What I have learnt from my first (unsuccessful) grant application!

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my first application for a research grant.

For those not into academia, it is worth mentioning that being able to attract funding has become a crucial skill for researchers and researchers-to-be.

Therefore, when I found this call for projects, I thought it could be a good opportunity for me to test my capabilities and, why not, try to get some funding for future research.

Unfortunately, my application was not successful.

No need to say I was a bit disappointed, as I believe our proposal was cool enough to be at least short-listed.

However, past is past. I did not get the grant, but I did get some useful experience… and here I am to share what I have learnt from my first unsuccessful grant application!

Grant applications are less complicated than expected.

Probably it is my Italian bias, but I was expecting tons of paperwork… I was pretty surprised and pleased to discover that the application form consisted only of two pages. The project had to be descripted in 500 words and this was indeed challenging. Yet formal requirements were minimal and this made everything easier and quicker.

Get as much information as you can

Reflecting in hindsight, I should have collected more information on the organisation awarding the grant. I wish I attended their networking events to understand what their main interests are and what projects they had been working on. This would have probably improved my application and made it more fit-for-purpose.

A good marriage requires time and effort.

One of the requirements of the call for projects was to involve at least another University and a company or SME. I thought that everyone would have been thrilled to join my project and collaborate – I mean, who would say no to the opportunity of getting some funds? The reality has been quite different. It took some time to identify and liaise with the right partners. This was probably the most challenging and formative experience, as it forced me to go out of my comfort zone and test my persuasion and negotiation skills. A great opportunity for a non-native English speaker!

Research is not cheap.

I had never thought about it until it came to estimate the costs of my research project. A lot of different factors needed to be considered while planning data collection. No, I am not talking about epistemology. It was all about asking the right questions to the right people. For example, how much is a pre-paid envelop? What is the cost of printing a glossy report? Information is key, again, and that you cannot find it in extant literature. So you just need to be a real researcher and search for the most convenient printing service in your city.

Feedback are less detailed than expected.

How many times have we been told to accept criticism and learn from others’ comments? Indeed, feedback can be extremely formative but, in this case, I was a bit disappointed. The response to my application was quite vague and I wish I had more detailed comments, to better understand the weaknesses of my project.


Overall, it was a positive experience despite the negative outcome. I am glad I tried, and I will definitely try again.

Now I have much clearer ideas of what to expect from a grant application and next time I will be able to manage the whole process more effectively. Hopefully I will get at least short-listed!

Fingers crossed and best luck to all the researchers out there applying for their first (or 100th ) grant!