Last week was a week I had been looking forward to for a while. I spend three of the days attending a training event called Leap into Research hosted by Edinburgh Napier University. The event was designed for all researchers (not just research students) and aimed to give training on various topics from how to search literature down to how to go about spending money from successful funding bids. The event comprised of workshops, briefings, panel discussions and lectures on these topics and I can say that some caught my eye more than others when they were advertised. I decided, however, to register for them all and was able to attend all sessions but two. I am going to share some of my thoughts here for those who were unable to attend, however, as the sessions were quite detailed, this blog post will be the first of two discussing the event. I won’t go into major detail about the programme itself as I wrote 24 pages of hand-written notes and really, those are for me. You can, however, find out the session details on their blog listed above, but I will group some of the sessions together and explore what I learned so that those interested in future training sessions know what to possibly expect.
We were firstly welcomed by Professor Andrea Nolan, our Principal & Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University. She explained the importance of attending events like the Leap into Research, and emphasised the importance of talking to your fellow researchers. So this kind of set the standards for the research training itself…
A major theme within the first two mornings was funding – more importantly how to get funding. Our presenters discussed firstly how to get UK funding and then moved onto EU funding in the next session. So if you are looking for funding in the UK, you might start your search by looking at Research Councils and charitable trusts (for example Cancer Research if your research is a suitable topic). Now this is not very different to what I would advise my callers when I was a carers adviser. Many individuals called up about funding for masters degrees and research degrees so this is basically where I started too. Now obviously, bidding for post-doctoral funding would be slightly different, but out presenters explained about a search engine called Research Professional where you can see what funding is available and even search specific criteria to see if you are eligible. For the search, it was pointed out that you need to have good search terms. Putting in generic words will not being up all that you need but searching systematically and appropriately might. Now your university will need to pay for this service and it does cost a lot, so if you are unsure of whether you university has access to this, it might be best speaking to whoever is in charge of funding within the institution as they will be able to direct you to the service the institution uses.
When moving onto the EU funding, Horizon 2020 stood out for me. Basically, Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research innovation programme (2014-2020). It supports excellence in science, industrial leadership and societal changes so funding schemes lie within these research subjects. The website hold a lot of information on what Horizon 2020 also so what is funding is available. So it is a really good idea to take a look and see what the ‘topic descriptions’ each funding source suggests as to what projects might fit the remit.
Over the two sessions, we got some sound advice:
- Read the guidelines for funding, regardless of whether it is UK or EU. This will state what the funding can be used for and then you can decide if it is appropriate to apply with your research team.
- Speak to your research lead or director of studies about funding opportunities – they may know more about what is available than you do.
- Contact your research and innovation leader. They will help see what is available and explore options with you.
- Start early – most funding opportunities need time for a proposal or bid to be written so allow plenty of time for this to happen.
- In your project proposal, you will need to explain a research plan and also what impact your research has so these are important issues to discuss with your team.
- Use straight forward and concise language – often the readers do not have English as their first language so the less complicated it is the better.
- Try and get some form of feedback on your application before it is submitted (maybe peer-reviewed?). This way, you can make improvements before you submit and this will give you a better chance of success if the reviewers do not see a lot of simple errors within the writing.
We also had a lot of training on the practicalities of research. We learned the meaning of copyright and what to do when citing sources within your work. Our presenter explained what the law states about copyright and explored what rights we have as researchers. Basically, if we produce something ourselves, we have the right to say if anyone else can use it or not. But it we use someone else’s work, we must cite this appropriately and reference the source of information so readers know it is not ours. We also learned that journals have their own copyright agreements so when thinking of submitting to a journal, you need to read what their copyright agreement as this may influence whether you can share your work with others or not. I also found out that academic institutions do not own copyright of books and journals (if you publish in them). However, if you are employed and have something published /create an idea, then the employer themselves may want copyright if you were their employee at the time. Copyright also lasts a long time, 70 years after the death of the creator to be precise. So if you are thinking about using a dead person’s work without citing it – think again as this could be under the copyright law that you need to check.
We also learned how to cost our research project and the procurement involved in spending successful money. Now each university will have a procurement team just like ours so it is best to speak to your director of studies to explore regulations around this. However, we all know that we need to cost a research project, no matter how big or small the project might be. We were given an example of a research project and our task was to cost it. I was very surprised at the things that need to be considered from direct costs form the project to indirect and estate costs incurred form the project being taken on. This linked in well with the funding that we had discussed earlier. Some funders will only fund certain aspects of research projects (like those directly incurred). By using a comparison between the Research Councils and charities discussed earlier, we found that there are major differences in what some funding bodies will pay and what some will not. We also learned the difference between ‘cost’ and ‘price’ which shocked me a little as I did not know there was one:
- Cost is the total cost the university pays for the whole project.
- Price is the amount of money you request for funding.
The session on building collaborative research projects was one of my favourites, not only because I have worked on a collaborative project before but because I know how petty some projects can get when people start to fight! We learned where to initiate collaborations, including conferences, seminars, network groups and social / online networks and these can either initiate ideas of become full research projects in themselves. More importantly, we discussed the benefits and risks of collaborations and these are detailed below:
- Enhancement of knowledge as individuals form different backgrounds collaborate.
- Gain training in new areas.
- Increased access to equipment.
- Increase funding and publication profile.
- Developing your research network.
- Need to think if you can work with the team.
- It takes longer to put together a plan of action.
- You need to develop a collaboration agreement.
- Who is first author on publications?
- Disclosure of conflicts of interest?
- Who gets copyright / intellectual property?
- You might need to get a project manager if there are numerous people there.
This section of training linked in well with the discussions of engaging with businesses. Sometimes businesses support research projects if they are going to get something out of it (such as recognition, a product etc) but they may not if their reputation suffers damage. To work with businesses, you need to be aware of business interaction and the purpose of involvement. The business may have different ideas of involvement to what you think. Benefits of including businesses is that they being funding, which could be vital to keeping the research going. You might have accesses to additional sources of material but you do need to ensure that your interests meet and that you (or the business) are no getting involved for underhanded reasons (you know, some people might do it just for the money!). There also needs to be a frank discussion about Intellectual Property (IP) and whose idea is whose. I really liked this session as I felt it was (partly) relevant. My research is funded by Skills Development Scotland so I have to ensure that I work in line with their company goals and objectives, and involve them in the process. I also need to ensure that they are mentioned on presentations as funders and that my work does not give negative publicity to them as they are one of the main beneficiaries of the output form my work. So in reality, although I am not working with a business as such, I am working with an organisation who are very involved in my research and who I need to consider throughout.
So that is it for Leap into Research Part 1. We did cover a lot more within each session but as I say, I physically could not fit every detailed point into one blog post so I felt a quick overview of my learnings was best.
Part 2 will follow…