Funding, funding everywhere? Sci Comm South West insights into the F-word

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Author: Ola Michalec @Ola_Michalec

The ‘F’ word we should learn to say loudly and clearly, without embarrassment: funding. As an early career researcher and communicator, I often come across requests for funding ‘help’. What can I do to manage my colleagues’ expectations and negotiate the best rates for my work?

In the Sci Comm South West workshop ‘Funding, funding everywhere’, Rae Hoole shared some insights on securing finance. Science communicators, especially if freelance, often wait to hear from schools, universities and councils who are in a position to offer available work. However, is there anything we could do to become more proactive and turn our ‘gigs’ into a conscious career choice?

Rae commenced the workshop by telling the story of her career. With a background in theatre, Rae managed to carve herself a niche as a director of a creative learning company, Links to a Life, which combines physics education with play and storytelling.

Credit Tom Sparey

Here comes the first tip: it is challenging to bid for funding as an individual! A much better way is to approach potential partners or funders as a charity or a company (it’s not that hard to set one up!). This will provide weight to your application and help you come across as the amazing and experienced practitioner you are!

Second, discuss your potential project early on so your application looks less like an accidental brainstorm and more like a streamlined and deliverable idea. Clarity of your aims and impacts is essential. You need to be able to evidence who will benefit and how: have you got an evaluation strategy and measures in place? Once you have developed a partnership, perhaps it’s worth to keep an idea bank of potential projects ready to be turned into bids once funding calls are open. This goes to show the importance of ongoing nurturing of networks you establish at conferences like this one.

Finally, coming back to the F-word. The skill of discussing rates is essential. First of all, I wish we didn’t have to put up with this power dynamic and expectations that science communication or freelance work is free – but hey ho – we live in a society. However, I genuinely believe that collectively we have the power to shape this community of practice. Every interaction we have – whether with a junior colleague, a high school pupil or a potential funder – influences societal norms about the value of science communication labour.

Meanwhile, one of the workshop participants shared with me how she measures her daily rate.

“You need to take the annual salary you aspire to and divide it by 100. That’s your daily rate. The overheads cover your admin, sick leave and pension. We don’t automatically get it as freelancers, yet we still have to take care of all the above!”.

What are your experiences of bidding and negotiating salary? Do you ever work ‘for exposure’? Share your views in comments!

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