we could strengthen our proposals by saying how the work could be transferable. It was important to take our project findings out of the context that they had originally and discuss how they might be applied elsewhere. We could do this by showing how they might be applied at a different time, in a different community, or in a different geographical location.

  1. Impact beyond the project

Another important part of writing the grant proposal was to think about the impact that our work might have in the context of the healthcare system. We could do this, for example, by considering what our study implications might be for policy and practice. This can be done by asking some of the following questions of the study:

  • What change would this project advocate, and why?
  • Why is this challenge of interest to policymakers? Could it reduce costs or make a service area more efficient?
  • How might this work influence the decisions of healthcare policy makers, commissioners and clinicians about the way people receive care?

Sometimes it’s useful to ask a friend or colleague to read and discuss our work with us before we submit it in order to make sure it’s relevant to patients and the public more generally.

It was a really constructive session even though we were all at different stages of developing our applications. The workshop was very collaborative, with each of us asking questions about the others’ proposals as well as the senior researcher. We were also able to pool our knowledge of existing resources, ensuring by the end of the session that everyone had access to more support with applications than when we began.

I’d recommend getting involved with opportunities like this, it’s a great opportunity to work with senior researchers and establish good working relationships and networks with colleagues in a similar position!

You can connect with the work of the Health of the Public ECR Committee here

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