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!

Finding Opportunities in Times of Crisis

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Sophie Harris, a final year Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Student in the Department of Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol attended the British Ecological Society (BES) Undergraduate Summer School this year. Summer school during an ongoing pandemic? Yes! Sophie shares her experience in this article and we hope you are not only inspired but motivated to take similar opportunities when they arise. This is a perfect example of how to make the most of what you have, when you have it and while it’s still in your reach.

Change of tactics

Each year, the BES hosts a summer school course for first and second year students studying an Ecology (or another relevant) degree. After hearing tales about the course from a course mate last year, I decided to apply for 2020.

Now, as if it hadn’t really been spoken about already, just in case you hadn’t heard, unfortunately – there’s a pandemic at the moment. Something about a bat in China. This meant that my trip to the Yorkshire Dales with BES was a little bit different to what I had imagined. I had envisioned being cold and wet and having a fantastic time up North. However, I was still able to gain valuable skills and experiences from the comfort of my very own home.

A wooden bench sitting in the middle of a park

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Photo by Will Paterson from Unsplash

The journey

The school consisted of 4 days over a 5 day period learning about mycology, ornithology, entomology (the ologies go on), as well lectures on various career paths and general networking. We were also tasked with creating a portfolio of our work outside of the lessons. This portfolio included our CV, a blog post, a plant drawing, and anything else extra we wanted to do for the summer school. Why would you do extra work during the summer holidays, you may ask? For the respect? To impress? To get more involved? Of course… But if that doesn’t get you pumped to write an internship application, maybe the insane prizes, such as a bat detector will!

As well as the activities conducted in our own time, we also had active and engaging sessions to look forward to. On the first day we had to go into the real world (scary, I know) and find fungi. Once found we then had to try and identify the species, before creating a powerpoint presentation with our mentor group and presenting to the rest of the school on the Thursday. This may seem daunting, however presentation skills are key for almost any job, so even if you have no clue what you’re on about, act like you do! It might just win you a swanky mycology poster (Insert smug emoji).

Photo by Teemu Paananen from Unsplash

Gains

Although I wasn’t able to attend the summer school physically, the fact that BES still created such a fantastic online version meant so much to me. It came just at the time where I needed a routine and a platform to engage with people who have similar interests and passions (motivating). The staff were just fantastic. They were, and are still so supportive, encouraging students to contact them any time in the future with regards to anything related to their career path or just for general advice; those are contacts that aren’t easy to come across. I would really encourage anyone thinking about a career in ecology, or even any environmental career, to go for the opportunity and apply for next year’s run. It’s invaluable, enjoyable and free! What more could you want!?

Reflection

My final piece of advice once you have applied (and I know you will because my science communication skills are amazing after the summer school!) make sure you fully throw yourself into the programme. You’ll get out what you put in. If you engage, put yourself out of your comfort zone and just absorb everything, even if you don’t think you’re interested, you’ll get so much out of it. There aren’t many opportunities like this out there for undergrads so don’t pass it up.

Finally, make sure you check for application deadlines quite early on in the year and seize the chance while you still have it.

A person taking a selfie in a forest

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Sophie Harris in action

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message.

Written by Sophie Harris

Thank you for reading!

Article edited by Jessica Griffith and Dr Emmanuel Adukwu

From the editors: We hope you enjoyed the read as much as we did and have been left feeling motivated and ready to grab opportunities around you. This article is another wonderful reminder to keep pursuing and growing in every season of our lives, even the most difficult ones.

We welcome contributions from staff, students and anyone who would like to contribute to our content about careers in the Sciences and STEM. If you are interested, get in touch via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk. Do also connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Keep well and stay safe.