How to apply for postdoctoral funding

Published on: 29 April 2014

Writing a strong proposal is vital in winning funding. Image from Shutterstock.

Paul Woolnough is a research development manager an the University of Exeter. His role involves stakeholder management of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Paul has considerable experience of managing funding applications and supporting academics in developing successful proposals. He works closely with early career researchers to develop applications for the Future Research Leaders Scheme.

Are you eligible?

It’s important to check you’re eligible for the scheme you’re applying to. Eligibility is measured in different ways for different schemes.

ESRC’s Future Research Leaders can support applicants after four years after their PhD submission. For the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), at least two years’ postdoctoral experience is expected, with a maximum of six or eight years from your first academic appointment.

You should check eligibility and employment rules with your research office or sponsor contact points.

Career breaks for child care and illness are normally accounted for when eligibility is being considered and adjustments can be made.

You should always apply to the scheme that best suits your research profile.

How strong are your outputs?

Strong candidates will normally have published – sole publications are especially valuable. Your outputs are a critical measurement of their progress towards future 4* attainment in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

It’s important to consider this when assessing whether it’s the right time for you to apply. You should consult with your mentor or Director of Research about what is expected of someone at your stage of career.

Applying at the right time and having the right profile is critical – resubmissions are rarely requested.

Have you balanced academic ideas and intellectual leadership?

Research ideas and design are vital to successful applications. The balance between academic ideas, innovative methods and evidence of intellectual leadership has narrowed.

You need to demonstrate career progression milestones – awards, presentations, publications, impact and external responsibilities. All of these help flag you as a future leader in your field.

Have you made a good plan?

Good planning is essential to compete for fellowships.

Find an academic mentor with the right mix of profile, skills and time. Make good use of your research office. The combination could help you find an internal peer review network to review your proposal and suggest improvements.

Find out who else has successfully applied to the scheme you’re interested in at your university in the last three years and ask them about the process.

Think about your research questions well in advance and consider how the address gaps in the field – and how your design will help you answer those questions.

Make sure you know who the project will benefit. Remember all projects have impact, no matter how theoretical. Most universities employ impact specialists – seek them out.

Remember some schemes stipulate your PhD supervisor cannot supervise your postdoctoral project.

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