Monday, 21 May 2012

Into the Academic Dragon's Den

Image borrowed from, although it appears online elsewhere so I have no idea who owns the copyright, sorry.

Today I did a Big Thing, for me. I pressed a Submit button on a funding bid, which has now gone into council to be peer reviewed. It's part of my job to pursue funding, and I've been involved with a variety of research projects that have received funding from a variety of places - but this is the first time I have written a whole bid myself, from start to finish, on an open call - rather than responding to a specific research call or question. This is probably academic jargon, so let me rephrase: for the past 9 months I have been crafting a proposal which says "give me lots of money to employ some people, to do some interesting work over a few years. Please. It's really interesting and I'm the best person to do it. And here's why".

It has been a lot of work, as it not only involves me, but four major institutional partners, so I had to approach and engage them in the process, getting permission through their internal structures to carry out some research which involves them. In addition to that, I had help from our Departmental Administrator and our Research Manager, our Head of Department, our Vice Dean of Research, our Faculty Research Officers (two of), and Research Managers in Finance. On top of that, I asked for - and received - fantastic feedback and proof-reading from 5 academic colleagues. This bid is now as good as its going to get, and I thank everyone wholeheartedly for their input.

So, 9 months from idea, to "let's write that up", to submission (bear in mind I have to do this on top of my other teaching, administration, and research duties). The whole thing comes in at 10,000 words or so, proof-read and double-checked and triple-checked. I would say that it has taken about the same amount of work it would take to submit a 10,000 word paper to a top research journal - if not more so - with certainly more input from colleagues. The difference is, of course, if a paper was rejected for publication I could recycle it and get it published elsewhere, or put it up as pre-print myself. If this funding bid crashes and burns, then there will be no mention of the investment of effort from me - or others - anywhere.

What happens now? It goes to council where a group of peer reviewers will decide whether or not it is worthy of funding. I may get a right to reply to some of the queries raised. There is around a 20% chance of being successful, or so I hear. I should know around Xmas whether or not the project will go ahead.

In academia, it's good to set the goalposts for your own successes. Whatever happens to this one, I will hold on to the fact that I set myself a goal to co-ordinate a large funding bid myself, and see it through to submission. Of course, I have my fingers crossed for this one (I wouldn't have pursued it if I didn't believe in the idea). But at the end of the day, the goal was to enter the academic dragon's den, and pitch an idea, to the best of my ability. And I did: I pressed submit. Phew.

And now? Give me a few days, then I have to dig out the funding council documentation for the next one...

Update: The bid was rejected by the peer review panel. I go and lick my wounds, and regroup, to try again. There will be no mention of this investment in time and effort in anyone's records, except for this post here. You win some, you lose some...

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