A friend of mine who works at a large central European university recently got in touch. He was pleased to announce that he had just secured major funding for his research: €200,000. Just one problem: he had applied,and budgeted, for €250,000. That’s what he thought the project would cost over three years, to hire PhD students and a postdoctoral researcher, and perform experiments, travel and present at conferences, as well as paying for publication charges. Bear in mind that most universities will take what’s called ‘an overhead’ out of research grants that has either been budgeted for or that comes out of indirect costs to pay for administration and other intangibles such as computer and internet costs. This can be as high as 50% or 60% at some US institutions, believe it or not.
Needless to say, my friend was a little stressed out: budget cuts by funding agencies at the start of grants put principal investigators (PIs) in very difficult positions. Imagine: you’ve carefully prepared a project to run over a number or years, budgeted all the equipment and personnel you need, written a high-quality proposal, workplan, and budget justification (with help from Charlesworth Author Services, of course) and succesfully secured the funding only to receive a follow-up award letter with an ‘offer’ of 20% less money overall.
What to do? You run the risk, especially in certain experimental fields, of starting the project but being unable to complete all the necessary work. This could make you look bad to the funding agency or result in fewer, or lower quality, published outputs. Running a grant as a PI also takes a huge amount of time, as it involves managing a team and taking care of all necessary administration and paperwork. What happens if a funded proposal does not result in outputs? You might end up wasting years of otherwise active research time.
The alternative choice, as in my friend’s case, can be just as bad. He was wondering whether, or not, to turn down his funding offer because of the budget cut: simply, he did not feel he would be able to get the work done, to a high enough quality and on time, with 20% less money. But how would his university react to this decision? Academics are always under pressure to generate funding these days, often even more so than to write and publish high-quality papers. Is it even possible (i.e. a good idea career-wise) to turn down a funding offer? The pressure on early-career researchers to gain a permanent academic post can be overwhelming. Of course, the situation can always be worse: I once had a research grant funded only to see 18% of the budget trimmed by the agency at the end of the first of three years. That was a major problem but luckily our university stepped in and reimbursed some of the costs back to the grant from their overhead.
What did my friend decide to do? Well, he wrote emails to all of his colleagues named as collaborators on the funded project and asked for their suggestions on how to trim their budget. He communicated from the outset and was open and honest about the situation. He trusted people and so received a range of positive responses including ‘well, I don’t really need to attend that conference so you can delete that item from the budget’ and ‘it’s possible I can contribute some funding from my university towards the cost of that item of equipment’. The result is that the team will perform this research, even with 20% less funding. An positive outcome for all concerned.
Our Charlesworth consultancy services can assist in such situations; we can help you to edit your budget and proposal and, thus, manage expectations in terms of grant outcomes. A lot of this can be down to communication: Charlesworth Knowledge workshops, booked via institutions, can help you to write effective emails, project updates, and reports to funding agencies.
Contact us today to learn more about how our services can help you take the first steps towards a successful funding application.