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Funding opportunities, news and guidance from RKE at Manchester Metropolitan University

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Interesting interview on Research professional : “My winning proposal: How a small grant led to bigger things”

Research ProfImage My winning proposal: How a small grant led to bigger things

Stephen Farrall won £324,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council to study the long-term effects on the UK’s criminal justice system of policy made in the 1980s and 1990s. He tells Rebecca Hill in a Research Professional article how he used small grants to build a case for larger funding.

How did you begin your career?

I trained as a sociologist, and then I worked as a research assistant for two years on a project on the fear of crime at the University of Surrey, by which point I’d already decided I wanted to work on criminology. After that, I got a job as a research officer at the University of Oxford, where I also gained my PhD. Then I moved to Keele University as a research fellow then senior research fellow, and I came to the University of Sheffield in 2007.

You’ve moved around a lot—was that to follow grants?

My current job was my first permanent post, so I spent about 13 years doing short-term contract research. At first it was working on the jobs I could get, and then the job at Oxford came up and it was very hard not to go. After that I was picking the places I wanted to work because there were interesting people there or the departments were in the ascendency. For instance, when I arrived at Keele in 2000 it was one of the pre-eminent departments.

What is your current project looking at?

It’s trying to assess the impact of social policies enacted by the Conservative and Labour governments between 1979 and 1997—and so what you might think of as being Thatcherite—had on crime. Also it looks at the speed of those impacts and the mechanisms through which they took place. The Conservative government was doing all sorts of things in school, social security and economic policies that redistributed resources—such as work or finances—in society. Those sorts of things can create, or are associated with, changes in crime rates. A lot of criminal justice policies came in after Margaret Thatcher left office, after crime rates peaked in the mid-1990s. It’s about figuring out the long-term causal processes of these things. All the literature we use is really from the political science world rather than from criminology.

How does this grant compare with others you’ve received?

This is the largest grant I’ve had thus far. My first grant was a small grant of £11,000 from the ESRC. They don’t do those grants in the same way anymore, which is a real shame. Then I had a couple of larger Leverhulme Trust grants, around £50,000 and £120,000; a larger ESRC grant off the back of a smaller one and an ESRC grant for a seminar series, which was really good fun. Since I’ve been at Sheffield I’ve had a few more, including a share of around £140,000 on a European Framework 7 project and some funding for a Ministry of Justice research project, but nothing over £200,000.

Do you think experience of gaining smaller grants helped?

Yes, in a number of ways. It helps people to get a foot on the ladder because you can do a lot with not much money if you’re really savvy about it and really work your socks off. This grant was based on a small ESRC grant of about £30,000, which allowed me to explore the secondary and quantitative secondary data analysis sets that were already in existence, to see if it was possible to do the project. I could have done it without the money, but I wouldn’t have been able to interview some of the people I did or buy some of the things we needed as part of the review process, and I wouldn’t have had my time paid for. It helps if you’ve done a pilot or rooted around for six months checking the databases are there and accessible. It’s a real shame the ESRC has changed the small grants system because the other schemes are incredibly competitive and have to fit a specific brief.

Where else could people go?

There are small grant schemes from Nuffield or the Leverhulme Trust. Depending on what you’re interested in, there’s also the Wellcome Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and other smaller charitable bodies. Another way in, if you have the contacts and the skills, is to propose putting survey questions into existing government surveys. Or, if you’re quantitatively minded or skilled in survey question design, you could propose modules to the European Social Survey.

What does applying to the ESS involve?

There isn’t any money available; you’re just involved in the question design. Every couple of years, they have a call for modules [applications for ESS Round 8 are open until 12 May]. You develop a team across Europe, and if you’re successful you will work on a certain number of questions alongside the ESS team, which is based at City University, London. The ESS does the fieldwork and the piloting, and then they go and collect the data across Europe. You get travel expenses to meetings in London, and you get access to the data when it’s released—but that’s not private access, you could just download it [but this way you are involved in what the questions ask].

What do you think funders are looking for in grant applications?

This is a bit trite, but it’s also true: funders like a good idea backed up by a sound methodology that they understand so they have some grasp of what you’re actually doing. If you can demonstrate that you’ve done it before or it’s a technique that you’ve piloted, all the better. If you’re doing something methodologically innovative it’s a good idea to have some way of demonstrating what you’re doing. So for this grant we’re developing a huge dataset of surveys conducted since the early 1980s, but in some cases going back to the late 70s. So, as well as having a dissemination event with a policy think tank, we’re also holding a free training event to show people the database and how to use it. Another thing would be to have access arrangements agreed or letters of support from people saying they can give you access, but we didn’t need that in this case.

So demonstrating added value is particularly important?

Yes. We put that in as part of our pathways to impact. Thinking innovatively and imaginatively about how you’re going to do impact is important, particularly for research council funding. For instance, are you going to write a briefing document or hold an event for practitioners? But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to talk about those sorts of things, perhaps in a slightly softer way, for other funders.

Why do you think this application in particular was successful?

We had an earlier scoping project, which cost about £30,000, where we sat down and went through hundreds of different surveys and catalogued them to understand the mechanics of doing this. We also interviewed a number of experts in the field, and I started to work with a political scientist at Sheffield who had theorised Thatcherism. Together we wrote a couple of papers, which were like a proof of concept, and we got a British Academy grant to hold a seminar on this in London in 2007, which just came out as an edited collection this year. So we did quite a lot of work getting the methodology and theory set up, and once that was done or forthcoming, we went to the ESRC for the grant.

The other thing was something we couldn’t plan for. Between the meeting where the panel decides if the project is worthy of funding and the meeting where they decide if the ESRC should actually fund it, Margaret Thatcher died. And, on the day of the second meeting, it was her funeral. So it was everywhere. We’d had good reviews on paper, but in the run-up to the second meeting, it was impossible to miss.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone applying for a grant of this size?

You need to do a lot of work beforehand to get things in place—the theory, methods, practicality, the impact strategy and how to disseminate this to others in academia. Even though most universities are doing internal peer review for ESRC grants, you should get other people to look at your applications before they go in, and not just those in your own institution.

The other thing is not to give up. You will get grants rejected and you have to remember they’re not reviewing you, they’re reviewing your grant. If your grant isn’t up to scratch, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good academic. I’ve sat on grant awarding panels where big names have had stuff rejected, and we don’t think any less of them; it’s just that grant. There’s nothing personal about it. If you get rejected, look at reviewers’ comments, leave it a while, think about whether it’s salvageable and then think about doing something else. Don’t give it up.

CV: Stephen Farrall

2007-present Reader, then professor of criminology, University of Sheffield

2005-2007 Senior research fellow, Institute for Law, Politics and Justice, Keele University

2000-2005 Research fellow, department of criminology, Keele University

1998-2001 PhD in probation, social context and desistance from crime, University of Oxford

1996-1999 Research officer, external lecturer and external tutor, University of Oxford

1994-1996 Research assistant, department of law, University of Sheffield

1993-1994 MSc in social research methods, University of Surrey

1989-1993 BSc in applied sociology, University of Surrey

– See more at:–How-a-small-grant-led-to-bigger-things-.html#sthash.S42xy9lO.dpuf


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Funding for International “Researcher Links” workshops

British-Council-LogoThe British Council invites applications for its researcher links workshops initiative. This supports bilateral workshops that bring together early-career researchers to allow them to make international connections that can improve the quality of their research.

Applicants must be leading researchers (established researchers) of any nationality who are based in the UK or one of the partner countries. Participants of the workshops must be early-career researchers. For 2014-2015 the partners countries are Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. Successful workshops must take place between 1 October 2014 and 1 March 2015.

The Guidance notes contain a table stating the research disciplines each country wants to support. For example:

Turkey’s priority areas are

  • Lifelong Health & Wellbeing
  • Agriculture & Food Security
  • Disaster & Emergency Management
  • Energy & Climate Change
  • Social Sciences

Qater will support:

  • Water security
  • Energy Security
  • IT & Cyber Security
  • Health

All the info is here:

Deadline for submission: 9th June 14


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Regional workshops for two new competitions from the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform


The Technology Strategy Board established the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform (SMIP) to realise the potential of stratified medicine in the UK for the benefit of patients and the economy.

The Technology Strategy Board is to invest up to £7m in the area of stratification and neurodegenerative diseases, in two collaborative R&D competitions. In neurodegenerative diseases there is a considerable unmet clinical need and a requirement for improved characterisation and early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases and better tools to support patient treatment, management and care, an area that is also of direct relevance to the Assisted Living Innovation Platform.

Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration or death of nerve cells. They include Alzheimer’s disease (AZD) and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and multiple sclerosis. Of these, the dementias are responsible for the greatest disease burden, with AZD representing over 60-70% of the cases, affecting 7 million people in Europe. The costs of care for dementia patients are estimated at £23 billion per annum in the UK and in the order of €130 billion/annum in Europe, thus highlighting neurodegenerative disease as a leading medical and societal challenge and providing a major opportunity for the development of new healthcare technologies and practices.

In preparation for this, its 5th series of competitions, scheduled to open on 27th May 2014, SMIP will be holding a series of consortium building events:
• Edinburgh on 16th May
• Liverpool on 20th May
• London on 22nd May

Registeration for the event can be assessed here

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REF Website goes live!

This week marks the launch of the brand new REF website at MMU from the Research and Knowledge Exchange Team. Taking information from our REF2014 submission, including case studies and content from each unit of assessment, the website celebrates the hard work put in from members across the University.

The new website has been built with the aim to show case MMU’s research excellence for the last six years and falls in line with the recent submission to the REF in December. The content of the site includes an introduction to each of the 13 units of assessment and includes the impressive total of 42 case studies.

RKE is proud to be launching the website this week after much hard work, including help from research colleagues and the REF team, namely Sam Gray. However, special thanks must go to Kellie Keith, RKE’s Web Officer for the many hours she has put into perfecting the site.

Dr Steve Hoon, REF co-ordinator for Earth Systems and Environmental Science says ‘I am very impressed by the way the new REF facing website has come together. It summarizes the core of the high quality MMU research output and its impact over the past six years, research that builds upon decades of hard work by a University wide team of academic, technical and administrative support staff.’

You can visit the site here:

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Healthcare Funding Call from STFC

STFC logo

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is having a launch event for its new £1.5m Challenge Led Applied Systems Programme (CLASP) Healthcare funding call on 20th May 2014.

Healthcare is one of four key themes under the STFC Futures Programme and there are many technologies arising from across the STFC research base that have the potential to solve technical challenges faced by the healthcare community.
Outline applications for the funding call must be received by early September for projects starting from April 2015.

The main purpose of the day is to enable delegates to discover more about the programme, to hear from agencies driving the healthcare agenda and to meet with researchers from the STFC community as well as companies and users engaged in developing solutions to tackle healthcare challenges. There will also be networking opportunities for potential applicants to meet and share ideas with potential project partners.

The priority challenge areas set by the healthcare community cover:

  • Radioisotopes
  • Imaging technology
  • Medical Informatics
  • Early Diagnosis

The event is being held at the Royal College of Physicians, London, NW1 4LE, from approx. 10.00 – 16.00.

For further information on the CLASP Scheme and for event registration please see:

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Latest Funding Opportunities via Cancer Research

Cancer Research UK

Research Travel Awards are for postdoctoral researchers wishing to visit another lab to learn new skills, foster collaboration or develop their career.
Funding: Support for up to three months and funding up to £6,000 for the travel, accommodation, subsistence and research expenses
Deadline: 13th May 2014
Further details: please see the flyer here

Stand Up to Cancer Fellowships are for any clinical or non-clinical postdoctoral researchers looking to accelerate progress in translational cancer research.
Funding: salary of the fellow and associated research running expenses four years, funding to the value of up to US$315,000
Deadline: 28th July 2014 – 12pm noon EST
Further details: please see the flyer here

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This Friday! RKE Last Friday Social – 25th April

Holden GalleryRKE Last Friday Social  

Where: Holden Café, Holden Gallery, Grosvenor Building, All Saints Campus

When: 25 April 2014, 4-6pm

Why: Hosted by RKE but carrying no formal agenda, this is a chance to swap ideas and discuss collaborations. It’s an informal opportunity for academic staff to come together and meet their colleagues. There will be an honesty bar and a suggestions box – the rest is simply your space, the atmosphere laid back.

February and March turnout has gathered momentum, so be sure to book your place for this Friday.

I’m there, book me on!

Benzie Building

RKE Last Wednesday Welcome 

Where: BZ303, 3rd Floor Benzie Building (New Art and Design Building), All Saints Campus

When: 30 April 2014, 12-1pm

Why: Same theme, different day and this time with coffee.

I’m there, book me on!