Challenges in winning research grants for early-career researchers in Pakistan – Seven things you should know

The term “early-career researchers” refers to the professionals in their first four years of research activities. Early career researchers face many challenges in funding, publications, and career progression.

By: Muhammad Haseeb Shakil

When you start a career as a researcher, you have to balance many different professional tasks. Early Career Researchers are often engaged in the community and institutional service, conducting research, presenting, and writing. The first five to six years of your career is a time when you are expected to build up your research profile and professional resume. There is pressure to secure research funding and publish articles.

Seven things you should know

1 Lack of Planning

An effective plan is vital for a research grant because it identifies and helps define your focus and objectives while also outlining your project from start to end. Effective planning is essential for applying for a grant or internal company funding. Before you start writing your proposal, you’ll have to make sure that:

  • Develop a specific, meaningful, and actionable plan for what you want to do
  • How your plan will achieve positive results?
  • You are locating an agency or organization that funds a project that you have in your mind

If you don’t think about what you will need to do it properly, you could fail, wasting your effort and those who have helped you.

2 Lack of clarity on the objectives of the research proposal

The most common issue seen in research proposals is a lack of clarity about project aims and objectives. It’s a problem that can lead to project rejection. A good project title, its aims, and clear objectives should be well explained to convince the funding agency. As a general rule of thumb, an early career researcher should aim for a fairly narrow focus that can be explained and defended easily. A researcher should also know the difference between aims (the goal) and objectives (how you’ll achieve the goal).

3 Time management

For beginners, time management might be quite challenging. Self-discipline is essential, not only in setting your timetables but also in managing family and work time. Remember, if you feel you are not quite coping with all there is in this job, try outsourcing some of it. Efficient Planning is a key to effective time management. It is best to have a structured plan in mind at the beginning of your career. Several project and planning tools are available online which helps to keep your project on track. If you don’t think through your project then it could waste your time.

4 Respect the research grant application process

Funding agencies have grant cycles, proposal deadlines, and specific areas of interest. The best proposal will not mean much to a funder whose funding priorities lie elsewhere. Likewise, a funder cannot likely provide grants outside of their standard grant application cycle, outside of a dire emergency. Contacting the funder early in the application process is also a good idea. Funders can often provide valuable insight into their priorities and processes before you submit a grant proposal. Before submission, your institutional reviewers may ask you to submit additional information, provide clarifications, or make changes to your proposal. Likewise, after you submit a proposal, a funder may have a similar ask. Always respond to comments from internal and external reviewers.

5 Lack of necessary collaborations with key stakeholders including relevant industries among others

Most projects involve various sorts of stakeholders like professional groups, advocacy groups, or business interests. Stakeholders’ involvement is extremely important for advancement in tasks of projects. Lack of stakeholder collaboration will lead to inadequately established techniques. The poor performance of your project can be a result of a lack of necessary collaborations. Stakeholders bring new knowledge and expertise from different experiences and perspectives which can elevate your project from research to widespread change. They can provide data, and resources and contributes to effective decision-making.

6 Lack of understanding of post-funding project life (sustainability)

Sustainability refers to organizations being able to maintain, projects and their benefits over a projected lifetime. Sustainability can be measured in three contexts: Financial sustainability, Organizational sustainability, and Programme sustainability. Grants are given to assist projects for a set length of time by funders. They are concerned about the project’s ability to continue after the funding period. As a result, before giving money, funders will closely examine sustainability plans. Funders seek confidence that their money will be well spent, that the funds will have a long-term impact and that the funds will continue to help the target community long after the grant has ended.

7 Misunderstanding of the relevance of the ongoing public problem

Irrelevant information cannot impress a reviewer because each reviewer has many grants to read. The involvement of irrelevant problems and irrelevant focus in the grant will lose the interest of the reviewer. The grant should have a relevant problem that impacts the community and can sustain itself over a long time. Irrelevant problems cannot impress a reviewer and it causes rejection of grants.

Author: Muhammad Haseeb Shakil

Executive Research Operations, Superior University Lahore.