Grant Writing and Reviewing Workshop

Date: 13/03/2017

The Studio, Birmingham

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Summary of the Workshop


This workshop aimed to provide training on reviewing grants, sitting on a research committee and writing successful grant applications. Prior to the meeting, delegates were assigned two real grants to review and instructions on how to do so. The meeting itself started with a morning of talks, including:

  – Talk 1 (Laura Green): Reviewing grants – providing a useful review for IMs. Strategy and why it differs from presenting a grant at a research committee

  – Talk 2 (Lisa Collins / panel discussion): Sitting on a research committee and selling a grant – presenting and defending grants

  – Talk 3 (Adam Golberg): Dealing with unsuccessful applications practically and psychologically 

  – Talk 4 (Jo Holbourn / panel discussion): What makes an application successful? (with a focus on BBSRC grants)

This was followed by a working lunch, during which delegates met the researchers they were paired with, to discuss the grants they had reviewed. During the afternoon the delegates were split into four Mock Committee Panels in which they discussed and scored up to fourteen grants in a process designed to mimic a real grant review panel. This was followed by a drinks reception, feedback on the session and an evening meal. 



Report from the meeting by Helena Telkanranta (University of Bristol)


How can you increase your chances of winning a grant? A crucial ingredient is understanding the decision-making process. Do you know how to help an introducing member of a BBSRC committee to make the most of the 10 minutes your proposal will get in the spotlight? Or how to ensure your proposal will contain the other bits needed for success besides scientific excellence?

This workshop, organized by ARWN and funded by the BBSRC, was not just another lecture on grant writing. It was a rare window into how proposals actually are reviewed and winners selected.

The participants were given the task of reviewing real proposals, after which they were guided on how to scrutinize them via the same steps as in a BBSRC decision-making process. A series of lightbulb moments were seen on the faces of the participants, not least on that of yours truly. Wow, so it really is that important to have good pilot data, collected and analysed. And a letter of support from industry does strengthen a proposal even when those companies are not pledging money. And if you want to beat another proposal that has scientific value equal to yours, you have to spell out a detailed path to the expected impacts in society – and to do so realistically. Exaggerated expectations of impact are easy to shoot down in a committee meeting.

The 60 or so participants of the workshop were of various ages and backgrounds, including many PhD students who will one day need those skills to build up a successful career. The organizers had put an impressive amount of thought into creating an engaging learning experience. Practical arrangements were excellent as well, resulting in a smooth flow of the programme. While the in-depth look focused on BBSRC, many of the key insights were equally relevant to other funding bodies. Considering the increase in the probability of one’s grant success, it is hard to imagine a more cost-efficient way of investing a day of one’s life.


Feedback from other delegates


As a PhD student who had not set eyes on a grant before, attending the AWRN grant writing and reviewing workshop provided an invaluable insight into how the grant funding process works. Being giving the opportunity to read several grants and present and score them in a mock committee really highlighted what makes a good grant and which grants are likely to get funded. I definitely feel much more well-equipped to think about writing a grant in the future!

a big thanks for the organisation of the AWRN meeting and grant writing workshop in Birmingham, I found it extremely useful” 

The workshop was really useful for focussing future applications, especially better understanding the scoring and ranking process and realising how little time is available for introducing and considering each application at Committee.