The time has come…


The time has come…

Volume 5 Issue 10 News & Resources | October 2012


Recently I was asked to give a talk on how to plan and prepare an excellent and “believable” research grant proposals. Well, some people might have just presumed that I’m supposed to be an “experienced” and “well-seasoned” researcher whose life journeys are packed with valuable lessons to others intending a life doing R&D work. Yes, I do feel quite old now since I began some years ago in academia. But, physical condition, in general, not necessarily represents the wisdom that one will have and would have acquired. Fortunately, one thing that I can vouch to be true is the sweet and bitter experiences of going through the process of preparing, writing, submitting, defending, and waiting for the verdict. And, yes, feeling quite bad after knowing that you have failed or alternatively, getting to grip the warm feeling of success and the fact that one is now a holder of a research grant. Yeah! But, what should I do now? (Yes, this is the feeling you will have moments after knowing the successful outcome)

But, what would be the key points to convince the evaluators that your research proposal is worthy to be supported. This is as opposed to the mounting research proposals also being considered and seemingly good-looking as yours. Surely the evaluators will have a tough time to decide, what more with the forced dateline that should not and cannot be breached. Evaluators are human beings, facing the stress and anxiety of ensuring good decisions are reached. Ensuring that they chose the right research proposals are really the crux of the matter, and wrong decisions are not welcome. Hence, we – the researchers, must help them to make decisions. And, help is delivered by making our research proposals readable, coherent, clean, and most important, straight to the points. Unfortunately, the major difficulty is to ensure that our differentiation is glaring, and our research proposals have the rights “attractors”. What is the “attractors”? Those we will discuss shortly.

We need to attract the evaluators’ attention to the worthiness of our proposals. Any evaluators will have a check-list to mark. We must put extra efforts to ensure we make other people’s life easier and more tolerable. Of course, if we can anticipate the possible factors the evaluators are searching for, we will be high of the list. What could be the things they are searching for? We need to ask this important question. Imagine; having thousands of applications spread-out in front of you, and having to make decisions on the best among the pile. What is the best way forward? The answer lies in making our research proposal readable, coherent, clean, and most important, straight to the points. Have I repeated myself? I have! Sorry for this, but this is the truth. You just have to make sure your research proposal is readable, coherent, clean, and most important, straight to the points 

As the evaluators go to the general classification (or elimination) phase, they will look for, in most cases, simple mistakes, such as wrong format, missing information, unsuitable research field, bad grammar or spelling, and unrealistic requests. Yes, all those will get rejected in the 1st phase. Next, they will look at the objectives, research scope, methodology, promised outcome and the most important section, i.e. the proposed research budget or funding. They will then checked whether they have enough candidates for the final elimination round, i.e. the INTERVIEWs!. Depending on the number of applicants, the decision made in the 1st stage can be quite arbitrary, especially, when the numbers of applicants go into the thousands, and when they need to select less than, say, 10% of that initial number. If you are lucky, the evaluators will read your proposal from front to back, and this my friend, may not increase your chance, even an iota. Since, most probably, they will find more weaknesses (this is my feeling on the matter and not of the evaluators). The trick is to pass the 1st gate. For this, you must ensure you address all the general requirements of the research grants and hit the right notes at the right time. Meaning, study the research grants requirements in detail and make sure you fulfill them before submitting. The “attractors” are the list of points on the check-lists. If you have the luck to know them beforehand, you are certainly blessed my friend 

One important reminder is that you must not promised more that what is possible. It is acceptable to give more than expected, and not less than what was promised. Better, if you only proposed things that you have managed to develop or build. Until you are a well-known researcher or renowned scientist, it is a well-founded advice not to promise the stars, when you can only reach for the roof. Especially for novices, please make sure you engage the help of the seniors, at least as co-researchers, and be bold, brave and creative in your proposals. “Tread the path untrodden”. Yes, this is where the competition is less stiff and you have the golden chance to shine. Your research proposal will also be easily differentiated. Use the right and appropriate keywords. Keywords such as “sustainable”, “renewable”, “eco-friendly” or “efficient” would be good for any renewable energy related research grant applications. You need to fine-tune these keywords accordingly. Yes, be alert to the world out-there, and make sure your research proposal does make sense to the evaluators, who may just be the neighbour next door. Yeah, you wished 

As a conclusion, I hope I have shared ample examples of the way towards getting research grants to support your R&D works. I hope those pointers will be of use to many new and budding researchers. Hope that my mistakes will not be replicated and your polished proposals turn-out to be solid and convincing. As I have stated earlier, just make sure your proposal is readable, coherent, clean, and most important, straight to the points (by the way, this is the 4th time I repeat myself). And last but not least, do not forget to SUBMIT the proposals before the dateline expires. Good luck to you!

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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