The art of the sift

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in February 2022 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

How to select bids when funders restrict the number that each university can submit

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), The Judgment of Solomon (1649), oil on canvas, 101 x 150 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most awkward challenges in research development is responding to a ‘restricted’ funding call that only permits a limited number of applications per university. This requires an internal selection process. I’m going to share some of the things I do when I set one up. I don’t have all the answers, and I’d be interested to hear what others do, via twitter, or email or the comments.

This article refers primarily to funding schemes with a hard limit on application numbers. In the UK, that includes the Leverhulme Trust’s major calls and the Academy of Medical Science’s Springboard Awards. Some of the suggestions may also be relevant to panels for schemes with a ‘soft’ limit. These typically don’t set a formal limit on application numbers, but require universities to have a process to manage demand, submit only their most competitive applications, and not support others. There are good arguments for saying that we should be doing this sift anyway, if only to prevent our researchers wasting time and effort.

Continue reading “The art of the sift”

Postdoc Fellowships: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in March 2022 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Is relocation always advisable for a postdoc fellowship, and what if it’s not possible?

Most postdoctoral fellowship programmes encourage potential applicants to move institutions, though the strength of that steer and the importance placed on researcher mobility varies from scheme to scheme. At the extreme end, in Europe, the Marie Curie Fellowships programme (not exclusively a postdoc scheme) requires international mobility for eligibility.

“Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home…”

In the UK, most schemes have softened their steer over recent years. Where once staying at your current institution required ‘exceptional justification’ or some similar phrasing, there’s now an increasing awareness that researcher mobility doesn’t make sense for everyone and enforcing it has negative ramifications for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It’s much harder and more disruptive for researchers with family commitments to move institutions, and harder for those with partners who are tied to a particular location for family or job reasons. There will be other researchers who are already in the best environment for their research, and so any move would be a backward step. It’s now common for application forms to allow space for both (a) personal/EDI reasons why moving institutions is not possible; and (b) intellectual/research reasons for not wanting to move.

Continue reading “Postdoc Fellowships: Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Better research culture: Some thoughts on the role of Research Development Managers

The Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) held their annual conference back in November 2022. I was lucky enough to have a submission for an on-demand webinar accepted on the topic of research culture, and in particular on the role of Research Development Managers.

The talk covers ways in which Research Managers (and those in similar roles) can improve research culture, first through our own policies and practices, and second, through positively influencing others. I also (briefly) discuss writing ‘research culture’ into funding applications, before making some final predictions about what might the future might hold as regards research culture.

The recording – it’s about half an hour or so of your life that you won’t get back. Because that’s how time works.

The recording features me making a mess of trying to describe myself (not having had to do that before), and includes a few brief references to the broader conference. In my presentation, I assume that copies of my slides will be circulated, but I’ve no idea if they ever were, and if you’re watching now, you certainly won’t have them. That being so, here are the key links from the session.

So you’re new to… UK research funding

A very brief tour of the UK research funding landscape.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in November 2021 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Originally published in two parts, I’ve merged them into one and lightly edited to update and (in the case of EU funding) to try to future-proof!

Paddington (2014)

This article is intended for researchers who have moved to UK academia recently (welcome!) and for UK researchers in the very early stages of their careers. My aim is to give a very brief tour of the UK research funding landscape and help you get to grips with some of the terminology. In part one, I’ll look at government or public funding and say a bit about different funding models for research. In part two I’ll touch on research charities, learned societies, EU funding, and conclude with some general advice on finding research funding opportunities.

Continue reading “So you’re new to… UK research funding”

Research Grant Application Success rates: An optimist writes….

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in October 2019 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Success rates for many research funding calls may be low, but a quality, competitive application’s chances of success will be much higher. Adam Golberg tries to look on the bright side of life…

Dark Elf Dice, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When analysing a funding call and deciding whether to apply, it’s always worth finding out the success rate from previous rounds. Some funders are better than others in terms of publicising success rates. Some won’t share them at all, others will hide them away in annual reports, others will publish a lot of details and data, but on relatively hard to find pages on their website. Or they’ll conflate outline and full application stage success rates. If you can’t find success rates easily, ask your friendly neighbourhood research development professional.

One-off or new calls might specify a total budget or expected number of projects to be funded, but obviously won’t have success rates. Changes to funding schemes can make comparisons with previous years less useful, and with multiple stage schemes (outline, full, and perhaps an interview), it’s probably the success rate at each stage that’s most useful to know. Where calls don’t have success rates – and often even when they do – there will usually be details of approximately many awards will be made, or what kind of budget is available for this call.

These success rates and numbers of projects likely to be funded are likely to be depressing – success rates in single digits, in the most extreme cases. But don’t get discouraged too quickly.

Continue readingResearch Grant Application Success rates: An optimist writes….