At Manchester Met we are divided into departments for teaching purposes and then we have separate research centres which include scholars from several different fields that manage our research interests. It is to them that we would apply for large portions of research funding for example, whereas our departments have small pots of money for conference expenses. My research centre has asked us academics to write a rough three-year plan describing what we hope to get done in that time: a task that is both exciting and daunting!
Until I got my permanent job last year I couldn’t make any long term career plans because of the insecurity and uncertainty of part-time and temporary work. Now that has all changed so I have to start asking myself things like:
- what projects/aspects of my research do I want to develop?
- who might I collaborate with, both inside and outside my university?
- where are the resources I need for this work?
- how much time will it take, and will I need time off from my teaching activities to do it?
- what will the ‘output’ be (ie what sort of publications will you get)?
- where can I apply for external funding?
It is this last question that has increasingly been taxing academics; some research active scholars spend nearly half their time seeking out and applying for external funding. Why is this so time consuming? Part of the problem is the complexities of finding funding; there are one-off grants targeted at particular fields, there are huge public bodies and charities that give out hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. Another issue is the competitive nature of the funding system. In my area way more people apply for money than can be accommodated, so you probably have a one-in-four chance of success, and that’s on a good day! Finally the application procedure itself is seriously stressful; not only do you have to put together rigid descriptions of your plan in language that the funding body likes, but you also have to get the signatures of a number of colleagues who ‘rubber-stamp’ your application.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Many universities now have ‘research and development‘ offices whose sole purpose is to help academics apply for funding. They will have someone in your field who can suggest the best sources of funding and will find out the best ways to make an application, including the sorts of topics, and language, that convinces the panels. They will help you with all the administration, gathering together referees’ forms and line managers’ signatures so you don’t have to. And if you are successful, they will help you manage the money you are awarded too! So, if you haven’t done so already, go and make friends with your research and development team; they will be very useful to you one day!
PS if you are interested in postgraduate research funding have a look at Haris’s blog here.