Grant Proposal Writing & Opportunities in Obesity Research


Dr Amy Ahern, obesity and diabetes specialist, shares expert advice with early career professionals on grant proposal writing and finding funding opportunities in obesity research. More information here.


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To kick us off for this session today as part of the Early Career Network's online e-learning series and Amy, who needs no introduction and I promise this will be a very interesting and informative session today. Amy's going to talk to us about grant writing and obtaining funding. So Amy, I'd like to hand over to you and I actually didn't even introduce myself, it's Niamh Arthur here from the ASL Early Career Network, but for now it's over to Dr Amy Ahern and thanks so much everybody for joining.

Thanks Niamh, so yeah I'm Amy Ahern, I'm from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and my research is focused a lot on development and evaluation of behavioural interventions for obesity and I'm going to talk to you a little bit about grant writing and obtaining funding and I'm going to start off, oh that's not working, there we go, I'm going to start off just by telling you a little bit about my background in terms of obtaining research funding. So I've been relatively successful for somebody of my career stage, I've had about £8 million worth of research funding as Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator and that's been a mix of small grants and trial grants but also programmatic funding from the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research. But what's important is the things that you won't see on my CV which is the three unsuccessful fellowship applications I submitted, the too many to number unfunded grant applications and the project ideas that never even made it over the line to being submitted and the planned studies that just never happened.

And the reason that's important is because every senior academic you know, even the scary ones with multi-million dollar institutes to their name, have a list of unsuccessful grant applications. There are loads, the funding is very competitive and lots of very good projects don't get funded and that's not said to discourage you, good projects are more likely to get funded but it's just to sort of let you know the sort of context of what I'm telling you today isn't you follow these things you will get funded, it's just a way of massively increasing your chances of your project being funded. So what I'm going to talk through is a little bit about developing a fundable project then preparing your application and writing that application which I kind of see as two distinct things, a very little bit about post-submission if we've got time and then hopefully leave plenty of time for Q&A discussion at the end.

So in terms of developing a fundable project you obviously need to start with a big idea and that needs to be novel, something people haven't already done but I think it's important that we don't just focus on novelty as being sufficient, so you often see people saying well no one's ever looked at this problem with this exact method before so I'm going to do that. Well why have they never done that before? Maybe it's not a good idea or what is the big difference that using your method looking at this question in that way is actually going to add? So in terms of an important and soluble question that importance needs to be really key, what is the new knowledge that you are going to generate through doing your project, why is it important and what difference will it make and to whom? So think about the end user of your research because that's what funders are interested in, investing money for research that's going to have impact, so you need to spell out right from the beginning of your idea what difference is this going to make to knowledge and who might be the end users. You then need to think about what you're actually going to deliver, so grants need to be ambitious, that's why we need money to do them because it's taken us another step to do a big project that you couldn't just do sort of with the odd coffers down the back of the sofa or part of your normal day-to-day job, but it actually also needs to be feasible.

So funders don't want to just hand over a load of money for a really ambitious project unless they think they're going to get something useful out of it at the end, so you have to have a very clear aim, specific objectives about what you're going to achieve, how does each study or work stream within your project help you to meet those objectives, what does success look like at the end, what you know if your project has been successful, how are you going to know that, what will you have been able to achieve, and to really nail down what are the tangible outputs at the end of that grant, that's what the fund is paying for, not the process but what you can deliver at the end of it. You also need to think about who you're going to work with and even if it's a personal fellowship, but certainly if it's a more collaborative team grant, you need to, it's not a solitary activity and you need to think about who's going to help you to deliver your big idea, what are the knowledge, skills and experience that are needed, it's very unlikely you have all of them, so who else might be able to provide that knowledge and expertise, be that as a mentor, a collaborator, a co-investigator, and when we think about that, we often like to think about track record and that's a big thing for funders, if somebody's got a track record of delivering, that gives them that bit of confidence that you'll be able to deliver the next project, but being a big name is not enough, don't be tempted to just add professors who've got big names to your funding application, this isn't a beauty parade, this is a funding application to deliver something, so who's actually going to be engaged with your project and help you to deliver it and choose them wisely, you are going to be working with these people for years, I have a rule, no jerks on the team, it's a rule I've made through experience and life is too short to work with people that make your life more difficult, you're going to be working with these people when things are going well and you're going to be working with these people when everything's not going to plan, you're at your lowest ebb, who are the people on your team that are going to help you to find that solution and that's not to say just pick nice people and just work with nice people, I think you should, I think nice people make work better, but that doesn't mean they can't be critical and actually I like the concept of sort of critical friends as being key to helping you turn a good project into something that is a great project and there's an example of that, these are some of the co-investigators on my first ever programme grant and each of them brings specific expertise from different disciplines and methods but what they also brought was a really collaborative attitude that made working with them an absolute joy, each of them was prepared to be critical when they thought that they needed to be but to also help me find solutions, Andy Hill as an examiner was actually my external examiner for my PhD and it was that experience that actually encouraged me to ask him to be a mentor and a co-investigator because he could ask me the most difficult questions, the one you're hoping nobody's going to ask you but he could ask it in a way that meant he was genuinely interested in the answer, he wasn't trying to make me feel small and as a collaborator he was perfectly happy to sit in my office with flip charts and notepads and post-its and help me to figure out the answers and that's what you want from co-investigators, people who are genuinely engaged in helping you to deliver the project. It's also important to engage with stakeholders that aren't academics, I would hope that talking to members of the ASO I don't really need to hammer home the idea that our research should be informed by people with lived experience of obesity and but in case I do I have found that talking about ideas right at the early stage with people with obesity can help you to ensure that the work you are doing does hit those issues of being important, it's answering questions that they need and want to be asked and they can often help you to see it from a different perspective and maybe to refine those questions a little bit or to answer things slightly differently or to add some things into it.

In the same way if the goal of your research is to influence practitioners and policymakers, talk to them at the beginning right at the point that you're deciding what the project looks like, they can actually give you really good advice on is this going to meet what they want to know in order to make it happen, you know if you want to change the way policy and practice is you kind of need to be thinking upstream of how will that happen and they can really help you to decide about that and to design your project accordingly. You also need to think about how you're actually going to deliver that, are you going to work with industry partners and also are you then going to work with other organisations to deliver it? So a lot of my work is in trials where we use the UK Clinical Research Network of research nurses to actually deliver some of the work that we do and I tell you what, if you ever want to really see the flaws in your project, ask a research nurse or a study coordinator or somebody that's actually involved in having to deliver the projects that professors design and they'll be able to tell you where the holes are, the flaws, where you might do something more efficiently or better and the more people you talk to, the more your project goes from just being an idea to something that really has legs and something that you know is important, is going to answer questions that are meaningful for different stakeholders and is possible to deliver. In terms of the actual funding that you're getting, you may need to hire people to deliver this and it's very common for people to just say, well I'll just hire a postdoc and they can do everything and many of us have been that postdoc trying to do everything, not the greatest idea, it can work but maybe you need to think about a mix of skills, maybe you need a couple of part-time postdocs who have different skills, maybe you need some study coordination or data management or field data collection instead or as well as and you can think about whether you're going to use existing staff or maybe you've got a discrete bit of the project that you're just going to farm out to external services to help you deliver and you also need to think about where you're going to work, so grants but very particularly fellowships which will be a big thing for this group, they're assessed on three things, the project, the person and the place and often we forget that last one but the funders want to know that you're going to be based in your project in a department, an institution that are going to provide you with the necessary support to deliver this and you actually have to spell out in your grant application what that support is going to look like and how it will help you to deliver, how does it benefit the project for you to be based here and all the things you need from elsewhere, do you need to establish a few collaborations with other institutions, departments to help you with some aspects of it.

So in terms of preparing the application itself, choose your funder carefully and I think we sometimes don't give enough thought to this that different funders and schemes have different remits, some are very interested in fairly low risk applied research that they know is going to get a particular useful answer to them that they can apply to practice within a few years whereas others are more open to that big picture blue sky taking a punt type thinking and even within funding bodies they have different remits, budgets, timelines and criteria to really get to understand the guidance and the eligibility criteria carefully. You may be able to tweak a project to you know slightly make it fit but don't try and shoehorn it in because it's just a massive waste of time if the project you're offering to them is just not something they would ever fund. Look at what they funded previously but also take the opportunity to speak to funders, it's something that I've not made as much use of in my career as I think I probably should have done because there's this idea that yes some people speak to funders but that's the big professors who've already got a relationship but actually most funders have program managers.

If you're not sure where your work fits get their contact details, drop them an email, have a phone call and help them to sort of guide you through that decision making process and potentially save yourself lots and lots of wasted months of putting a bid into the wrong funder or the wrong scheme within that funder. Project manage your application, so I've got a little Gantt chart here and we'll see more when we talk about the project plan but we project manage our research but actually there's a lot of steps within actually making the application that I'll talk you through some of them so allow plenty of time for that. Map out what do you need to do to get all your ducks in a row, what does the guidance say, read it, read it, read it again.

Work out your institutional processes, that's where biggest idiosyncrasies come in. If you've got collaborators you need to know what their processes are, for example with budget, how many days lead time does the finance office need in order to approve your budget, that all needs to be built into that application process. Identify all your tasks, all your key actors and figure out what needs to be done to get me to that point where I can press submit.

In terms of the application itself, your biggest thing is going to be your research plan, what will you do, how will you do it. You want to break it down into studies or work packages or streams and allocate specific roles and responsibilities. You may not be responsible for everything, probably will be if it's fellowship but particularly if it's a team grant it may be that others maybe take the lead on specific aspects of it.

Identify tangible milestones and deliverables. We talked at the beginning about those markers of success, funders like to see those dotted throughout the research project timeline, so they're not trusting you to just deliver everything right at the end, they can see that you're making progress and as you go through. Actually funders will, many funders may have interim reports where they will assess you in relation to those milestones and deliverables.

So be realistic, you don't want to be held to something that you thought was achievable and really isn't and allow for a little bit of wriggle room. You also need to think about what the dependencies are on different things, you know some things can't happen so you've completed other things and you also need to think about staggering your workload so that you're not having to do everything at the same time and you don't have the capacity for it. I'll give you a very clear example of this, this was it's half the Gantt chart for my program grant, it was a bit of a beast but I thought I'd been really clever here, so I had three work packages that had no dependencies between each other, so any of those could fall over and I would still be able to deliver the other two.

But what I hadn't thought about was I planned to start all three of them at the same time and I had to recruit six members of staff and do all the ethics for three work streams and the research governance and the contracting with the funder all within the space of six months and I will never do that again. So when you look at these work plans, don't think of them in isolation, think of them as a whole, what are the different things you're going to be having to do at different times and is that realistically feasible. You also want to think about developing a communication strategy and we often only think about communications in terms of disseminating our research at the end but actually there's a lot of communication that goes on throughout the lifetime of the grant of delivering different things, you've got different actors, different stakeholders, think about who you need to communicate with, what you need to communicate to them, how often, you know, when, how are you going to make this communication and if you're struggling with that, do speak to your communications team, every institution and even some departments have them, people who are experts in knowledge exchange and they might have different names, communications, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange but they can really help you to think about some of these things and in particular some of those stakeholders we talked about at the beginning, how are you going to keep them engaged through the lifetime of a project and so they're still interested at the end to help you disseminate and get that impact your answer and one of the big things that you'll be asked to do in most grant applications these days is to actually spell out that pathway to impact, it isn't just about academic papers and presenting at conferences, though you do need to do that and you can be very specific about how many papers you can publish, the types of journals, types of conferences but you also need to build in, particularly if you're expecting your work to reach other end users, potentially change policy and practice, well how are you going to reach the right people, how are you going to engage them throughout the project but also how are you going to make sure that they help you to turn this research into something that actually makes a difference and again your knowledge transfer communications team can really help you to think through that in more than just sort of generic arm-wavy tick-boxy terms.

You may even want to talk to your tech transfer and intellectual property team if there's a chance that the stuff that you're producing could generate new intellectual property, you want to talk to experts about how you're going to capture that, protect it, exploit it potentially at the end and funders are going to be wise to that as well and they'll be thinking about okay well how are you going to do that bit, you know how are we going to make sure that the funds we're putting into your research get value for money and this plan pathways to impact is really where they start to see more concretely how you're going to do that. We talked a little bit earlier about patient and public involvement, many funders these days actually want you to speak explicitly about how you will involve patients in the public in the research cycle. That can be in the ideas generation at the beginning and in the design of studies but it can also be in the conduct of the research or in the analysis of the research and it can certainly be in the dissemination activities as well and many funders really want to see that you've really thought this through about how you might involve people in your research.

EASO works very closely with the European collaboration for people with obesity and we've involved them on a number of our studies where they've really added value whether that be just in consultation or even as co-investigators and so really think about where you might add value through patient and public involvement. You need to plan the research governance and that's often a bit that researchers are a bit less familiar with but you need to convince the funders that you do understand it and that you are going to conduct the research appropriately and also if you get the funding you need to be able to conduct it appropriately once you've got the money. So familiarise yourself with the research governance that is applicable to your research, be that good clinical practice or relevant regulatory guidance.

What are the approvals you might need to have in place in order to implement your project? How will you manage the data and keep it secure? Maybe you need to involve a clinical trials unit if you're going to conduct a clinical trial but maybe there's data management teams or others that can advise you on certain aspects of this and it's a really good idea to actually get to know your research and development office and there are people within your institutions who are experts in this so you don't need to make it up as you go along, you can ask the experts and getting them involved an early stage of developing the project actually makes things a lot smoother. It's quite likely that for some of your grants the R&D office may even need to sign off to say it's okay to submit. Engage them really early so they're already on your side by the time they get to that point and they're on your side when you get the money and you really need a little bit of support in delivering it.

You need to create an itemised budget and this is often where people's heads explode a little bit. You need to go through your work plan and identify all the resources you need and you also need to justify why you need them. You need to explain to the funder why you're asking for the money basically and the amount of money.

You want to offer value for money, funders love value for money as much as the rest of us do, but don't be tempted to undercost it. It's a big mistake that people make early in their career when they just don't really know what things take in terms of resources and later in their career when they just think that postdocs can just soak it up, they can get on with it, it'll be fine. Make sure you've not missed anything.

You need to be able to deliver this. Under costing a grant might get you that grant because it looks like value for money, but if you don't deliver on it they're not going to give you another one. So speak to your department and your university finance teams.

Review projects for similar projects. You will have colleagues and collaborators who've maybe done similar things. Ask them to see their grant application.

I very happily share with my colleagues and collaborators this is what I asked for in order to deliver this and they can then go through and say oh I didn't think to ask for that. Oh I might need to cost some money in for this. What's a reasonable amount? And also back to reading the guidance, understand what your funders prepared to pay for because not all funders will pay for the same things.

Some will have things that they won't pay for and others will have a percentage that they will pay. So we have this thing called the full economic cost where universities cost everything and put on the overheads and the estates and the cost that it you know is to switch on a light and everything and that massively inflates the actual direct costs of an application. And then it becomes a game.

Universities increase the full economic costs with their overheads so the funders say well we only pay for a percentage of those full economic costs. So you need to understand the terms of your funding body. What will your specific funder pay for and is that acceptable to your university? And when all that's done you need to go right back to your work plan and scrutinize it.

Has any of this other developmental work that you've done suggested that you need to go back and adjust the work plan at all? Maybe you're over budget so you need to trim your cloth. Maybe the research governance has thrown up some red flags and you need to go back and re-look at some things. And then you need to do what's called a bit of a risk assessment of the work plan.

So when you're writing to funders you're trying to convince them that not only is this a good idea but you can deliver it. And so they're looking for risks. They're looking for all the things that could go wrong that might mean you couldn't deliver this.

So instead of waiting for them to look at them and hoping they don't, you can look in advance at identifying what the risks might be to delivery and up front say okay this could happen but if it does I've got this strategy for what I'll do to either reduce the risk of something happening or reduce the impact that that event happening has on the delivery of the project. And so it's this sort of constant circle of identifying risks and making plans to mitigate them in order to convince the funder that what you're planning to do you will be able to deliver to time and to budget. And that they're not going to have to be giving you more money to try and get you through actually delivering on what you said you would or that they never get the outputs that you promised when you started the project.

And then I see writing the application as a little bit different. All of that stuff needs to have been done before you can write it although you may write in sections. But the actual process of writing is a skill of itself and it's quite different to other academic writing so allow plenty of time for it.

Again read the guidance it's all there what they want you to say. Read past applications, ask your colleagues and collaborators if you can see their grant applications and how they're written, how they're structured. And tailor your application to the particular funding call you're aiming for.

Echo keywords if you need to but your job in this application is to convince them it's important, it's feasible, it's value for money and it falls within their remit. And if you can echo some of the words of their funding guidance you can go part way to convincing them that oh yeah this it does fall into the things that we fund and this does fit this call. But you're trying to sell your project, sell your team, sell your ability to deliver it.

And that can feel quite uncomfortable for academics who are used to dealing in academic writing and caveats and nuance. But you're trying to sell the project. And in terms of a fellowship you need to sell yourself and if you need to get somebody to help you do that who is better able to sell some of your attributes in a way that makes you cringe quite often it can be helpful to ask other people well you know what do you think my achievements are that I should be selling.

You know get some help in doing those sorts of things because it is an uncomfortable way to write but it's an important to do if you're trying to get funding. And then think of the reviewers. So whenever you do any piece of writing you're hopefully thinking about who your audience is in.

So funders will likely send your applications out to peer reviewers and then those reviewers will feed back to a panel who make the decision. And there may be multiple rounds of this. But both your reviewers and the panel they're busy people with limited spare time.

Think of your busiest professors and how many funding panels they sit on. And imagine the cognitive state of somebody coming to read your application. I always like to remind people to imagine it's some professor who's just come back from parental leave.

His kids aren't sleeping through the night and you're trying to sell your project to them in a way that's digestible. And they're likely to pick it up and put it down. They won't read the whole thing in one go quite likely.

They probably won't be experts in the exact thing you want to study. Hopefully they'll have some relevant expertise but it's unlikely that they know all the same jargon you do and that they're fully immersed in this literature. And not all of the panel will read your proposal in full.

So it's thinking with that mindset when you start to write. Think about that mindset. It's going to be read by somebody who's busy, not an expert, potentially slightly distracted.

How are you going to write that so that they are able to digest what you've written in the most positive light? And so you need to think about how you'll attract and hold attention and make it really, really easy to read. That's things like signposting, subheadings, short paragraphs, simple sentences, white space. Don't be tempted to write it in the smallest font possible and all stuck together because it's a page count and not a word count because it's horrible to read and it won't put your reviewer in a good mood.

And they may then miss things that you actually think are quite important. If there are key things you can use bolding and underlining to highlight key elements. Some funders also allow you to use images as figures and tables, which can actually be a really nice way of making things or complicated ideas to be a little bit more clear.

Avoid big words if you can, complex jargon. No, they make us feel really clever. But if they're difficult to understand, you aren't going to get your message across as clearly.

Acronyms are sometimes unavoidable, especially with word counts, but try and keep them to a minimum. Same for abbreviation and walls of text. They're just horrible to read.

Try and break things up into digestible chunks and really focus on your summary. As I said, not all of the panel will read your whole application. Most of them, hopefully all of them will read the summary.

And that needs to be a coherent summary of what you're trying to do. If you can't write a coherent summary of what you're trying to do, maybe you don't have a coherent project. And maybe you need to think about whether this is one grant or several grants.

It needs to sell the project. And you need to be able to do that in both a layway that's accessible to patients in the public and also a technical summary for more academic audiences. Just because it's a technical summary doesn't mean you can go back to using all the jargon.

Think technical for an academic who's not an expert in your field rather than technical for everybody who completely understands what I'm doing. And in terms of the lay summary, think about working with patients in the public to actually write the lay summary of it. And that can also be very good.

Get pre-submission review. So we go back to your critical friends. They may be part of your research team.

They may be outside of your research team. But they're people who are going to read this and tell you honestly whether you're making the points you are. This is a reproduction of a text message conversation I had with a collaborator.

I was responding to reviewers' comments. And I was taking myself down a rabbit hole. And the more I tried to respond to the reviewers, the worse the project was getting.

And I sent him a message and said, oh, I think this is, I'm making this worse. And he said, yeah, you are. And he called me up.

And we had a cup of tea. And we worked out how I was going to come back from the edge and maybe be a bit less responsive to the reviewer and defend my project a bit more and not massacre it. And as I said throughout, that doesn't just have to be academics, technical staff, stakeholders, patient and public.

Get them to read your application or bits of it. As I said, nothing quite like a research nurse for pulling apart a protocol. Once you've written it, take a break from it and then look at it again.

Edit, edit, edit, edit. Word counts are always a real concern to people. But most writing can actually be improved by cutting it 10%.

Most first drafts of grant applications can probably be improved by cutting it substantially more. We're talking 20, 30, 40%. Check for internal consistencies between sections and proofread it.

Ask someone else to read this because you won't be able to see it. You'll be so into it that you won't be able to see the flaws. Online submission systems were created by people who don't like people.

And you need to allow yourself plenty of time to manage the online submission system. They're all different. You want to get to know the system you're using really early and not the day before you want to submit if you want to avoid a nervous breakdown.

Does it have auto word or character counts? Are the publications to be entered individually or can you import them? How's the budget input? Has your finance department given you in the right format in order for you to match up with what they want to see? Check the generated PDF. Does it all of a sudden make your neatly crafted text look like a dog's breakfast? All those things are good to find out a few weeks, a month in advance, and not when you're desperately trying to submit in 12 hours. You'll also, in terms of getting your ducks in a row, particularly if you have co-investigators, make sure they've got their CVs and publications on the system in advance.

I've been that person with a midnight deadline on the phone to a professor at 10 a.m because he just hasn't pressed the right button. Get it all done in advance. If there's signatory and approvers who are going to need to access the application to sign off on it, make sure that they've got access and that you're not going to be chasing people right at the end.

Check the final versions of any uploads. Check the generated PDF and submit well before the deadline because everybody's trying to submit in those last few hours before the deadline and sometimes the system's got a little bit overwhelmed and you don't want to be pressing that button and wondering why nothing's happened. So we talked about how your grant will be peer-reviewed.

It's similar to a publication peer review, so respond to it in a similar way. Be thorough, be constructive, get advice. Don't try and minimise the risks that they've uncovered.

Mitigate them. Say, okay, we acknowledge this could happen. This is what we're going to do to reduce it happening.

This is what we'll do if it does happen. Differentiate between the panel and the external review. It's all well and good arguing that one of your peer reviewers doesn't know what they're talking about.

It's not advisable without some very good evidence to back yourself up, but it's really unadvisable if the person you're arguing is on the actual panel that makes the funding decision. So think about waiting comments from the panel slightly differently to comment from random peer reviewers. Unfortunately, rejection is normal and I spoke a little bit about that earlier.

And this is a great example. Professor Carol Greider was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in October 2009. On the very day that she was awarded the Nobel Prize, she had a grant on a very similar topic rated as not worthy of discussion at a panel held the very same day that she received the Nobel Prize.

So as I said at the beginning, good applications sometimes don't get funded. That doesn't mean don't apply and it's not worth it. And it doesn't mean if you don't get funded, your project's not great.

But think about how you might use that rejection. So I talked earlier about the unsuccessful fellowship applications I've had and some of the unfunded grants. And I used that feedback to do some preparatory work to reduce some of the sort of risk that people had identified that things that might go wrong, maybe this won't work, maybe do some pilot data.

If they've highlighted gaps in your CV, focus on those and maybe do some CV development. If they've highlighted lack of expertise, maybe look to build your network so you can bring in other people that have that expertise to mentor you or lead on specific aspects. But also some very good applications do get funded and you really need to celebrate your success.

And I really like to hammer home that even submitting an application, celebrate that. Getting shortlisted, celebrate that. And then, yes, if you get your grant funding, really celebrate it.

But each of those steps is a massive achievement. And sometimes we don't take this time to reflect and celebrate what are amazing achievements in academia. And then unfortunately, once your project is funded, all the real work starts.

You have to go back, review your work plan, which was probably edited in response to reviewers, and figure out what you actually promised to deliver. And then you have to do contracting, you have to get your ethics and your governance improvals in place. And if you're hiring people, get those job adverts early, because those three things can take months.

And you'll have been really overly optimistic. And you'll have promised that pretty much the minute you get funded, you're going to start your project. Try not to do that.

But if you have, make sure you get absolutely onto these key things immediately. But not before you've celebrated your success. So thank you.

I hope I haven't run through that too quickly. I was conscious of leaving time for questions at the end. And so I'd be happy to take any questions, or maybe you've got other comments or things.

Wow. Well, Dr. Amy Ahern, if we could have a virtual round of applause in the room. That was so insightful and valuable, I think.

And if I may share a recent experience of myself, I submitted a grant application that I spent four months working on. Weekends, evenings, I took annual leave to work on this grant application. And on the day of the submission of the deadline, it wasn't successfully submitted due to a technical IT error.

And at the time, I felt, you can imagine, very frustrated and annoyed. But I'm a firm believer in if it's meant for you, it won't pass you. And we can try and not be successful, and try and not be successful.

But we only really fail when we give up. So if I could encourage, if you have tried to submit, whether it's manuscripts as well, for publication or grants or whatever it is, keep trying. If it's meant for you, it won't pass you.

But please, if you have any questions, I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion. We invite you to come off camera if you feel comfortable to do so. It's nice to be sharing.

Yeah, Amy, that would be great. Thank you so much. We'd invite you to come off camera and to ask your questions.

Come off mute as well. You're able to unmute yourselves. Or if you would prefer to pop your questions into the chat, and we'll get through as many as possible.

But also, I just want to notify that this session has been recorded. And if you or you know anyone who this will be valuable to, and indeed, any of our online e-learning series sessions, please encourage them to join the Early Career Network for the European Association for the Study of Obesity. It is free.

It's free to be a member. It's free to join us and become part of this lovely networking team. Hopefully, you're all quite friendly and you've had some nice experiences so far.

And the recording will be available, which Lisa is going to explain to you now how to access that recording. Thanks so much. Over to you, Lisa.

Thank you. Thanks. Hi, everyone.

My name is Lisa, and I'm another Early Career Network board member. And I just want to say thank you so much, Amy, for giving this master class in grant application writing. And I've been taking notes and definitely thinking back on where I could have improved on funding applications, like Niamh said.

But I'm going to use your advice for all of my future applications. And I think everyone who's been an attendee will agree, too. So like Niamh said, I'm just going to give you some time just to think about your questions.

And I'll start reading them out just after this. But I'm just going to explain to you where you can access this webinar recording and also any previous Early Career Network eLearning Hub webinars. So we have started our webinar series, and it was back in October.

So there have been a couple of recorded webinars that are now available. So Bram will be sharing the links in the chat. But I just want to tell you that EASO have launched a new platform called EASO Connect.

So you, as members of the Early Career Network, are invited to join this platform. And this is where you can access the recorded webinars. So it is a closed platform.

You will have to sign up with an email address and a password, and the webinars will be available via the group called the Early Career Network. So if you follow the links that Bram is sharing, you can sign up using your details. And after you complete the registration, please request to join the Early Career Network group.

And if you are a member of the Early Career Network, you will be accepted. So if you aren't, although you should be if you're an attendee here, it is free to join. So you can join via the EASO website.

So once you've joined this group, please then head to the discussion board where you'll be able to see the previous recordings. So if you have any issues with signing up or access to the webinars, please email me and I'll drop my email into the chat and I'll organize your access for you. So if you would like to watch this webinar again, which I definitely will be doing, or any of the previous webinars, you can access through EASO Connect.

So thanks very much. And I will start with the questions because we have about 10 minutes for the Q&A. So if you haven't already asked a question, please either raise your hand or drop one into the chat and I can get to it.

I'm going to prioritize the questions that have been asked by the audience, even though I do have a couple of burning ones for myself too. So I'm going to start. The first question we had from an audience member, Amy, was what is the name of the software you're using to keep track of the projects? Oh, so we've used various ones with different projects.

So the Gantt chart I showed was actually an MS project, which I have to say, and this sounds awful, I wasn't keeping track of it. My program manager was, and she was the one who understood how to use the software. So, but we've done things in Excel is where I've done most of my grant applications for Gantt charts for grant applications and such.

And we use sort of, you know, even Trello for some of the sort of task management and things like that. So I don't think I've ever been wedded to one particular software package. But yeah, I do find when I'm writing grant charts, I start them all off in Excel, numbers of months across the top and colour in the section.

Probably not very sophisticated, but nor am I. That's great. Good to know. Thank you.

So we have one question from the Slido, and this was actually submitted before the session. And it is actually from a senior researcher who is yet still very junior in obesity research. And they are asking, what are the good options for them to request funding for obesity research? So I think that's maybe in terms of where might they be able to find open applications or open invites to request funding from different kind of organisations.

So one of the challenges there is that we sort of talk in sort of pan-European, and I'm not overly familiar with all the funding in different countries. What I would say is a really good approach is most papers actually report how they were funded. So if there's work that you're reading in your literature that's very similar to what you're doing, then it's quite likely that you might apply for similar funders to them.

So actually just take a look at where the work you're most interested in is being funded from. But I have to say it's outside of my knowledge about the specific funders across Europe. I could provide advice to sort of UK ones, but that's a little bit biased, so I probably shouldn't.

Thanks very much. And that's where being a member of EASO Early Career Network really comes in handy, because if you're joined with us on Twitter or LinkedIn, or the new EASO Connect platform that I just mentioned, opportunities are constantly shared. We really do encourage you to share your own opportunities that you see or that you know of that are available with the members of the network, so everybody can keep engaging and growing.

So the next question I have, I'm just going to read it out from the chat, is I have a question concerning reviewers' feedback on the proposal after rejection. When we get the mixed message and feedback from different reviewers, and each of them suggested different ways, for example, more sample size, less sample size, sample size is okay. What should we do, and in which direction should we go? That's really difficult.

I mean, if you're getting, you usually won't get mixed answers from a panel, but you might well get mixed answers from the peer reviewers. And really, it's just about weighing it out. The same way you would do if you got peer reviews from a paper.

Actually, try and think, you have to sort of take your ego out of it and all the hurt and deal with that, because your immediate answer to rejection is, they're all wrong, then none of them know what they're doing. And then sort of almost process through the peer review in terms of, okay, actually, is that a genuine point? Do I agree with it in light of the new evidence they may have produced? Because everybody has opinions, and peer reviewers are as flawed as the rest of us, because they are us. And you only have to talk to three of your colleagues, and you might get three different answers about what they think you should do.

And I feel your role as a research leader is to process all that information and make that judgment call yourself. And there was a grant I lost recently, where, and it was the panel came back really strongly, saying, no, we want this done completely differently. And I genuinely, to this day, think they were wrong.

And I don't think that was the way it should have been done. And possibly, I might have got the funding if I'd have just agreed to do what they said. But I don't think that would have been sensible for the project.

And so yeah, it is just about weighing that up. You may just have to accept that there's a rogue reviewer who's scuppered your chances of that grant. But it may be that they have some decent points that you want to incorporate into the next project.

But yeah, it's making a judgment call yourself, unfortunately, and talking to your colleagues. Maybe you've got some senior colleagues who you could take all the evidence to and say, OK, I'm not sure what to do here. What do you think? But it's going to be so different, depending on the case, that there isn't a right or wrong answer, I don't think.

Yeah. Thank you. I'm going to jump back to the slido.

So we have another question. I'm just going to read it out again. How careful do you need to be when pitching your ideas to possible collaborators, especially if you don't know them that well? It's something we all struggle with.

It's very rare, I think, that people are walking around not sure, looking to pick up other people's ideas and steal them. But if it is something you're concerned about, maybe you talk about things in vaguer terms until you do know somebody and you trust them. I, throughout my career, have tried to be really open and collaborative with people.

So I tend to be on the more trusting side of things. But then there are certainly people that I wouldn't necessarily divulge all my burning questions to. So again, there isn't an answer.

But I would say, wait to divulge too much until you're comfortable. But particularly if it's a collaborator that you would actually need on board in order to deliver something, you kind of just have to take the risk because you're not going to be able to do it without them. So you take the risk that they may choose to do it without you or it won't be done.

But I think people, in my experience, people are more honest and ethical than we might be led to believe by the sort of sensationalist stories. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Absolutely does.

But I think it's the minority rather than the majority. Great. Thanks very much.

And again, going back to being a member of the Early Career Network, this is what it's all about, growing strong relationships with people across Europe and further that you can hopefully one day collaborate with and have ongoing working relationships with people that you can trust too. So back to the chat. We've got a question straight to the point.

How lazy can we be? Writing different backgrounds on the same topic seems inefficient. Copy and paste seems an option. Well, it depends.

Are you copying and pasting your own work or somebody else's? I think if you're copying and pasting your own work from previous applications, then I'd say it's OK to copy, paste, edit. But copying and pasting is unlikely to be helpful because it's unlikely to be the exact same study or the exact same funder. So I would I very often start off an application with copying off sections from an old one and then editing them up to be more focused on this project and this call.

So yeah, copy, paste, edit. Yes. Copy, paste.

Probably not. Hi, Amy. It was my question.

Can I react to that? Because I agree. That's also what I do. I copy, paste and I do a bit of editing.

But nowadays you have also some grants who have like first letter of intent where you have to define in two, three pages your research and then you have to go further and then you have to go a bit larger and write six, seven pages on the same topic. And I always doubt that I even rewrite my letter of intent with some of the captions or just do I just keep everything which I wrote and just try to make it a bit larger? Because yeah, the letter of intent was for me, for example, was very good. And I just want a bit more detail in there and not really have to think about changing every sentence and finding synonyms, which is for me just a waste of time in the end.

Yeah. And I think if it's your own words, then I think that's more allowable. And it's grants are a little bit different to publications.

I know that people get hauled over the coals these days for sort of self-plagiarism within publications. But I think if it's your own grants that you're reproducing, particularly from one stage to another, I would expect some level of replication from one stage to the next. I don't think that's a big issue.

Yeah, as I say, I think it would be more of a problem if it's no longer relevant to that specific project or call and you haven't tailored it enough or if it was somebody else's words that you were copying and pasting. But I think if it's your own, I think that's a fine way to progress through different grant applications. That's good.

And I keep being lazy. It's not lazy, it's efficient. Yeah, there's a distinction.

Yeah. OK, so I'm going to keep to time. There is one other question, but it's UK based, and it was just a question about maybe if you could provide some examples of good funders in the UK which are related to obesity related research.

But if you're happy to, you can either say it now or you can send me the link. I mean, to be honest, most of the big research councils are interested in obesity. So all of the UKRI funders, depending on the focus of the project, fund work on obesity.

So I've had funded from Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, loads of work is funded by the National Institute of Health Research through their various funding mechanisms. And all of them provide fellowships as well. And also then a lot of the charities that are related to obesity related diseases, such as Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, British Health Foundation, British Heart Foundation.

And they probably have European equivalents. I just don't know them. But those are the sort of places that I would start your searches is who are the big research council funders in your country and who are the charities that are funding research who are interested in obesity related diseases? Thank you very much for the advice for the European colleagues as well.

And that is a really, really good place to start. And just again to echo, just keep checking the ASO website, the social media streams and the Early Career Network platforms because we do share opportunities that we see online. So I'll say thank you from me.

Thank you again, Amy, for all of your advice. It was really, really, really helpful and I'll definitely be using it in future. And also thank you to all of the audience.

I'll hand over to me potentially to say bye. But otherwise, bye from me for now. Brilliant.

Thanks so much, Lisa. And again, big round of applause in the virtual room for Dr. Amy O'Hearn. That was really valuable and insightful.

And we really appreciate your time here today. Again, as you mentioned, if you know anyone who may benefit from joining a network, it is free. We want to be able to share these valuable resources across Europe, across the world and make these connections.

And then just a final reminder to everyone that the European Congress on Obesity, we have late-breaking abstracts. If you do have work and many of you do have really brilliant work, which we know of because we've met you and seen your work at various EASO events, the winter schools, summer schools. So please, please submit your work before next Tuesday.

And the link, Bram might share into the chat again for that. And also we really appreciate your feedback on today's session because this is how we can improve events and make them tailored for what you would might find interesting or valuable to learn about or know about. So please complete our evaluation survey.

If not now, please save the link and Bram's going to post it in the chat as well. And hopefully you can complete our evaluation survey. It only takes literally two minutes to do and we really appreciate it.

And we look forward to connecting with you and chatting with you and hopefully seeing you for our next session in March, which is with Bart van der Schuren. And again, if you're linked to the network, if you're a Early Career Network board, or sorry, Early Career Network member, you will receive information about that and how to register for our next event next month. So if there's anything else, Lisa or Bram? No? Good for me, but thanks again, everyone.

Brilliant. Thanks so much, everyone. Keep connecting with us online and hopefully we will see you in May at the 30th European Congress on Obesity, if I haven't promoted it enough, and online next month for our next online session.

Thanks so much, everyone.