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If I had known then what I know now! Tips to help with applications to fund conference and fieldwork costs

If I had known then what I know now! Tips to help with applications to fund conference and fieldwork costs

By George Carayannopoulos

Funding research expenses including field work and travel can be one of the mysteries of being a research student; there is a wide array of funding sources, ranging from your department or research institute to conference organisers, professional bodies and the odd funding bequest left by generous donors. These funding opportunities can help take you around the world to a conference or around the corner to help with fieldwork expenses- and are invaluable in helping you to complete your degree. They are also great on your CV and show that you’ve gotten out there and taken the initiative on sourcing funding for your own project. Increasingly, however, these funding sources are becoming more competitive and it’s important for research students to be able to put themselves at the top of the pecking order.  These five tips aim to help you to think about how to approach these opportunities and improve your chances of success.

1.      The early bid catches the worm:


We’ve all heard this before right? Try and start early with your application- this is a good thing for a number of reasons. In case the unexpected happens and you run out of time to submit, starting early is a good way to making sure that you have got an application in and are in it to win it. Starting early also helps you to do a couple of things; it helps you to review, iron out any kinks and remove typos or incoherent arguments that assessment panels hate. 

Perhaps more importantly, starting early also gives you time to have your application reviewed by someone else - this can be a friend, colleague, supervisor or someone with experience on review panels or who has been successful with the same scheme in the past. Learning from the experiences of others is a great way to avoid common pitfalls and improve your chance of getting funded. If you ask nicely and have friendly colleagues they may be willing to share their actual application with you; if you have the same opportunity in the future, it is great to pay this goodwill forward to others.

2.      Be a strategist, you are the master of your own destiny:

Taking a strategic approach to your funding requests can help you maximise the impact when you are awarded funding.

Think carefully about the types of funding sources available, check the conditions and know the rules about how many times you can be awarded, whether a scheme covers full costs or whether it needs to be co-funded from another source. The last thing you want to do is get partially funded and work out that you have a massive shortfall. 

You might want to think carefully about the best time to apply for funding: whilst it may be great to attend an international conference in year one, it may be better to hold off until you have more results and analysis to speak of in later years. This may also help if you are in the academic job market, whereby you can maximise exposure to your research when you will most need it.

A similar logic can also be applied to fieldwork: factor in the time that you may need for ethics applications and when it is likely that you will need to be out in the field (some schemes tie your expenditure to the year of award). It would be a shame to not be able to claim back the full amount that you have been awarded.

3.      Write with impact for the biggest bang:


One of the common assumptions that is made is that everyone on a ranking or review panel for a funding application will be an expert in your given field. Whilst this may be true in a limited number of cases, the reality is that most reviewers may be from a related or even completely unrelated field. This means that when putting together a funding application you need to keep in mind how you can best write for impact and convey what you are doing and why it is important. The fictitious example below is intended to demonstrate this:

My research is focussed on looking at the way in which communities in the American mid-west were mobilised during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to assist in Donald Trump being elected as President. I would like to present my findings to date at the American Political Science Association Conference.


Understanding how rural communities mobilise in political campaigns has become relevant in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. My research examines these trends in order to understand the implications around campaigning for future elections. I have had a paper accepted at the American Political Science Association Conference which is the premier political science conference in the world. Attendance at the conference will allow me to present my work to an expert audience, receive feedback and network with the community of scholars in my field.

4.      Budget your way to success

Most, if not all funding schemes will require you to put together a detailed budget and justification behind your funding request. When putting this together ask yourself some of the following key questions:

-          Is the budget realistic?
-          Have you factored in the full costs of items in your budget?
-          Is the budget request within the scheme guidelines?
-          Are there other ways to achieve the objective of the funding request in case you are not funded?

These simple questions get to the heart of most issues that are presented in terms of budgets and that sometimes lead to the outright rejection of applications. Treat budget requests as you would planning a personal budget or travel that you may do: be thorough and show the review panel that you will maximise the return on investment if you are funded.

5.      Try, try and then try again

Some funding schemes will have high success rates and some may have very low ones- so last but not least, and this really gets at the heart of most funding requests that researchers will make, remember to be persistent and if you are unsuccessful reapply in future rounds (having learned from the first attempt). Also keep in mind that you are aren’t successful with one funding body it’s important to look at alternate funding sources: make sure that you are on the right mailing lists, follow the relevant organisations in social media and ask colleagues around you what kinds of opportunities they are aware of. For example, your institution may subscribe to something like Research Professional and/or research officers, graduate schools and research managers are good people to get to know. 

As well as being invaluable to cover conference and fieldwork costs, these funding requests also serve as an experience to prepare you for the future: in the current academic world this includes grant and funding applications. If you pursue a career in industry, government or the non-government sector at some stage you’ll be asked for business cases around projects that you’d like to see funded.

Finally, if you are successful make the most of the experience- network, meet people or learn the skills that will help you complete your degree. Having your costs covered with part of your research is a great opportunity and it pays to make every post a winner!

About George Carayannopoulos

George Carayannopoulos holds a PhD in Public Policy, during his degree he combined his love of travel with his research and was funded to do this along the way. His article looks at tips and strategies to help students get funded for conferences and other expenses to help make the most of their experience.

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