Part one of two on spotting and sharing research funding info
You can’t be what you can’t see, and you can’t win research funding that you didn’t know was available. You also can’t win research funding that you sort of knew about but not in the right way or at the right time. Worse, if you’ve misunderstood a research funding call or had it miscommunicated to you, you risk wasting a lot of precious time barking up the wrong tree.
Every research funder and institution should prioritise clear and timely communication of research funding opportunities, and most would claim they do. But this doesn’t happen as smoothly as it should, so what to do? This first article will focus on direct funder-to-university or funder-to-researcher communication—how to source funding opportunities and who should be doing it. In part two, in the next Research Fortnight, I’ll look at internal comms—how to effectively share and disseminate opportunities within a university or academic unit.
Get the basics right
The obvious place to start is to identify the most important research funders for you and your academic unit and sign up for their newsletters. This is straightforward for most major funders, though for some charities you can end up accidentally signing up for their fundraising newsletter.
But UK and international funding environments are complex—which makes running an international funding opportunities database such as that offered by Pivot-RP (formerly known as Research Professional) a viable business. If you’re reading this in Research Fortnight, your institution has a Pivot-RP* subscription, which you can use to search for calls and to set up regular emails.
I’ve used Pivot-RP for most of my career and I’ve curated searches for every school I’ve supported, as well as a more general search for charity funders over a certain value when I moved to a central role. I’ve also signed up for every funder newsletter I can, but Pivot-RP still finds opportunities I’d otherwise miss.
Do check you’re using Pivot-RP as effectively as possible, and it might be worth tweaking your filter settings if you’ve not looked at them for a while.
Whose job is it?
How involved should individual researchers be, or how much should they instead just rely on their research office to find and filter opportunities? I reckon the answer depends on researchers’ institutional context and how much they need funding.
Research development managers are experts at reading and understanding funding calls and distilling the essence of them. However, they’re usually not researchers and they’re also not you. They’ll be looking for opportunities for a much broader group of researchers. They can and do miss things.
But then again, how much spare time do you have? Will you be reading all those email newsletters you’re opting into? Or are you just signing up for more clutter for your inbox?
If your support is brilliant, you can probably delegate funding searches. If it’s inadequate or even non-existent, you’ll need to do it all yourself or find some other solution within your research group. If you’re somewhere in between (the case for most UK researchers), my advice would be to sign up for newsletters and alerts only from key funders. Beyond this, returns start to diminish quite quickly.
Many funders have a social media presence on X (formerly Twitter) and use it to supplement their email communications. This used to be helpful as an additional means of communication and a quick way to keep up with what funders were doing.
Now, I’m not so sure, and I’ve got concerns about how some funders use X instead of, rather than as well as, email communication, or offer more or faster information or context on X than is available elsewhere.
The UK’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a case in point. The chances are that unless you’ve been following Aria and a few key individuals on X, you’ve missed out on key information or got it later than others. Most of this info is on Aria’s website, but if you didn’t know to look then you wouldn’t be aware of it.
There’s the added complication that X, like other social media sites, has been subject to what the writer Cory Doctorow described as ‘platform decay’. For example, TweetDeck-style functionality—which allows users to keep track of activity at target funders—is no longer available as part of the free product.
It’s still possible to bookmark the profiles of accounts in your web browser for easy reference, but that’s much more time-consuming to search through. I’ve tried to do it, but it has not really worked. Twitter always had problems, but they are orders of magnitude bigger now, which makes it harder to keep up. *PivotRP is a sister service to Research Professional News.
This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact firstname.lastname@example.org