Researchers at Aston were awarded £13m of new research awards during the last financial year (2009/10), representing the largest ever yearly total for the University. Aspects spoke to Sally Puzey, Head of the Research Support Office to find out more about this success and what the University has done to achieve it.
“One of the most important factors has been the overwhelming surge in enthusiasm shown across all four Schools,” Sally tells me. “Staff have responded positively to the targets set out in the 2012 strategy and this enthusiasm and willingness to apply for funding has paid off . This year really has been a wonderful success in proving the excellent capabilities of researchers at Aston supported by the Research Support Office.”
The RSO supports all aspects of research grant applications and contract negotiation. RSO staff offer advice on finding funders, developing funding strategies, drafting proposals and calculating budgets, as well as providing comprehensive support for the negotiation of research contracts.
Two years ago, the University appointed a Research Development Manager (RDM) in each School and Sally believes this has been crucial to increasing success rates. The RDMs facilitate the process of applying for research grants, offer expert knowledge on what to apply for, and help to target applications for specific funding bodies. There has been notable success in this area in the School of Life & Health Sciences, which has created an ‘expertise directory’. “The directory connects researchers with peers who have experience with the targeted funding body, in order to offer tips and advice,” Sally explains. “This specialist knowledge is invaluable and proves how advantageous it is for an academic to become a panel member or peer reviewer. The knowledge gained from these positions provides a real insight into how a funder works, and this, together with the expert advice provided by RDMs, can really make the difference when it comes to getting a proposal funded.
A greater importance has also been placed on more formal internal peer review within the Schools. Sally tells me: “Getting a colleague to critically review your research proposal will help iron out any queries or inconsistencies before it is formally assessed. This is the best way of polishing a proposal before it is submitted and we have found this to be instrumental to Aston’s growing success .”
Sally is also proud of the “fantastic success researchers have had with the prestigious Research Council first grant schemes.” These schemes provides new academics with their first research grant to manage, providing valuable experience of running a research project. Last year two academics in EAS won these awards from EPSRC: Dr Ming Lim and Dr Dani Strickland. “We have also had excellent success with BBSRC applications, including a first grant awarded to Dr Stephen Hall, and an overall success rate of 33% compared to the overall average institutional success rates of 22%.”
To help address the particular challenges of applying for EU funding, the RSO received funding from the Strategic Investment Fund last year to buy in specialist EU support to develop proposals to the European Commission. As a result, Aston has submitted a massive 13 applications for Marie Curie Fellowships, compared to three in previous rounds. Further funding is available for supprting EU proposals this year, and RDMs have full details of how to access funds
Looking to the future Sally believes that “the coming year is going to be an even greater challenge for the Research Support Office and researchers at Aston. We expect Research Council and government funding to be reduced and competition is going to be fierce for remaining funds. However, we are starting from a position of strength. The huge amount of enthusiasm for securing research funding is evident across the University from the massive numbers of applications we have seen this year and our growing track record in securing external funds is going to be crucial too.”
Please get in touch with staff in the Research Support Office for further information or to discuss any aspect of applying for research grant funding. The Research Support Office is located in G53 of the main building, and RDMs also have a base in the Schools.
Sally Puzey, Head of Research Support Office (ext. 4243, S.A.Puzey@aston.ac.uk)
Jane Crier, Research Development Management (ABS) (ABS 625, ext. 4273, J.Crier@aston.ac.uk)
Brian Elliott, Contracts and Risk Assessment Officer (ext. 4238, B.W.Elliott@aston.ac.uk)
Paul Knobbs, Research Development Management (EAS) (EAS School Office, ext. 4150, P.R.Knobbs@aston.ac.uk)
Kevin O’Reilly, Grants Officer and RDM for LSS (ext. 4241, K.D.Oreilly@aston.ac.uk)
Karen Woodhall, Research Development Management (LHS) (MB 560, ext. 4616, K.A.Woodhall@aston.ac.uk)
More resources to support research grants and contracts can be found on the RSO intranet.
Words by Louise Russell