By Faye Boswell, Research Grants officer at Alzheimer’s Society
At the Alzheimer’s Society we are dedicated to transforming the lives of everyone affected by dementia through funding discoveries in dementia diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Our research programme provides research grants for all career levels across our biomedical and care, services and public health streams.
It’s no secret that the grant funding rounds are competitive. Last year only 15% of project grant applications were funded. Our rigorous review process and involvement of people affected by dementia through our Research Network volunteers at every stage ensures we are spending the public’s donations on the very best research.
I once heard one of our researchers say that you have to develop a thick skin to deal with the rejections in academia.
As a grant’s officer, the worst part of my job is sending the rejection emails every 6 months, knowing how much time and effort has gone into each application
There can be several reasons why your grant just missed out on being funded. We explore the most common pitfalls below.
1. Not building the right team
One factor which may contribute to a unsuccessful application is not having the relevant dementia research expertise in your team. This often results in poor study design and a lack of experience of working with people affected by dementia. Overall this can lead to a project that has less impact. Weaker applications tend to have low publication productivity, lack of clarity around roles and how the team will work together.
Creating a strong team is especially important in PhD Studentship and Fellowship applications where the funding Board need to be convinced that the applicant will be well supported throughout their project.
To strengthen this part of your application, check all of your co-applicants CVs are fully completed and provide plenty of details of everyone’s roles and contribution including their experience of working in the field of dementia research. We want to encourage researchers from other fields to apply, so ensuring you are connecting with experienced dementia researchers will significantly improve your chances.
2. Weak engagement and dissemination plans
This part of the application is commonly overlooked, especially in the biomedical applications we receive. Having strong engagement and dissemination plans will ensure that you have a well-designed study which reaches the relevant target audiences, so your findings can have impact.
Weaker applications do not know who their target audience is, are unclear of what they want to achieve and focus only on the activity and not the changes or impact that will result from the project.
We suggest that you have clear outcomes, outputs and impacts you are hoping to achieve. Additionally it’s useful to include plans to ensure you will be engaging with the relevant knowledge users such as policy makers, clinicians and commissioners where relevant.
3. Relevance to 850,000 people affected by dementia and their loved ones
Underestimating the lay summary section can really set your application back against the rest. As well as peer review, we send your lay summaries for review with our Research Network volunteers. Our volunteers all have person experience of dementia, living with the condition or as a carer or former carer and often do not have a scientific background. Their comments and scores help decide whether your application is shortlisted.
After this stage, our Research Network grant advisory panels feed into the final funding decisions. The lay reviewers have a different perspective to the peer and Board reviewers and determine whether they think your research is of high priority to people affected by dementia.
Making sure your lay summary is accessible to all audiences and outlines how your project will help improve the lives of people affected by dementia will improve your chances of success
Research Network top tips on writing a lay summary:
- Include a glossary and avoid using jargon language
- Use plain English and avoid the passive voice
- Include a simple introduction outlining why this area of study is important
- Ask yourself why the lay community need to know
- Ask a family member or friends to read through your lay summary before you submit
- Have you described context and other work in the field?
Every application that is submitted is unique and there is no one right way to build a grant proposal. If in doubt, you can have a look through our applicant guidance for help.
To find out more about our grant application process please visit our website, or email our grants team with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.