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Writing a Successful (ARC) Research Grant Application

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  1. Writing a Successful (ARC)Research Grant Application Prof Helena Nevalainen Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences Member of the ARC College of Experts Biological Sciences and Biotechnology (BSB) Contains material from the presentation by Jennifer Newton in 2010

  2. Overview • Discovery applications, facts and ground rules • Aims and Background • Research Project • Research Environment • Budget and its Justification • Researchers: Track Record • Linkage grant applications • Some reasons for failure • Useful websites

  3. Before you start, note that for the Discovery applications… • ARC will allocate your grant application to two CoE members, Carriage 1 and Carriage 2 • Carriage 1 allocates at least 2 detailed and 2 specialised assessors to your grant based on the abstract and key words you provide • Make the abstract easy to understand and use appropriate keywords

  4. Before you start… • Familiarise yourself with the appropriate CoE and their expertise • http://www.arc.gov.au/about_arc/CoE_BSB.htm • http://www.arc.gov.au/about_arc/CoE_PCE.htm Be aware that membership and thus the expertise areas change from one year to another Check out National Priorities

  5. Before you start, note that… • Each CoE member assesses 100 plus discovery grants within 3.5 months (60-100 pages each) – you have about 2 pages to impress • Allocated assessors have 1-15 each to read • Weighting of assessments has changed - all equal • The assessment is according to A (10%), B (15%), C (20%), D (35%), E (20%) • Investigators 40%, Project Quality 40%, Research Environment 20%

  6. Understand the competition: About 20% of discovery applications receive funding and only the top 5% will receive full/near full funding One purpose/one person/one technology proposals do not fare very well unless brilliant Medically related non-clinical research proposals are increasing in number so you will be competing against stellar track records Some facts

  7. Before you start to write • Ask yourself the following questions: • What do you intend to do? (aims) • What work has already been done on the topic and how does my proposal advance the knowledge/fit into the current picture? (as part of the background) • Why is your research important? What is unique about it? (significance and innovation as part of background) • How do you intend to do your work? (Project Quality 40%) • How does my budget look like? (feasibility) • Why should the research be carried in my university? (Research Environment 20%) • How do I market/present my/the team’s track record? (Investigators 40%)

  8. Selection criteria All Discovery Projects Proposals will be assessed and ranked using the following selection criteria: Investigator(s)40% • research opportunity and performance evidence (ROPE); and • capacity to undertake the proposed research. Project Quality40% • does the research address a significant problem? • is the conceptual/theoretical framework innovative and original? • will the aims, concepts, methods and results advance knowledge? • are the project design and methods appropriate? • will the proposed research provide economic, environmental and/or social benefit to Australia? • does the project address National Research Priorities?

  9. Research Environment 20% • is there an existing, or developing, supportive and high quality research environment for this Project? • are the necessary facilities to complete the project available? • are there adequate strategies to encourage dissemination, commercialisation, if appropriate; and promotion of research outcomes?

  10. Three ground rules • Write the grant so that parts of it can be singled out for supporting, ie can be carried out successfully even though cuts to the funding may be made (modular structure) • Be succinct but at the same time, excite the reader; do not get bogged down with unnecessary details • Make the application aesthetically pleasing: do not cram text and think carefully about the figures and tables to be included

  11. Aims and Background • Write these sections for aperson who may not be expert in your particular field and at the same time, keep an expert happy • Avoid discipline-specific jargon and unexplained acronyms especially in the first pages • Aims and expected outcomes should be stated on the first page of your Background • They should be attention-grabbing, especially where the science may have a tendency to be baffling

  12. Aims Formulate aims in terms of expected outcomes/hypothesis; not in terms of the processes through which the outcomes will be achieved Write the aims first and check that your proposal is aligned with the aims after you have finished writing Keep aims simple and succinct

  13. Expected Outcomes • Outcomes are more intangible than outputs; for example, conceptual advances and/or discoveries, novel practical outcomes, economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits

  14. Background • Write this section for the intelligent non-expert • Use subheadings to make the reading easier • Demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the pertinent literature, and that you have evaluated it in a critical and balanced way • Background information should justify the necessity of your project and identify gaps in the current knowledge • Preliminary research is often described in the Background section as a teaser - adds to the likelihood that the project will achieve its goals

  15. Significance and Innovation as a subheading in the Aims and Background section Indicate how the results of your research will: • Fill identified gaps in existing knowledge • Distinguish it from other work in the field • Facilitate the development of new techniques, experimental models and/or lead to new conclusions of general value or practical significance • Provide economic, environmental and/or social benefit to Australia • Address National Research Priorities

  16. Research Project • Write this section for the expert assessor • Keep the plan focussed and in line with aims • Use subheadings to describe different technologies or approaches • Methodology should prove that you not only know what you intend to do, but how to actually do it

  17. Research Project In this section, cover the following: • conceptual framework • experimental design • innovations • limitations • anticipated difficulties • alternative approaches • time sequence (Gantt chart) • role of personnel

  18. Research Environment • ERA performance of your institution in the appropriate area • Research Centres and other national facilities relevant for the proposed research • Specialised instrumentation and other expertise/ support relevant for the suggested research • Key collaborators and their institutions, national and international

  19. Budget and Budget justification • ARC allocates funds differently for different years: committee budget is often front-loaded • Do not inflate figures (but don’t undercut yourself either) • Make accurate calculations where applicable and include them in the budget justification • Equipment requests should be at current prices; obtain a formal quotation

  20. Budget and Budget justification Direct costs: • Salaries • Equipment • Maintenance (e.g. consumables, running costs) • Travel – national and international (rate per km, air fare, other fares, lodging, sustenance) • Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award DORA (optional) • International Collaboration Award

  21. Budget and Budget justification • Indirect costs: Cannot be easily identified as specific to a particular project but are nonetheless real costs, eg: • Utilities and facilities • Maintenance of space and equipment • Security • Computer services • Legal services • Accounting services • Payroll services • Access to library facilities

  22. Budget justification Personnel: • Justify level of expertise and experience required including any PhD positions • If you have a person in mind for the position, justify the position and fit it with the person • Justify the time required

  23. Budget justification Equipment and maintenance: • Justify everyitem and running cost, do not merely repeat proposed expenditure • Explain why particular items/services/consumables are essential in relation to the aims and methodology of the project • Explain why they are essential in meeting the objectives of the proposal

  24. Budget Justification Travel: • Local travel (based on rate per kilometre) • Airfares (economy) • Lodging (realistic cost of modest accommodation, or conform to per diems) • Sustenance (per diems – see ATO at http://law.ato.gov.au/pdf/pbr/td2009-015.pdf)

  25. Investigators • Details of your career and opportunities for research over the last 5 years • Publications: provide ERA ranking, journal impact factor and citations • ARC grants and related publications • 10 career best publications: provide ERA ranking, journal impact factor, citations and a brief blurb on the impact of the paper (use same format for all participants!) • Most significant contributions to the field of the proposal

  26. Investigators Further evidence in relation to research impact and contributions to the field in the last 10 years including e.g.: • Patents • Other professional reports • Professional memberships • H-index plus other stats • Awards • Invited presentations • PhD supervision and mentoring • Innovation of new technology • Leadership of large national/international programs and facilities

  27. ARC Linkage projects Objectives: • Encourage and develop long-term strategic research alliances • Enhance the scale and focus of research in National Research Priorities • Foster opportunities for committed PG researchers to pursue internationally competitive research outside the higher education sector • Provide outcome-oriented research training • Produce a national pool of innovative researchers

  28. ARC Linkage projects • Investigators (20%) • Proposed Project (25%) • Approach and Training (15%) • Research Environment (10%) • Nature of the alliance and commitment form the Partner Organisation (30%) Success rate 45-50%

  29. Some reasons for failure in relation to ARC Discovery applications • Lack of original ideas • Objectives not realistic within a given timeframe • Artificial adaptation of purpose and significance in order to meet funding body’s objectives • Track record not developed enough • Guidelines and instructions not adhered to • Begs the ‘so what?’ question

  30. Some reasons for failure in relation to ARC Linkage projects • Lack of evidence of genuine collaboration • Weak Partner Organisation commitment • Not related to core business of the Partner Organisation • Involves little innovation and/or low risk • Not suitable to research training (for APAIs)

  31. In Summary • Be clear about what you are intending to do • Be clear on how you are going to do it • Provide evidence you can do it • Point out the benefits of your proposed research • Provide a future vision • Seek feedback before submission • Make reading of your application an enjoyable experience

  32. Useful Web Links • Grant-Writing Tools for Non-Profit Organizations www.npguides.org/guide/index.html • Grant Proposal Writing Tips – US Corporation for Public Broadcasting www.cpb.org/grants/grantwriting.html • Five Things to Know about Writing Better Grant Proposals www.hotwinds.com/Grant_Tips.html • A Guide for Proposal Writing (NSF) www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9891/nsf9891.htm

  33. Useful Web Links • Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal www.learnerassociates.net/proposal/hintsone.htm • NIH Grant Writing Tips Sheets grants.nih.gov/grants/grant_tips.htm • Grant Writing Tips for Writing your First Grant lone-eagles.com/granthelp.htm • Grant Writing Tips (including common pitfalls) http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/grants/Tips.htm

  34. Research Office Location • Research Hub, Building C5C • East wing • Level 3 • http://www.research.mq.edu.au/for/researchers • Phone: 9850 8612 (Reception) • Fax: 9850 4465

  35. Research Grants Development Staff • Jennifer Newton Manager, Research Grants jennifer.newton@mq.edu.au, X8609. • Georgina Chinchen Research Grants Development Officer georgina.chinchen@mq.edu.au, X4462. • Amanda Levick Research Grants Development Assistant, amanda.levick@mq.edu.au, X4063.

  36. Acknowledgements • Professor Peter Bergquist, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Macquarie University • Donald E Thackrey, University of Michigan • Office of Community and Special Projects, University of Southern Colorado • Professor Ellen Barrett, Dept of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Miami School of Medicine • Katherine Arens, Germanic Languages, University of Texas at Austin