Feedback on 2019-10 Outline Research Project Grant applications

We closed for outline applications to our Research Project Grant scheme on 17th May and received over 85 applications. We recently let applicants know whether they had been invited to submit a full application and, once again, we received many more applications that we can possibly fund.

Applications were assessed primarily in terms of:

  • How well they fit within the Trust’s funding remit and how they would be addressing the Trust’s strategic objectives and funding priorities
  • How they would help to expand and/or sustain capacity in the Trust’s area of focus
  • Their ‘pathway to impact’ plan detailing how the project would make a difference to understanding the mechanisms of ageing, treating age-related diseases and improving the lives of older people and the time-frame in which it would do so.

Characteristics of unsuccessful applications:

  • Not mentioning the Trust or its strategic objectives. Please don’t assume that because your project is investigating an age-related disease that this immediately ticks the box for this question. We want to see that you have proactively engaged with the Trust’s funding priorities and strategic plan and considered how your project will address these.
  • Limited alignment with the Trust’s funding remit and strategic objectives. A number of applications described projects which appeared to have been shoehorned into the remit of research into age-related diseases and frailty and/or improving the care and support of older people.
  • Giving generic statements on sustaining and/or expanding research capacity in the Trust’s area of focus. Successful applications gave specific examples of how research careers would be supported for the project duration, including mentoring, formal training etc. as well as linking to wider institutional frameworks and support – for example, the Athena Swan status of the department and other opportunities for training and development. Please don’t use this question as a space to provide career overviews of the principal investigator and co-investigators. Instead, provide specific examples of support which will be provided for them and the wider research team.
  • Generic or unrealistic ‘pathway to impact’ statements. The impact statement is a great opportunity for you to show why the research you are doing is important and the impact you plan for it to have. Please avoid using generic statements and provide a credible impact plan, including specific examples of actions you will be taking to achieve the impacts described and the time-frame in which these are likely to occur. Whilst you will have the opportunity to provide further detail if you are invited to submit a full application, the information you provide in your outline application should give some comfort that detailed thought has been given as to how the results of the work will influence the wider research, policy and practice communities and whether different approaches are needed for different audiences. You should demonstrate an understanding that impacts can be supported through a range of diverse activities, beyond traditional dissemination, and can become manifest at different stages of the research process.
  • Lack of consideration given to Patient and Public Involvement (PPI). For basic science proposals we understand that it may not be appropriate to involve older people directly in the research, but it is important to still consider how older people will be engaged with the study and findings. For social science applications, what is the proposed focus of interest and value to older people? Have they said so? Have they been part of the design and is the PPI genuine, i.e. are older people partners rather than just subjects?
  • Lack of novelty/innovation in research objectives and methods. As stated in the Trust’s 2017-2020 strategic plan, our attitude to risk backs well-designed research which is imaginative, novel and acknowledges that the complexity of issues involved often need a multidisciplinary approach if it is to have real and positive impact on the lives of older people. Projects which demonstrated these qualities were assessed more favourably. If your project was not considered to be sufficiently novel it was not invited to the next stage.
  • Few or no references provided. It is important that you demonstrate that your project is building upon current knowledge in the area and that there is evidence to support your assertions and rationale, or that you have generated preliminary data which supports your project objectives.
  • Not representing good value-for-money. Please ensure that all costs have been checked with your finance department and that INVOLVE rates are used for PPI-related costs and that costs for health and social care research are correctly attributed using AcoRD guidance, when applicable.
  • Not providing sufficient justification for collaborations. The Trust is keen to support projects which bring together multidisciplinary teams. However, it should be made clear what added value is provided by collaborating with other researchers/research teams, particularly if they are overseas.
  • Not striking a balance between being succinct and giving enough detail. Assessors appreciate when applicants are focused and succinct in their answers, however, if you have only written 2/3 lines, answers are unlikely to have enough depth to properly address the question.
  • Typos and obviously cut-and-pasted sections – please make sure that you read through the application before submitting (do make sure all the questions have been answered!) and try to avoid copying sections from the abstract into other questions. This gives the impression that you have not properly engaged with the question and often results in answers not reflecting what we are looking for. Although an application will not be rejected because of typos, it does make an application look less professional if there are frequent and obvious typos. It is also important to avoid using outdated terms when referring to older people.
  • Research projects which were at PhD rather than post-doctoral level. The focus of the Research Project Grant scheme is for post-doctoral research. The Trust does provide Research Training Fellowships for PhD level study, more details of which can be found on the website.

All in all, is this work that you really want to do and think really needs to be done?