Getting grants: SSAC masterclass

In late May, SSAC team members Dr Adrian Farrugia and Professor Suzanne Fraser hosted and convened the first NDRI masterclass for 2018. Entitled ‘Designing research for competitive grant schemes’, the masterclass focussed on the skill of grant writing for competitive grants in Australia. As the prospect of applying for grants can be daunting for PhD students and early career researchers, the masterclass aimed to provide an informal forum in which the participants could learn about the process of designing research projects and writing grants applications for nationally competitive grant schemes. Focussing on schemes that are specifically relevant to early career researchers, the session explored key issues applicants should consider when writing a proposal.

The masterclass was lucky enough to host two invited speakers: Dr David Farrugia ARC DECRA Fellow, The University of Newcastle, and Associate Professor Emma Kowal, ARC Future Fellow, Deakin University.

Dr Farrugia presented first, covering a range of issues on how to approach competitive funding schemes from an early career perspective, with a particular emphasis on the ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher (DECRA) award, as well as post-docs. In particular he explored the unique aspects of grant writing as a form of intellectual labour, noting it has a very specific purpose in mind – i.e., being funded. Drawing on his own applications, he provided concrete examples of how to formulate a fundable idea, how to harness abstract theory for good grant applications, and how to make the case for ‘significance’ and ‘innovation’. He also provided some examples of common mistakes that novice grant writers make, and invited feedback, questions and discussion about the role of grants and grant writing in the career trajectory of an early career researcher and PhD student.


Dr David Farrugia presenting at the first NDRI masterclass for 2018

Associate Professor Kowal followed David’s talk with a more general overview of the role of grants in the career trajectory of academics. She also offered her best advice for succeeding as a humanities and social science scholar in today’s highly competitive academic world. Also looking at the DECRA, Discovery and Linkage grant schemes, Emma’s presentation covered four things required for success: be very good at research, be strategic, work very hard, and be lucky. She offered advice on how to start thinking about grant applications from the outset of a PhD project, and the importance of regular publishing during the project.


Associate Professor Kowal presenting at the first NDRI masterclass for 2018

The importance of crafting succinct, clear and evocative writing was emphasised by both presenters. Indeed, Emma suggested that grant applications need to ‘sing’ to the reviewer.

The session was well attended and the NDRI researchers and students were able to engage in lively discussion with participants from Deakin University, Monash University, Griffith University, Turning Point and the Burnet Institute.

Overall, the masterclass was a very productive event for NDRI and the SSAC team. The session stimulated much discussion and offered practical, targeted advice for designing research and applying for competitive grant schemes. As Adrian explained,

As an early career researcher it was great to have two such generous speakers offer concrete insights into how to both design a fundable study and articulate it for the reviewers.