Applying for a research grant

Applying for a research grant

Learn about the support available to researchers planning to submit research grant applications to external funders.

Overview of the grant application process

Summary

Research and Innovation Research Development Executives (RDEs) or the Impact and Knowledge Exchange (IKE) team are the first point of contact for researchers planning research funding applications.

RDE/IKEs, working closely with the R&I Research Finance team, can assist at every stage including:

  • Confirming eligibility;
  • Compliance with funder application requirements;
  • Bid development support;
  • Developing a budget;
  • Preparing a narrative CV;
  • Planning for impact;
  • Pre-application due diligence (Trusted Research, Export controls etc);
  • Pre-application legal and contractual queries;
  • Bid submission.

Applications should follow the School Intention to Submit (ITS) / Supporting Grant Application (SGA) and Peer Review process, where these apply.

Applications must be fully costed and collect all required internal approvals in Worktribe ahead of submission. To allow sufficient time for pre-application final checking and internal approval, applications should be submitted to Worktribe no less than 5 days before the call deadline.

UKRI funding service

Summary: During 2023, all UKRI research councils will transition from the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system to the new UKRI Funding Service for the submission of research applications.  The Funding Service has a number of differences to Je-S and colleagues who are planning UKRI applications should familiarise themselves with the new requirements.

Key changes from Je-S: The main differences from Je-S include, but are not limited to:

  • New question set to describe aims, methods and outputs of the research;
  • New role definitions for all researchers involved in the project;
  • Résumé for Researcher and Innovation- R4RI (narrative CV) requirement – some calls will require a team Résumé;
  • No longer an option to nominate reviewers;
  • No longer any ability to amend and resubmit applications which are returned for non-compliance reasons;
  • No ability for applications that are created, but not submitted to a particular call, to be saved and submitted to a subsequent call;
  • Currently no ability for co-applicants to edit an application (expected to change in future versions);
  • Currently no ability for research office to edit an application (expected to change in future versions)

Researchers planning UKRI applications: Researchers can create their own accounts on the Funding Service by following the ‘Start Application’ button located on the page where the opportunity is listed. However we recommend only starting an application when you are certain of the deadline you plan to apply to as you will not be able to save your application and submit to a later call.

Please note UKRI are planning a short closure of the Service at the end of September 23 – researchers do not need to submit ahead of this as the Service will re-open at the start of October 23 once UKRI has implemented scheduled modifications. Accordingly, researchers should plan the best time to submit and not rush to apply to the September deadlines if this does not allow sufficient time to develop a competitive proposal.

The usual requirements to follow the applicable School’s Intention to Submit (ITS) / Supporting Grant Application (SGA) process still apply and applications must be costed and collect internal approvals in Worktribe before submission.

On going development: Please be aware UKRI are continuing to develop the Funding Service functionality and updated versions will be published regularly. Accordingly, the guidance and requirements for using the Service will evolve. The Grants Academy will keep researchers up to date with changes as they are announced and recommend researchers also take steps to stay in touch with progress.

More information:  Researchers can also contact their Research Development Executive contact at any point with queries.

Further UKRI information on the Funding Service can be found here and a webinar here. Details of the transition from JeS to the Funding Service can be found here.  Researchers can also Subscribe to the Simpler and Better Funding newsletter to receive information on updates to the Funding Service as these arise.

School grant support processes

Intention to Submit (ITS) / Supporting Grant Applications (SGA)

Intention to Submit / Supporting Grant Application process

All grant applications led by University of Aberdeen investigators to UKRI or the Wellcome Trust should follow the relevant School/Institute Intention to Submit (ITS)/Supporting Grant Application (SGA) process. Some Schools may also require proposals to other funders to follow this process.

UKRI and Wellcome Trust calls are highly competitive. The aim of the ITS/SGA is to help maximise the quality and success of your grant application by providing an early opportunity to receive constructive feedback and enable discussion with senior colleagues who have a track record with major funders.

What do I need to do?

1. Complete proforma: Lead investigators should complete the applicable ITS/SGA proforma:

2. Submit proforma: The completed ITS/SGA proforma should be submitted to the relevant R&I Research Development Executive (RDE), Programme Lead or other contact as directed by the School/Institute.

Where possible this should happen at least 2 months, or ideally 3-4 months, ahead of the application deadline. For calls with short deadlines please contact your Research Development Executive to discuss the submission process. Please note there is a separate process for the NERC Discovery science responsive mode. 

3. Feedback: Lead investigators will receive feedback from senior colleagues on the proposal.

All Schools (excluding SMMSN): Lead Investigators will be contacted by a RDE or senior colleague e.g. Research Director or Programme Lead who will provide feedback and an opportunity to discuss this.

SMMSN: a meeting will be arranged with senior colleagues where investigators will have the opportunity to present their proposal and receive and discuss feedback directly.

Please contact your Research Development Executive if you require assistance with any aspect of this process.

NERC pipeline – supporting applications to Pushing the Frontiers

In anticipation of the next round of the Pushing the Frontiers scheme, potential applicants are invited to join the internal “pipeline” to receive support and guidance from experienced academic colleagues. You can join the pipeline at any time but for the next call, the following timetable has been agreed.

TIMETABLE 

  1. Applicants wishing to submit to the July 2024 call should complete the Pipeline Form by close of business on 1 March 2024 and return it to grantsacademy@abdn.ac.uk 
  2. The first meeting of the internal NERC panel is on 20 March 2024. This will be an in-person meeting where candidates will present their proposals and participate in the Q&A session
  3. The second meeting of the internal NERC panel is on 5 June 2024. This will be an in-person meeting for candidates to give a brief update on the status of the proposal.

More information on the last call can be found here (based on this guidance, you could only be involved in two applications and only one as project lead). Applications will be submitted by the lead organisation via the UKRI Funding Service.

Please complete the NERC Pipeline Form below and send it to grantsacademy@abdn.ac.uk to be part of the pipeline.

Peer Review

Peer Review Procedure

This procedure is intended to be supportive and constructive, with the aim of increasing the competitiveness of grants submitted for external funding.  The process is not intended to take the place of any informal review that may be arranged between colleagues. Peer Review is mandatory when leading an application to:

  • UKRI;
  • the Wellcome Trust;
  • any funder where the value is >£150K;
  • or where the Principal Investigator has not previously secured a research grant >£20k; or has not been awarded a research grant within the last 18 months.

In addition, all applications from the following Schools/Institute require proportionate peer review, regardless of value: Schools of Language, Literature, Music & Visual Culture, Social Sciences, Law, Education and the Institute of Applied Health Sciences.

Business School should follow this guide: 

Below £5000 - No review
£5000 - £15000 - 1 Review
£15,000 and above - 2 Reviews

What is required

Peer review should be arranged from at least two reviewers who are independent to the research.  Reviewers are usually internal to the University but external reviewers can be used, where appropriate. Senior staff in your School, or your Research Development Executive, may be able to provide guidance on identifying appropriate peer reviewers.

Please ensure you approach peer reviewers early and agree a reasonable timescale for them to receive, review and return comments on your application.

Expectations of peer reviewers

  • Consider yourself as a ‘critical friend’ by offering constructive, impartial and honest advice to help to increase the overall quality of a proposal;
  • Review all parts of the application: e.g. application form, budget, Data Management Plan etc– not just the plan of work;
  • Provide written comments to the applicant in any preferred format e.g. by email, tracked copy of the proposal; using a proforma (example here or, if you only have a few remarks, please provide these in the peer reviewer approval box in Worktribe;
  • Consult the Guidance for Peer-reviewers here

When will a proposal be signed off?

The Head of School/Institute will only approve proposals requiring peer review when they are satisfied appropriate review has been undertaken and any comments addressed. Please note R&I is not permitted to authorise submission of applications without Head of School/Institute Approval.

Recording peer review in Worktribe

Principal Investigators

  • Nominate the 2 peer reviewers under the peer review tab;
  • We would encourage you to provide copies of any peer reviews you receive under the document tab;
  • Please submit the proposal for internal approval in Worktribe once the peer reviewer has confirmed they are happy to recommend the proposal for submission.

Peer reviewers

  • Please respond to the Worktribe notification by confirming you have reviewed the proposal and whether you support submission;
  • If your comments are minimal these can be stated directly in the Worktribe approval box. Otherwise please return your comments, in any convenient format, directly to the principal investigator.
  • Peer reviewers are not currently able to upload their comments to the Worktribe record directly.
Fellowship Support Process

Fellowship Support Process

Fellowship schemes are highly competitive and require applicants to plan well in advance in order to target their applications correctly. Chances of success are strongly increased by:

  • A strong C.V.;
  • Awareness of and alignment with the funding programme;
  • Well-designed project plan;
  • Highly polished application.

In order to provide our candidates with the best chance for success, it is recommended that the following steps are undertaken as part of our internal fellowship applications support process.

1. Initial discussion: Find out more about the types of fellowship schemes that are available and receive information on the benchmarks of competitiveness that should be achieved through one to one discussion with your School Research Development Executive (RDE), induction workshops and grant writing courses. The Fellowship Applications Support Process varies between Schools and your School RDE will be able to advise on the support available to you.

2. Complete required fellowship proforma: At this stage, you are required to provide information regarding the funders/schemes you wish to target, along with summary details of the proposed project and CV. You will also need to identify a Supervisor/sponsor.

3. Discussion with senior staff: Potential applicants will have the opportunity to discuss their research idea with a group of senior staff (in person/virtual meeting) to critically assess the strength of your proposal. It is recommended the discussion is arranged 3-6 months prior to the funder’s deadline.The discussion outcome will be classified as follows:

  • Proceed with the application;
  • Further development is required e.g. securing additional publications, supporting data or collaborator links;
  • The proposal is unlikely to be competitive with the named funder/call. Senior staff will be on hand to discuss other options to support your career development such as alternative projects, training or career development pathways. 

4. Personal timetable: Candidates will be assigned an Application Mentor, peer reviewers, fellowship buddy (if applicable to the scheme) and a timetable towards submission.

External fellowship candidates should also follow this process.

Please find a listing of current Fellowship opportunitites here.

 

Support for preparing grant applications

Research grant costing

The University requires costs for externally funded research applications to be prepared in our Research Award Management System Worktribe. Researchers should set up a new Worktribe Project for every application. Once a Worktribe Project has been created a R&I Research Finance pre-award costing accountant will be allocated to the Project and be available to assist researchers in developing and checking their budget in line with the funder’s requirements. Further information on using Worktribe is available here.  

Researchers should seek costs for the following activities as described below:

University facilities Researchers should contact the relevant facility manager to request a quotation and include a copy of this in the Worktribe Project.
IT services Inc. data storage, hardware, software, web development, survey tools, high performance  computing and the data safe haven. Guidance on identifying IT costs is available here and in the Worktribe help topic: Costing Research and IT Facilities.
Equipment & services Quotes must be provided by third party providers and be uploaded to Worktribe. Researchers must follow procurement guidelines and the procurement team can also advise on requirements.
Partner costs 

For projects led by the University researchers should request costs from all partners whose budget will be included in the application and paid via the University of Aberdeen.These should be uploaded to the Worktribe Project.

It is the partner organisation’s responsibility to ensure their costs have been approved by the relevant authority at their organisation e.g. Research Office, before the application is submitted for internal approval on Worktribe.   

Clinical Studies  Guidance on costing a clinical study is available in the Worktribe help topic: Clinical Research Study Costs.

 

Understanding funder application requirements and terms of funding

Grant application requirements: Researchers are strongly advised to read all available call guidance before starting an application. Funders’ guidance may be updated between calls and can vary between calls of the same funder.

Terms and conditions of funding: Different funders, and in some cases different calls from the same funder, have varying terms and conditions of funding. Researchers should familiarise themselves with these before submitting a grant in case there are restrictions that could impact their plans for delivery of the work, publishing or taking forward outputs. 

Tenders: For some types of application, such as tenders, the University must accept the terms of funding when submitting an application.

The Research Development Executive or  Impact and Knowledge Exchange contact supporting your proposal will also be able to advise you on application requirements and any terms and conditions of funding you should be aware of.

Embedding impact in research applications

Impact is the demonstrable benefit of academic research to society and the economy and can include effects on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy, health environment or quality of life, beyond academia. Contact the R&I Impact and Knowledge Exchange team to discuss ways to embed routes to impact into your application. We strongly encourage you to get in touch as early as possible.

You can also find useful guidance via the University’s Impact Toolkit, including tips on planning engagement or knowledge exchange activities relevant to your target audience, incorporating steps for evaluation or reflection into activities or events to help you focus your efforts and advice on costing activities to maximise your project’s potential for impact.

Intellectual Property considerations

Applications will often require researchers to consider whether the work will need access to existing intellectual property or is likely to create new intellectual property. The R&I Impact and Knowledge Exchange or Research Development Executive teams will be able to advise on answers to these questions.

Further information on intellectual property is available here

Narrative CVs

Narrative CVs are a new format of CV requiring written descriptions of contributions and achievements across a broad range of skills and experiences.

Narrative CVs are being adopted by many funders as part of wider efforts to improve research culture and research assessment. Narrative CVs move beyond traditional metrics-based CVs of publication lists, employment and education history. Explore more guidance here.

UKRI requirements: During 2022/23 UKRI are transitioning to the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) for most of their calls. Please note the guidance for completing this varies between calls; some will require a team R4RI and others individual an R4RI. Grants Academy UoA Annotated guidance for preparing a UKRI R4RI has been developed to assist colleagues drafting R4RIs for UKRI applications.  

 

Other resources

Digital Research and Data Management Plans

The Digital Research Team can help researchers plan and manage their research, with an emphasis on digital technologies and delivery. The team support research applications by providing technical advice, assist with IT-related costings, advise on Data Management Plans, data security planning and other related services. Once a grant has been funded, support remains available at each stage of the project. Find out more on our Digital Research pages.

The University also provides guidance on best practice and compliance in data management to be taken in to account when developing a research proposal. 

An annotated Grants Academy UoA MRC Data Management Plan template with pre-populated text for some fields has been developed by Digital Research and Research & Innovation. This can be used as a starting point for developing a project specific DMP for a MRC application. The template will need to be adapted to meet the requirements of individual projects.

DMP Online: The University has a subscription to the Digital Curation Centre's DMPonline tool where University researchers can use their instituional credentials to develop Data Management Plans speific to different funders requirements.

 

Institutional letters of support

Letters of support including an institutional commitment: In the first instance researchers should approach their Head(s) of School to discuss and agree any in-kind or kind institutional commitment for their project. This approach should be made as early as possible and not less than 4-6 weeks before the call deadline. For some applications e.g. PhD CDTs, R&I will coordinate discussions across Schools and this will be confirmed to the researcher. 

Following agreement of the committment with the Head of School(s), researchers should contact their Research Development Executives (RDE) to confirm any funder requirements for the content of the letter.  In most instances researchers will be asked to suggest a draft letter or provide draft sections as part of this process. The RDE will liaise with the senior staff signatory and researcher in finalising and seeking senior staff approval and signature of the letter.

Letters of support not including an institutional commitment: In the first instance researchers should contact their RDE for support with confirming the funder requirements for the letter. In most instances researchers will be asked to prepare a draft letter or specific sections as part of this process. The RDE will liaise with the senior staff signatory and researcher in finalising and seeking signature of the letter. RDEs should be approached as early as possible and not less than 2 weeks before the call deadline.

Non academic sections e.g. EDI and sustainability statements

The R&I Research Development Executive (RDE) team may be able to assist with developing non-academic sections of some research proposals. For example: Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity statements and Sustainability sections, please contact your RDE for guidance.

The RDE team can also assist with completion of assurance documents required for certain calls, for example: Tender compliance questionnaires, Conflict of Interest policy compliance statements.

Research governance, ethics and conflicts of interest

Research Governance: Research governance implications must be considered when developing a funding application. Researchers should be aware of the requirements of the University’s policies covering research practice and the Research Governance Handbook. In addition, the University subscribes to the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and recommends researchers follow the UKRIO Recommended Checklist for Researchers when planning their research proposal.

Ethics: Most funders ask for ethical approval requirements to be detailed in the research application and the timescale to apply for, and receive, ethical approval should be considered when planning a project.  Further information on applying for ethical approval from University ethics committees is here. Information and resources for researchers undertaking clinical research is available from the University of Aberdeen-NHS Grampian Grampian Research Office.

Conflicts of Interest: A conflict of interest exists where the decision making or judgement of an employee may be influenced by actual or potential benefit or advantage that could be obtained from it. When planning your research application please consider whether any potential conflicts of interest may arise which should be discussed in advance with the Universuty or declared on your application. The University's Code of Practice on Conflicts of Interest in Research and Commercialisation provides examples of potential conflicts that could arise in a research project and the institutional process for declaring any interests. 

International research collaborations inc. Trusted Research and Export Control

Trusted Research: Researchers planning international collaborations should consider potential security related issues and take steps to manage any potential risks. The UK Government has developed Trusted Research Guidance to help UK academics and research organisations understand and manage potential risks associated with international research collaboration.

Export Controls: UK export controls restrict the export of goods or technology with the aim of preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and countering terrorism. The controls apply to the movement of goods or the transfer of software, data, technology or know how by any means (including electronic) to outside the UK. Where an export falls under one or more of the controls a licence may be required before any transfer can be made.

More information is available on the Research Governance pages. The R&I Research Development Executive or Impact and Knowledge Exchange contact for your application can also provide advice on pre-application due diligence requirements.