10 Reasons Why Academics Feel That Writing Successful Funding Applications Is Impossible (And 10 Actions To Solve The Problem)

Man holding head in hands in despair

Research growth is accelerated by acquiring external funding. Both research quality and volume increases as the additional income can fund specialist equipment and staffing to build greater research capability and capacity.

However, not every academic exploits the opportunities afforded by external funding.

Here are ten reasons why academics don’t write funding applications:

Reason 1. Time Constraints

Writing a funding application requires a significant amount of time and effort, which can be challenging for academics who have a heavy teaching and administration workload.

They may find it difficult to commit the necessary time to prepare a high-quality application.

Action: Encourage staff to align their research and teaching interests, changing the curriculum to become research-led. This will save time for the academic and also improve the student experience.

Also, run workshops to show academics how to manage their time in such a way that they can make better use of the resources they already have access to.

Reason 2. Lack Of Confidence

Writing a funding application requires excellent writing skills and the ability to communicate research ideas effectively.

Academics who lack confidence in their writing abilities may struggle to produce a strong application, leading them to give up.

Alternatively, some academics may feel that their research ideas are not innovative enough to be competitive in the funding process.

Action: Raise awareness of existing research and ask previous applicants to share their research proposal documentation.

Consider the targeted use of external coaches to help academics overcome self-limiting beliefs.

Alternatively, develop an environment where managers adopt a coaching approach.

Reason 3. Insufficient Research Background

Some funding opportunities require a track record of successful research, and academics who do not have sufficient experience in their field may feel discouraged from applying.

Action: Support senior academics to collaborate on research proposals with junior academics to help build experience and evidence of funded research.

Also, encourage staff to apply for smaller research projects where they can demonstrate that they can manage the whole research life-cycle. This can increase the confidence of funding assessment panels in the future.

Reason 4. Difficulty Developing A Research Question

The application process often requires a clear research question, and academics who struggle to develop one may give up.

Action: Consider improving internal research supervision training for academic staff and provide incentives for academics to supervise PhD students.

Reason 5. Difficulty Finding Partners

Some funding opportunities require collaboration with other researchers or institutions.

Academics who struggle to find suitable partners may give up on the application.

Action: Provide financial support for academic staff to attend conferences and network.

Reason 6. Overwhelming Application Requirements

Some funding applications require a significant amount of information and documentation, and academics who find the requirements overwhelming may give up.

Action: Provide access to previous funding applications and develop ‘research buddying’ with more experienced staff.

Reason 7. Fear Of Rejection

Applying for funding can be a competitive process, and there’s always a risk of rejection.

Some academics may fear rejection and feel discouraged before even starting the application process, leading them to give up.

Action: Support staff to apply for small amounts of funding such as travel grants or regional development funding.

Reason 8. Perceived Bias

Some academics may feel that the funding process is biased towards certain research areas or institutions, leading them to believe that their application will not be successful.

Action: Support any academic who makes a funding application, and make that support visible to other academics in the organisation.

Reason 9. Lack Of Familiarity With Funding Opportunities

There are many funding opportunities available, and it can be challenging for academics to stay up-to-date with them all.

Academics who are not aware of relevant funding opportunities or have difficulty finding the information they need to complete the application may give up.

Action: Subscribe to services that collate opportunities from different funding sources. Create a practice whereby academics share news of funding calls.

Reason 10. Lack Of Support

Some academics may not receive enough support from their institution or colleagues to help them with the application process, leading them to give up.

Action: Identify services that can assist academics submit funding applications, such as costing, project management and reporting requirements. Create an environment that enables academic staff to concentrate on their academic contribution.