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Master the plan

Diligent preparation is needed for a major research fellowship bid

The Leverhulme Trust’s Major Research Fellowships scheme supports humanities and social science academics to complete an original piece of research, which often culminates in a book. The fellowships are particularly aimed at those who have been prevented from doing original research because of other responsibilities.

The scheme offers replace­ment salary costs for the duration of the fellowship, which can last for two to three years. Applicants can also request research expenses up to an annual maximum of £6,000.

Researchers must demon­strate scholarship “at the highest level” in applications, but they do not need to already be “of professorial standing”, according to the Leverhulme Trust. 

The closing date for applications to the current scheme is 10 May.

Mohammad Amir Anwar, a researcher in African studies and international development at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, was among the previous round’s winners. Here, he relates how careful plotting and planning of his project was essential to its success.

What does your fellowship involve?

My fellowship enables me to write a book that deals with collective action in some of the more marginalised parts of the world. I look at it from the point of view of labour platforms. The book is about developing a new kind of theoretical and conceptual framework to understand how workers develop power. It focuses on workers on platforms equivalent to Uber or Deliveroo, but in African contexts. 

Some of the accompanying outputs are a couple of journal articles, but the major output is the book.

Were you in the target group of researchers who have been unable to concentrate on research until now, and how did you communicate this in the bid?

Yes it was the case for me, because I worked on temporary contracts until 2022. Since completing my PhD, I have never really had a full-time job, so I could not get a sabbatical to write a book. It was a case of showing the trust that I am an experienced researcher, not just for this project but on other research as well. 

I also conveyed to them that the work is unique and has not been done before, or it has not been done by scholars writing in this area.

How much previous research on their proposed project do applicants need to present?

Most of the fellows would have done some small-to-medium pilot projects before. In my case, I had funding from the British Academy’s small grants scheme in 2020 and 2021. The research from that grant feeds into the Leverhulme fellowship. The idea was to show Leverhulme that the book was something I had been building up to over several years. 

In the proposal, I showed that I had published a few articles in the area before. For those thinking of applying, a year or two of previous research is probably necessary.

Were there any parts of the application that you paid particular attention to?

My main focus was developing the research rationale, the research question and the importance of the book. To me, the proposed programme is the main part of the application. 

I was also told that in the proposal you should mention the outline of the book. I wrote two small paragraphs highlighting each of the chapters of the book. I think that may have made a big difference in making my application stand out.

What parts of the application did you find most difficult?

The most difficult part was the administrative side of things, like getting the budget right and what resources you are claiming. Justifying the funding for a period of two years was tough, as was talking about every single stage within your timeline and the specifics of what you would do.

My research office was extremely helpful. One of our senior research officers advised me not to be afraid of asking for the money I think is needed. Frequently, you will be told that you are asking for too much money. But they said that if you think you need, say, £10,000 for a piece of field work, do not be afraid to ask for it, as long as you can properly justify it.

What else would you advise people thinking of applying to the fellowships?

Start early in terms of developing your idea. And try that idea out with other applications at the same time. If there is a smaller pot of money going around, I would recommend applying for it. 

Time creeps up on you, and it did in my case too. Just finding people to write your references, for example, takes quite a lot of time—and you need three of them in this case. 

I already had two referees outside my institution who I had worked with before. But finding the third one was tricky. I got lucky. I randomly emailed a couple of people whose work I cited in the proposal. The person who agreed was really supportive and asked me to send my CV and then wrote the reference. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com