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.

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