Published on 07 Dec 2023

Winning Programmatic Grants - Insights from EPSRC: Fireside Chat with Prof Dame Lynn Gladden

Held on 30 November 2023 at the Arc LT, the Fireside Chat with Prof Dame Lynn Gladden was organised by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) at NTU. The engaging dialogue session offered a comprehensive overview into the essential components for a successful grant proposal, along with prevalent trending pitfalls that should be sidestepped.

Prof Gladden shared her journey to becoming the Executive Chair of the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Along the way, she was invited to join panels alongside scientists and founders from across the nation. This experience provided her with valuable insights into how funding agencies assess the grant proposals and how various members of academic grant community perceive them.

All of us would certainly agree that the grant proposals hold immense significance for any research group, as it provides them essential funding to pursue their research, access necessary resources, and make significant contributions to their respective disciplines. Prof Gladden also shared the importance of grant proposals for EPSRC or any funding agency due to their instrumental role in fostering the advancement of science. Successful grant proposals serve as catalysts for innovation and progress by providing essential funding to support ground-breaking research and developmental projects. They not only contribute directly to scientific discoveries but also facilitate the growth of knowledge, technological advancements and the overall expansion of the scientific landscape. She mentioned it’s not solely about funding a research direction once; rather, funding agencies such as EPSRC aim to seek renewal of proposals in pursuit of moulding the future of diverse scientific fields.

Prof Dame Lynn Gladden sharing her journey to becoming the Executive Chair at EPSRC with the audience.

With this objective of putting each scientific discipline forward, there is a growing trend towards considering multidisciplinary perspectives when crafting grant proposals. To this end, Prof Gladden also offered insights into building an effective team for multidisciplinary proposals. She emphasised the importance of presenting a real compelling case. It is crucial to find the right partners whose expertise, skills and perspectives can create a comprehensive approach to address the proposed project. It is also important to collaboratively draft the grant proposal together with the partners. Regarding the review process, she highlighted how reviewers can easily discern whether the researchers in a proposal actually intend to collaborate. She shared some instances in which one of the principal investigators (PIs) lacked clarity on the proposal’s implementation.

Prof Gladden further explained the pitfalls encountered by the young academicians. She emphasised the importance of crafting proposals in an engaging manner that captivates the reader. It’s crucial not to inundate the proposal with excessive technical details, which might hinder comprehension for panelists outside the specific field. Simultaneously, overly simplistic proposals may not sufficiently address the scientific context, which is vital for field-specific reviewers. Hence, striking a balance between these two extremes is crucial. Additionally, proper allocation of funds is imperative within the grant proposal.

Prof Gladden highlighted that funding agencies prioritise excellence in scientific endeavours as well as competitiveness. It is important to acknowledge and reference global advancements within the field. Proposals shall explicitly address ongoing developments and competition, illustrating how the grant proposal stands apart from existing knowledge or initiatives.

(Left photo) Prof Sum Tze-Chien (Director, IAS) expressed gratitude to Prof Gladden and Prof Simon Redfern (Dean, College of Science, NTU), who moderated the interesting dialogue session.

(Right photo) Prof Redfern and Prof Gladden engaging in post-event discussion and interaction.

In essence, this dialogue session highlighted the importance of creating winning grant proposals through diverse viewpoints, strong teamwork, sidestepping technical complexities or oversimplification, and highlighting distinctiveness amid global advancements to secure funding from competitive funding sources.

(Front, from left) Prof Simon Redfern, Prof Dame Lynn Gladden and Prof Sum Tze-Chien with some members of the audience.

Written by: Shivam | Research Fellow, SPMS NTU