Fifth Annual Meeting of the AWRN – Grant Writing and Reviewing Workshop

Date: 02/07/2020




Sadly the Fifth Annual Meeting of the AWRN, due to take place on 2nd to 3rd July 2020 in Birmingham, had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   The Grant Writing and Reviewing workshop element of the meeting took place on Wednesday 16th September and due to COVID-19 restrictions was undertaken on Zoom, with delegates linking in from several countries. 


Mike Mendl (Network Lead) welcomed everyone to the meeting and then introduced Luke Williams from BBSRC, who described the purpose of the workshop and gave an overview of what to expect from the mock grant committee process. The mock grant committees are a key element of the workshop, designed to replicate the BBSRC grant selection process and give the delegates a clear picture of how grants are chosen for funding. 50 delegates had registered for the event, so we set up five committees which would each review 10 real animal welfare grants, giving each delegate the chance to lead on one grant. Each committee required a Chair and we were really fortunate that Keelin O’Driscoll, Rick D’Eath, Karen Spencer, John Tarlton and Dorothy McKeegan agreed to do this. They all have experience of sitting on BBSRC panels so were able to make the process as realistic as possible. In advance of the meeting the delegates each reviewed two of the grants following the BBSRC protocols and everyone on the Committee read as many of the ten grants as they could. Although this was a lot of work before the workshop had even started and they often underestimated how long it would take, many delegates commented on how worthwhile they felt this process was. 

On the day, we set up a Zoom breakout room for each committee, where the Chairs and admin officers went through each of the ten grants, asking the two delegates that reviewed each grant to introduce it to the rest of the committee and then inviting general discussion. A score was agreed for each grant in turn and by the end of the 3 hours each committee was able to rank their grants in order of their scores. It was clear from the feedback that the delegates found this element of the workshop extremely useful and well worth the effort they had put in before the event. 

The delegates then took a well-earned lunch break, before joining us on Zoom webinar for an afternoon of presentations and question and answer sessions. Luke Williams kicked this off by describing what has changed in BBSRC Committees since the reviewed grants were submitted (it was not possible to source grants from the most recent submission round) and how this might affect applications. He then gave a short presentation on “What makes a grant application successful”, which was followed by a Q&A panel on the same topic with Luke, Keelin O’Driscoll, Rick D’Eath, Dorothy McKeegan and Carole Fureix. They answered an array of questions from the delegates, including how scores are adjusted for new investigators, whether letters of support make much difference and how the research councils being combined will affect the process.

We were then joined by John Tregoning from Imperial College London who gave an inspiring talk on how to deal with unsuccessful applications titled “Fail Better”. John gave us an amusing insight into his career, discussed points at which he has wanted to quit, highlighted some of the positives about a career in research, discussed resilience and learning how to fail and reminded us that it is just a job and that we can change things if we want to. John finished by pointing us in the direction of some interesting reading materials to help us gain a positive mindset.

After a tea break the delegates returned for a final talk given by Jacqui Oakley (Research Development Manager at University of Bristol) on how the process differs with other funding bodies. Jacqui gave an excellent introduction covering different funding bodies and types of funding and giving everyone a summary of top tips for the review processes. This was followed by a Q&A panel on the subject with Jacqui, Luke, Huw Golledge (UFAW), Keelin O’Driscoll, Dorothy McKeegan and Rick D’Eath. They fielded questions on whether funding should be allocated randomly to grants meeting a certain quality, what it means if your application is pushed to the next panel meeting and whether other funding bodies provide feedback.

Screenshot of the panel for one of the afternoon sessions. We had fantastic feedback from the delegates who particularly benefitted from the mock grant panels. We are grateful to all those who contributed their time to assist with the event, particularly Luke Williams and all the Chairs. 

All the talks were either recorded or the slides made available and are being uploaded to the website, members can find them by logging in to this website (link in top right corner) and click on the Meeting Presentations drop down menu.