How To Apply For Research Funding: 10 Tips For Economists in Academia

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Study advice


Study advice

Applying for funding is a major part of life for every academic, so it’s something you’ll have to be prepared for as you reach the postgraduate stage and beyond. Here are 10 tips for applying for funding as an economist.

1. Apply early

One important tip to remember is that the assessment process for funding applications can often take 6 months or longer. And some funding opportunities may only accept applications once per year. So, if you’re hoping to get funding, you need to check the deadlines and apply early on. It’s best to start preparing several months before a deadline to be sure you have everything ready on time.

2. You will need letters of recommendation

One of the reasons you need a long time to prepare a funding application is that you will need letters of recommendation. In addition to your project proposal and letter of motivation, it’s common to require one to three letters of recommendation as part of your funding application. So think of which supervisors or colleagues know your work well and could speak positively about you, and ask them for a recommendation letter ahead of time.

3. You can apply to several funders with the same project

A funding application is a lot of work, and you’re not guaranteed to be successful. However, you can improve your chance of receiving funding by applying to several funding bodies simultaneously. Some funding applications will ask if you are applying with the same project elsewhere, but it shouldn’t be a problem to say yes. If these simultaneously submitted proposals are forbidden by the funder you’re applying to, they will say so on their website.

4. Demonstrate you have the skills required to perform the research you propose

One aspect of funding applications which is often overlooked is not just describing the project you intend to work on but demonstrating how you personally are suited to perform the research you propose. You need to give information about the research you have performed in the past to show that you’re capable of completing the new project. For example, if your project requires a lot of data analysis work then you should mention previous projects you have completed and talk about your experience with statistics for the best chances of winning funding.

5. Consider applying to bodies which offer funding outside of economics

When you’re working in economics, it’s natural that your first thought would be to apply for funding from economics organisations. However, depending on your area of research, you may be eligible to apply for funding from bodies in the fields of politics, international development, or mathematics. Have a think about what other fields your proposed project might fit into. This can be especially fruitful if you have colleagues in those fields with whom you could collaborate for the best demonstration of interdisciplinarity.

“If you can directly show how your work will benefit the government or save it money, even better.”

6. Prepare a budget for your project

As part of your funding application, depending on the organisation you apply to you may need to include a budget. Funding usually covers your research expenses, possibly a salary for assistants or research workers, and a salary for yourself. You need to account for typical salaries and the expenses you foresee incurring as you work on your project. Your budget needn’t be totally finalised or too detailed, but you should list your key expenses and estimates for the cost of each one.

7. Show the social relevance of your proposed research

Another important factor to include in your proposal is the social relevance that your work will have. Social relevance is a key factor in deciding who is awarded funding, especially when you are applying to a government body. As you are in economics, there may a direct relevance of your work to government policy, which you should emphasise for the best chance of successfully receiving funding. If you can directly show how your work will benefit the government or save it money, even better.

8. Take a grant writing course

If you’re currently a PhD student or postdoc, there may be soft skills courses offered by your university which you can take. If there is a grant writing course of half a day to a couple of days, then this can be a very efficient way to learn about the basics of funding applications and get some practice at writing project proposals. You can also bring along any funding applications that you are currently working on and get helpful feedback from the course leader and your fellow attendees, which is a great way to gain experience.

9. Don’t make your proposal too technical and do make it easy to read

Remember that although your project proposal will be assessed by fellow economists, the assessors may not be experts in your particular area of research. Your proposal may be assessed by people who are not experts in your particular sub-field, so make sure it’s comprehensible. You can achieve this by avoiding jargon terms and including a brief introduction to the topic in your proposal. If you’re unsure, show your proposal to a fellow economist with a different speciality from you and see if they can grasp the fundamentals of your project.

10. If you are rejected, don’t despair

You can always try again next year It’s very common for funding proposals to be rejected, even if the research proposed is good. Perhaps the funding organisation had a high number of proposals this year, or they are concentrating their funding on a different area of research. If your funding application is not successful the first time, don’t despair. Funding applications are highly competitive, and you may need to apply several times before you are successful. If your application is rejected, you can take your research proposal and improve it according to reviewers’ suggestions, then apply again next year. Remember that winning funding can take several cycles of application, so keep trying and don’t give up!

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