DAS Monthly Employability Seminar: Finding Funding in STEM

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Following the March Department of Applied Sciences Monthly Employability seminar, Sophie, one of our writers, has excellently summarised and captured the essence of the talk delivered. If you are in search for or are suspecting you may need funding in the future, this article is definitely for you. Enjoy and be enriched as you read.

An essential part

Funding. The dreaded F word in the world of science and the topic of the March Monthly Employability Seminar. This talk was hosted by Dr David Fernandez – a primatologist and conservation biologist, and Dr Alex Greenhough – a cancer biologist and principal investigator on projects funded by a number of institutions, as well as being a frequent grant reviewer himself. Both lecturers were well versed in what it takes to be awarded funding, having both received grants from a vast number of various sources.

Places to start

Dr Fernandez started off the talk by explaining the different types of funding available from charities, government bodies and international organisations having various money pots. He then listed the steps for a successful proposal, which, as someone who loves writing lists, is very useful for, and of which I will keep for, any future applications (so that I can satisfyingly tick each section off one-by-one).

Writing a funding bid is all about selling your story. You are probably, and hopefully, extremely passionate about your research proposal and this is more than likely the biggest setback you are facing in launching your project. Use your passion to convince the organisation that this project is exciting, innovative and needed.

Photo by Shane from unsplash.

Things you need

You must have a clearly defined goal that is achievable so funders can easily understand what you intend for this project to accomplish. In addition to this, there needs to be a consistent message throughout; keep your idea simple and strong – don’t let them forget what the project is about.

You also need to demonstrate your ability to prove you can actually conduct the work. Do you have experience on this topic or will you be bringing in collaborators who do? Having experts involved reassures funders that you will be able to achieve what you set out to do. Therefore, if you are just starting out in the research world, using someone who already has a name for themselves will most likely provide you with an advantage. Your budget also needs to be feasible and realistic; make sure to check what can and can’t be covered by the funding and that you can justify every expense you deem as being necessary (you may want to get some insight on this from those who have had experience with funding before).

The final few stages bring the whole bid together by making sure your writing is clear, can be understood by non-experts of this topic, and ensure that you have adhered to the grant application guidelines. This applies even to things that may seem trivial, such as using a specific font size, layout etc. Funding is almost always highly competitive and if you can’t follow instructions, you probably won’t get the funding (first impressions of your application really do matter!). Finally, linking back to the first point, be convincing. You understand why your project is one of the most incredible things in the world, but they don’t, so tell them.

Photo by Clay Banks from unsplash.

A smart approach

Both Dr Fernandez and Dr Greenhough expressed other important factors that are required for a successful funding campaign. One examples of this is finding the right funding body. This may seem obvious, but often projects do not meet all of the funding requirements and so this will waste yours, and the reviewer’s time.

The second top tip was about writing the proposal. These things, like everything in science, take a lot of time. Everything mentioned in your bid has to have a purpose and be completely accurate. There are questions you need to ask yourself: have you met their criteria? Are there any spelling or grammatical errors? Is your proposal reasonable, realistic, and correct? Dr Greenhough reiterated all of these points in his top tips for getting funding and provided us with an insight into how the grants are assessed and why they fail. These were simple, yet crucial, things such as checking if the project has already been done or assessing whether it is unrealistic – such as when someone asked for too little money for their project!

As an undergraduate looking for a Master’s degree, information like this is invaluable. Unfortunately, from personal experience I have found it to be near impossible to obtain funding for a Master’s project. Despite this, I know there will be many times in my life where I will have to spend my evenings calculating costs and filling out forms, trying to persuade people that my project is a worthy investment.

Photo by Andrew Neel from unsplash.

Final thoughts

Finding funding is a long, tedious and potentially frustrating experience. Dr Greenhough touched on the fact that you will get rejections, everyone does, but with everything in life, you have to keep persevering. This is the most important lesson I took away from the talk. Having the structure to write a funding bid is extremely important, but being prepared for reality and rejection is not only necessary, but reassuring to know it’s just an extra hurdle you have to face.

Finally, thank you to David and Alex for taking the time to share their insider knowledge, and to the Department of Applied Sciences for organising such a useful talk.

Thank you for reading.

Written by Sophie Harris

Edited by Jessica Griffith

Sophie Harris


Sophie is in her third and final year at the University of the West of England studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science. She is the creator of Peculiar Pangolins, a blog dedicated to all things pangolins related and has been invited to Uganda to see Chester Zoo’s Giant Ground Pangolin project.

Whilst on a six-month internship monitoring wildlife on a game reserve in South Africa, she fell in love with the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin. After being fortunate enough to see one in the wild, she decided to apply to university, to help these illusive creatures. She was also the creator and President of the Wildlife & Environment Society in my first and second years.

In Sophie’s spare time she can be found in nature reserves, mostly looking for birds to add to her list, or climbing, either indoors or out, depending on the weather.

Note from the editor: Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We hope you feel more informed and assured that whilst the journey to obtaining funding in launch of your project can often take some time, with perseverance, you can successfully secure funding and lift your project off the ground.

As always, we welcome new contributions to our blog, whether it’s by sending us an article or joining our team of writers. If you are interested, please do get in touch with us by emailing ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter

Until next time, take care and enjoy your summer!

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