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!

Think Different, Be Different! Develop an Enterprise Mindset

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Mr Iheanyi Ibe, Enterprise Adviser at UWE Bristol and Coordinator of the Student Ventures Hub recently delivered a workshop on Enterprise as part of the Department of Applied Sciences Monthly Employability programme. Iheanyi gained a first degree in Pharmaceutical Science (BSc) and proceeded to a Masters in Business Administration. He worked in the Biopharma sector for several years before taking a different route into  entrepreneurship  developing expertise in this area and now supports entrepreneurial programmes across different institutions the UK.

So why enterprise and should it matter to you as a scientist?

Typically, students do not understand the term enterprise and automatically assume it is starting or owning a business. According to Iheanyi, it is more than that. He says, “Think of enterprise like a stem cell. ” Stem cells are special human cells with the ability to develop into many different cell types. Enterprise is just like that. Skills that give you the ability to do anything you want to.

It has been defined by the QAA (2012) as “applying creative ideas and innovations to provide practical situations. Therefore, it combines creativity, idea development and problem solving with communication and action.”

For students in the sciences, aspiring scientists, academics, or even those already working in the field, enterprise is very important and should be part of your thinking and your mindset. It is really about how to identify problems and proposing solutions to addressing them.

“There is nothing new about enterprise. In fact, as a species, it can be argued that we exist today because we are enterprising.”

So broadly speaking, having an idea you can capitalise on and can meet people’s needs OR having a business, are both descriptions of enterprise.

Do you need special skills to be an entrepreneur?

The answer is NO!

Iheanyi described a discussion he has with his son about something his son wanted him to do. The nature of the conversation and the outcomes from it indicated that right from an early age, we get to apply different skills that are entrepreneurial in nature. These skills include recognising what you want or need, negotiating and communication.

“The inherent skills you use in everyday life such as negotiating with parents, negotiating with your children (for some of you) and compromising with friends are the skills we tend to take for granted, but use them in our everyday life.”

Does it matter if I do not want to be an Entrepreneur?

It does! Employers are looking for candidates that can demonstrate these skills. “20% of employers reported ‘alarming weakness in skills around team working’ and a similar proportion identified weaknesses in problem solving skills among graduates.”

In a article published in the Guardian, employers expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of some graduates, with a third of companies unhappy with graduates’ attitude to work, citing lack of resilience, self-management skills, cultural awareness, and customer awareness article. In addition, the CEO of Be Wiser Insurance group, added “You would expect that university education would teach some basic business etiquette, and certainly communication skills.”

These are the skills you are expected to demonstrate to employers regardless of your subject area and field of study and these are examples of entrepreneurial skills.

What are these Entrepreneurial skills?

  • Commercial awareness
  • Creative and innovating thinking
  • Prioritisation and time management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication, negotiation and persuasive skills

“These are no different from the skills you gain on your programme through presentations, writing essays, doing assignments, final year projects, team sports and society activities etc. do not underestimate the amount of skills you have gained through each year of your study, many of you are ready to succeed in the commercial world to embark on enterprising projects and initiatives.” – Iheanyi

Do you have the mindset of an Entrepreneur?

The speaker gave an example of people who go to a pub and are comfortable speaking to others, communicating to different folk, however struggle to speak in other settings or unable to do a presentation. This, he described is a problem with “mindset”. For you to succeed in your career, in the scientific world or as entrepreneur, you need to be willing to challenge your mindset, move out of your comfort zone otherwise you would be similar to graduates described by the CEO of Be Wiser Insurance group (“not prepared for the real world of work and often requiring ego-massaging”).

Testing your Creativity – Group Task

The students were put into groups of two to identify how many uses they could find for a paperclip. This was a 2-minute challenge and from the groups (6 in total), the ideas included: (a) a sculpture (b) a back scratcher (c) for cleaning hard-to-reach areas (d) bracelet (e) ear piercer etc.

Challenge to you – How many different uses for the paper clip did you find?

If you are able to think of a use for the paperclip, you have just demonstrated enterprise. Thus, enterprise is having the idea, mindset and action to create solutions to problems. Something you do regularly!

Skills audit

Can you identify what skills you demonstrate or utilise in the following tasks?

  • Writing an assignment
  • Writing a project proposal
  • Delivering a poster presentation
  • Group work
  • Examinations etc.

 Group Exercise

The students were given a task to perform based on this scenario.

 “You are meant on be on a trip to Singapore, what do you need to do before you go, while you are there and when you return?”


We would encourage you to try this task in your own time as those who attended the workshop found it useful to think through the scenario and to identify challenges as well as create new opportunities.

What will you do?

  • Before – this is where you plan
  • During – this is where you learn
  • After – this is where a lot of the reflection is, knowledge is gained and shared

Final notes from the speaker

  • Your personal life is not so different from the commercial world. What matters is your mindset
  • Improving your enterprise skills and your ability to identify and develop opportunities will benefit you whether you pursue a career in academia or decide to move into business or develop your own company. 
  • It is relatively easier to develop ‘Commercial Awareness’ from a technical and scientific background than doing things the other way round.
  • As a student, you demonstrate enterprise in your day-to-day activities, during the degree, general social situations and work experience. What is most important is learning to recognise these skills and articulate them!

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it with others. Also, if you have an article or topic you would like to share with us, do contact us at ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk 

You can learn more about the speaker by visiting Iheanyi’s LinkedIn page here .

For information about opportunities to develop your own business, apply for enterprise grants or for advice and mentoring contact the UWE Bristol enterprise team at enterprise@uwe.ac.uk 

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