We are rebuilding the site in order to re-present the materials in a more organised and usable format.

In the interim we’ve left the original blog posts for reference

The new site is now under review with a view to making it available soon – watch this space

(Image credit: Pollinator via Wikimedia)


How to write more successful grants

And, no, it may not always be just a matter of the quality of your research.  It may be a case of hanging in during the selection competition for a few rounds more than your competitors.  Because it’s not always about good research – sometimes it’s about good research and better research.  And if the research is of equivalent quality then the competition comes down to what happens next with your research.

what-really-goes-on-a-review-panelEoin O’ Sullivan shared ideas for ways to survive the attrition within the process by which a review panel chooses which grants get funded. (And, by the way, Eoin encouraged all academics to get some experience of review panels – it profoundly changes one’s approach to writing!).  (If you want to read a description of the whole process and an alternative view of the scoring sheets – then go to:

review-panel-categoriesSo what is this attrition process?  When the reviewers assemble they can typically agree on a few brilliant grants that ‘must’ be funded, and a larger pile of grants which aren’t good enough and so are quickly rejected.  But the biggest pile is the ‘maybe fund pile’.  And so the review continues – but now looking for reasons to fund or, more dangerously and more easily, reasons to reject.  And so slowly the reject pile increases.  And this continues until there are enough grants to consume the available budget.  So, towards the end it will be the last surviving grants in the ‘maybe fund’ category which will succeed.

So the question then becomes “how to keep out of the ‘rejected’ pile all the way to the end?”  And the answer is “don’t provide reasons for reviewers to put your proposal in the bin”.

detailsSo don’t put your reviewer to sleep, or irritate them.  Provide enough detail so they can assess what you intend to do – and make the detail relevant and meaningful.

And unless you have the financial wealth to fund your own election research, don’t just provide the banal assurances that are equivalent to asking voters reviewers to “just trust me”.   The reviewers may not be expert in your field (in fact it’s likely that there will be generalists reviewing your proposal) so you will have to explain clearly and the ability to provide excellent and cogent explanations of complex concepts is a mark of the deeply competent.  (Exemplified by Richard Feynman)

Go through and check your proposal document thoroughly – does every sentence add value?

forecastYou can significantly improve your proposal’s chance of staying out of the ‘reject’ pile by crafting a compelling ‘Pathways to Impact’ section.  But note the title – it’s not ‘magnitude of impact’ so you don’t have to find the biggest possible number (by creative extrapolation).  But you should identify the ‘pathway’.  Who is next in the chain – who will pick up your work and do something valuable with it?  Why will they care and why is your work an important step along the pathway?

beneficiariesThink also about the barriers to success and the tipping points which could translate stagnation to success.  Is there anything that you can do to address these and if so how?  Show how you can help and your whole proposal gains credibility and value.  Can you perhaps involve some of the beneficiaries and get them to help you – and tell the reviewers how this will work. Think broadly about who might gain value from your work – in both the private and public sectors.

It is worth being conscious of the trajectory of sectors or the government’s stance on the sector that might use your work.  Are you aligned with a national strategy?  Perhaps an industry association can give you a direction.  Perhaps you can find a sectoral roadmap that shows you where you can hook into it. And this alignment means your research is more likely to be adopted – which means the pathway will be a little less rocky.

And if you want to go a step further, then why not actually conduct a roadmapping session to work with your beneficiaries to map out how your research will translate into their plans.  To see how others have done this see:

In fast-moving fields of science maybe the world will change – together with the interests and priorities of your beneficiaries.  So can you manage a process of continuous (or regular) engagement so that you stay close to those who have an interest in your success?  And, if so, tell the reviewers how you’ll achieve this. [insert compelling here]

Check out the guidance from RCUK:

partnersTime consuming and often tricky to navigate – so why would you want to form partnerships with industrial companies?

But the key to success, both in the grant competition and in the real partnership, is specificity.  What, exactly, do the industrial partners want?  How, exactly, will they contribute to its creation?  And then, exactly, what will they do with the results.  If you can define this then you have a compelling story and excellent evidence to underpin your assertion that research is so valuable that it has to be supported….  Or at least that your proposal should not go in the reject pile just yet!


For more ideas and insights visit Eoin’s site: – which includes guidance and checklists and links to yet further resources:

Grant-writing skills

Two excellent workshops next month for people wanting to develop their grant-writing skills.  On 4th  October Eoin O’ Sullivan will provide a one-hour quick overview of how to write a successful research proposal.   If you’re interested then please contact Holly Shaw ( to reserve a place.   If you can’t make it to the talk then seek out a copy of his book “The Grant Writer’s Handbook”.

Then on 31st October Philip Guildford will focus in on a single simple technique for marshalling your arguments to write and present a compelling proposal. To sign up for that talk please contact Judith Collier (


The two are complementary and bookend the month nicely.  Both will be in the Engineering Department at lunchtime.  See you there.

Making more from your research – Impact & value

Why would you want to commercialise your research, what are your options, and how might Cambridge Enterprise help?Julian_team_new1

Julian Peck from Cambridge Enterprise addressed each of these questions this week at a Collaboration Skills Initiative seminar attended by people from across Cambridge University’s Schools of Technology, Physical Sciences, and Medicine.

Why1There are many reasons to commercialize research – and the mix is usually a personal decision.  Often money is the least important.  In some cases it’s the best way to disseminate results, other times it serves to fund the next round of research, increasingly it is part of the REF and of building credibility with the Research Councils. And also increasingly, for early career researchers it builds a demonstration of your ability to conduct research which can attract external funding, collaboration and support.


Cambridge Enterprise (CE) exists to

  1. make the world a better place by creating a legacy of products, services and advice that benefit society, the UK economy, and the University, and
  2. ensure that society and the economy benefit from commercialisation. You’ll note that Cambridge Enterprise does not exist to make money.


Julian outlined four ways to disseminate and build on research

  • Collaborations with industry – here there are many sources of funding for “translational research”, that bit of work needed to get work from, say, the result of a PhD to the point where a company would like to support further development. CE is able to direct you to relevant sources.
  • Consultancy work – you can provide expert advice based on your knowledge, skills and experience. CE is able to help with contracting (including pricing your work), with admin, invoicing and follow-up and you also get the benefits of a professional indemnity insurance policy.
  • License to a company – you may choose to provide a package of intellectual property that a company can build on, develop and exploit in exchange for royalty fees. CE can help here with defining the intellectual property that is to be licensed, negotiating the deal and managing the license through its life
  • Form a new company – you could create a new entity to take your research to market may be the exciting one, but may not necessarily be the best way to go. CE can help you with building the company, with finding mentoring and advice and, importantly with seed funding

The important thing to remember is that the decision is yours – you can work with CE or choose another route.

In either case CE is able to offer some vital help, beginning with the task of transforming an opportunity from “untransactable to transactable”.  How do you go from an idea and a concept to a package which you can define, bound and trade with a company?  This is where Cambridge Enterprise can really add value in the early stages.

With this in place then you can explore your options now with a much better idea of the propositions that you can create and their likely value.

As you put deals together, CE can help you to structure the deal so that your interests and those of your industrial partner, customer or funder are well-aligned.  You need to think about this right at the beginning and also to think about the long-term as well as the short-term.  Then there’s the tedious but critical “legal stuff” to wade through – and CE is experienced in this as well.

One key area is Intellectual Property.  Whether you work through CE or not, they are prepared to help you with an IP rights review.  Do you know who may have some rights to your work?  Your funder?  Collaborators?  So CE will help to build a clear picture of the starting point so you can proceed from a robust foundation.

Then what should be your IP strategy?  What regions, what industries?  One patent or a portfolio?  Structured how?  And later the task of managing the portfolio, monitoring the licenses and the income streams and managing their distribution.

For those who wish to set up a company then maybe CE could be an investor.  They have a seed fund which, as a result of recent exits, is of the order of £12M.  There is also Cambridge Enterprise Venture Partners (, a network of angels and other investors bringing potentially £3 billion in funding.  And CE can help point you at mentors and, potentially, candidates for your management team.

And of course there is the signposting to all the other resources. Cambridge is a wonderful environment for commercialising your research and this website ( you at a wide variety of resources and sources of help.

FortuneThere’s no one right way to commercialise your research and you might choose a portfolio approach combining translational research, maybe a bit of consultancy, perhaps associated with licensing your technology or creating a company.  Whichever route you choose, Cambridge Enterprise is happy to help and to point you towards the many resources available around Cambridge.

If you would like get in touch directly, Julian can be contacted at

Google’s Engagement With Universities – 2.30pm Thursday 14th April In LR6

David Harper & Michel Benard, EMEA University Relations, Google

In this talk, David and Michael will cover Google’s mission, products and approach to engineering and research. Then, through a walkthrough of Google’s new external research site (, they will describe the various ways in which Google engages with universities, and with academics in particular.  In the final part of the talk, they will compare the two main ways that Google funds research, namely by gift and by contract, introduce the Master Sponsored Research Agreement, and describe how this simplifies setting up contract research projects.
Afterwards, there will be a Q&A session.
(Thanks to Helen Francis for the information)

Managing open data with an industrial research partner

With funders trying to ensure maximum value-for money they are now demanding that research data be made widely available.  This can be good for researchers and for research in general – but what does it mean for working with industry and are there some principles and practices to make it easier?

Dan Crane, Research Support Librarian in the Engineering Department, led a seminar last week to discuss the context of open data, to describe some principles for working effectively and signposted many resources.  There was also an interesting discussion about the implications for working with industrial partners.

Open Access is being driven by funders (including the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust) as a condition of their funding and, importantly, will be a condition for publications to be submitted for the next REF.  The funders seek greater use, leverage and impact of the work they have supported and to minimise duplication of effort.  Open access has a number of practical benefits for the researcher, including potentially greater exposure and citation.  Managed well, open data will potentially also allow a rich seam of research associated with the data itself.

To get an overview of the area there is a very useful site to guide you through the issues ( and to ensure that your publication is eligible for the REF, by helping you comply with funders’ requirements. It includes advice and guidance about your copyright options (, support for liaison with publishers and the ways you can managing publications and open access.  Another valuable source of advice is the library itself; contact them on

RDM2It’s not only about the final publications but also about the management of the data from your research.  The first port of call should be the Research Data Management site at  There is a summary of, and links to the funders’ policies ( of which EPSRC’s is the most stringent.  There is a specific page that advises how to comply with their needs ( Note also that the EPSRC is also promising to follow up and check for compliance with its policies.

In essence, the requirement is that all publications should have a statement describing how to access the underlying data or a statement explaining why access to the data has been restricted.  The materials must be available for ten years and this is done most conveniently via long-term repositories which maintain Digital Object Identifiers.  Cambridge University’s repository (  is one such.

There are several accepted reasons why data may be restricted including, for example, personal data; data that is sensitive, for example that might influence national security; if there are intellectual property or commercial confidentiality considerations; or if it is not cost-effective to store all the data, perhaps because of its volume.  In instances where volume is an issue then a subset can be usefully stored.  The metadata which describes the data and any restrictions should be in the publications or with the data.  Note that the EPSRC regards the researcher themselves as the person best-placed to decide on the data to be made available or to describe the reasons why it cannot be released.

So all this leads to the practice of disciplined Research Data Management as

  • preparation for sharing and preserving data as a research outcome, and
  • underpinning working as efficiently as possible during the research process

The key to this is to address some important preliminary questions before you start, including:

  1. What type of data will you generate in your project?
  2. What will be the volume (size) of your data? Will you require financial support to share your data?
  3. File formats
  4. What are your proposed data management strategies?
  5. How will you describe your data?
  6. Secondary use
  7. Methods for data sharing
  8. Timeframes

(Dan provided a briefing document covering these questions – if you’re interested please contact the CUED library or me on )

Then you can go on to create a Management Plan covering topics such as:RDM1

  • Context
  • Data Collection
  • Documentation and Metadata
  • Ethics and Legal Compliance
  • Storage and Backup
  • Selection and Preservation
  • Data Sharing
  • Are any restrictions on data sharing required?
  • Responsibilities and Resources



This is supported by the Digital Curation Centre which offers and on-line template:  It’s best to do this as you put together your plans for research and as part of writing your grant application.  In this way all your thinking is integrated and you will remember to reserve the budget and facilities for data management.


So how does all this change for working with industrial partners?  Actually, it’s all about communication and starting early.

Dan’s advice covered:

  • Communication with an industrial partner to explain funders’ requirements for data sharing, and allowable exemptions, and plans for publishing.
  • Communication with the EPSRC to explain the kind of data used, and the extent to which it might be commercially sensitive.
  • Communication with the industrial partner to understand and negotiate acceptable transfer, storage and sharing.


Then write a Data Management Plan, and make sure all of the team knows its content and why it’s written that way.

You may also need to put in place security measures for data transfer and storage during the work, for example thinking about:

  • Receiving data from partner via secure transfer
  • Storing data on a secure group cluster, but thinking about whether it might also be processed on other computers.
  • Before using, check how secure other computers actually are (and beware of offers for ‘free compute time’!)
  • Is it necessary to use an NDA to collaborate and compute,? How much time will that add to the process of negotiating the relationship and start-up of the work?


And when you’re ready to publish make sure you communicate again with your industrial partner. Are they happy for you to publish? And what about the data you’ve generated and wish to share?  Make sure you keep them up to date throughout the project, telling them immediately if things change or you encounter a problem.

During the seminar there was wide-ranging discussion of the issues associated with working with data, especially with industrial partners.

  • The funders are well aware of the commercial concerns of industrial partners and their requirements for open access and data do allow researchers to manage commercial confidentiality. But it may be necessary to talk this through in detail with the industrial partner because, unless the details are understood and managed, this could be a justifiable source of concern for the industrial collaborator.  Hence the importance of the research data management plan.
  • It was pointed out that a research data management plan might also be a considerable contribution to knowledge management, both in research groups and for some industrial collaborators. So here’s a way to derive an extra benefit from working with Cambridge researchers.
  • Data provenance has been a topic of research in the Computer Labs – how do you track the various transformations and manipulations of the data as it is prepared and analysed. They have developed a tool to track this – OPUS.  See and for more information.
  • This led to a discussion of electronic lab notebooks – see for work in the Chemistry Department. The CUED Library plans to look at these in due course.

Note the potential for added elapsed time as you negotiate your data management plans with your industrial partner

For those interested in following all this up, you can go to the site and sign up for Research Data Management workshops (12/4, 11/5,  14/9)

If you’d like a copy of Dan’s presentation then please contact me on

Advanced Functional Materials Manufacturability Seminar

Pathways to Manufacturing Seminar 2PD

Speaker: Professor Pete Dobson

From fundamental science through scale up to deployment, Professor Pete Dobson’s experience in commercialising advanced functional materials and devices enabled by them has gained him international recognition as a leading advisor for technology and knowledge transfer.

Come hear him speak about the challenges he has faced developing, scaling and industrialising advanced functional material based products during his time in industry (e.g., Philips Research Laboratories) and academia (e.g., Oxford University). He will also explore how products from current and future functional materials research face similar risks.

11:00-12:00, Friday the 18th March

Seminar Room 3, Institute for Manufacturing

To attend please email: