PM Perspectives: Writing your case for support

Posted by EPSRC Engineering team on 05 March 2019

For new researchers, applying for your first grant with any funding body can be daunting. We have created a series of blogs, written by EPSRC Portfolio Managers (PMs), to demystify the process and provide hints and tips for stronger applications.

If you have not applied for EPSRC funding before, our Funding Options Podcast and Funding Options Flowchart are a great starting point. Here you will find out the differences between our funding options and hear our PMs tackle some of the most common myths around funding options.

Case for Support

Typically, each proposal is allowed an eight-page Case for Support which should contain the Track Record and the Description of the Research.

Track Record

  • Two pages maximum - even when there are multiple applicants.
  • In such cases, the summary could usefully highlight previous co-working or the "fit" of research teams.
  • Make it relevant to the proposal - show peer review why you are the right people in the right place to do this work.

Description of the Research

You may want to squeeze in as much information as you can, but don't present reviewers with a wall of tightly-packed text: it's hard to read! Think carefully about what you need to include to make the case for why your research should be funded.

Pathways to Impact

Don't underestimate the importance of this document; start thinking about it when you begin writing the application - don't write it last.

  • What are your Pathways to Maximum Impact? Consider the range of impact types - academic, industry, societal and political. You do not need to list everything; it's okay for fundamental work to only impact academia. Don't oversell the impact; this suggests you haven't thought hard about it.
  • Remember the document is about pathways, not just the impact: Don't just list types of impact. Give a detailed explanation of how you will achieve them. Pathways to Impact is also about how you will generate impact above the norm.
  • Make sure the document is project specific: aim to go beyond established approaches. Be creative! Provided the resources are justified, you can ask for funding for outreach, social media, and engagement.
  • Get feedback: Ask to read colleagues' successful Pathways to Impact for inspiration and ask them to read yours.

Remember this is not a box-ticking exercise! Additional guidance is available in Impact Guidance.

Justification of Resources

The requested resources should be adequate, realistic and appropriate for the proposed research. Two sides of A4 are allowed for the Justification of Resources, but don't just repeat what's on your proposal form - explain and justify everything. Otherwise, you run the risk of delay due to proposals being returned for further clarification or resources being cut at authorisation stage. And please do check that the resources match on the Je-S form and the Justification of Resources document.

Reviewers comment both ways: a project can be considered over or under resourced. They will mention if the project is overly ambitious for the funding requested, or if you are overestimating what you need to deliver the project.

Remember:

  • Make it easy for the reviewers. Use a simple format and approach the Justification of Resources in a direct way.
  • Say what resources you want and why they are necessary.
  • Don't leave holes and leave yourself open to questioning from reviewers.
  • Ensure you've read the guidance document.

Project Partners

In standard mode, having a project partner is not a requirement. However, do consider whether your peers would consider it appropriate (or even expected) for a collaboration of some sort to be a part of your proposed research.

  • A project partner should add tangible value to the proposal, either directly or indirectly.
  • Formal project partners are asked to write a statement of support to accompany your proposal. A good statement of support can help by showing that the collaboration is genuine, and by explaining why the project partner supports the project and what they will get out of it. Statements should be relevant to the project, written by project partners when the proposal is being prepared, and dated within six months of the proposal submission date.
  • Standard letters declaring general support are often criticised by reviewers. Likewise, a generic letter that is more or less the same for all project partners on a proposal will often be considered negatively by reviewers and panel members.
  • Sometimes a collaborating organisation cannot or chooses not to be a formal project partner on a proposal. For example, this may be another department within your university, an equipment supplier offering discounts, or where organisational policy dictates how collaborations take place.
  • In exceptional circumstances, EPSRC will accept letters of support from organisations that are not listed as formal project partners. Up to three letters of support are allowed as attachments, but they can be of any length. However, these letters must demonstrate real, tangible value to the proposed research. If not, the proposal will be returned and you will be asked to remove them. Consider the quality not the quantity of letters.
  • Please do not put £0 or £1 for in-kind support; ask your project partner to estimate a (realistic) value for what they are providing.

Additional guidance can be found on the project partners letter of support page.

Schemes

Each EPSRC scheme has a different purpose and you shouldn't use a one-size-fits-all approach when applying. A great place to start is with this flowchart to determine the type of funding to apply for.

Reviewer forms and guidance may also vary from scheme to scheme and it is worth checking that you have reviewed the correct one for the scheme you are applying to.

For specific New Investigator Award guidance, please see the EPSRC New Investigator Award page.

For specific Fellowship guidance, please see the Fellowship Application Guide.

Nominated Reviewers

You have the opportunity to nominate three applicant reviewers. These should be researchers or industrialists who you feel can provide a fair assessment of your proposal. They should not be people with whom you have a conflict of interest or have mentioned within the proposal; please do not suggest people you have worked with or published with in the past.

Remember:

  • Do not ask potential reviewers if they will provide a review for you.
  • While we aim to have one applicant nominated reviewer for each proposal, this cannot be guaranteed.
  • International nominated reviewers are fine to include, as are reviewers from industry.

Experiencing the peer review assessment process from both sides - as an applicant and a reviewer or panel member - can help you better understand the evaluation process and the role of EPSRC in facilitating it.

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of three members of the EPSRC Engineering team
Name: EPSRC Engineering team
Section / Team: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC

A note from the authors:

As EPSRC Portfolio Managers, we each oversee a different community within our main research theme and although the research areas may differ, the questions we receive are often the same. We thought it would be beneficial to share what we have learned through managing the peer review process and convening panels and we hope you find this a useful addition to what is already on the website.

This advice was written by Engineering Portfolio Managers, but is applicable to other EPSRC themes. The information is correct at time of publishing in February 2019.