WHAT IS A GRANT?
A research grant is a financial award allocated by a funder to a specific research project.
Grants are allocated to a Principal Investigator (PI), as well as multiple Co-Investigators (CoI) in the case of collaborative grants.
The PI is usually the researcher at the origin of the project idea and is responsible for the general management of the project and reporting progress to the funder.
The CoIs assist the PI in managing the project and are often responsible for separate aspects of the work. The CoIs can be based in different institutions and bring complementary expertise to the one of the PI.
CAN POSTDOCS APPLY FOR GRANTS?
In contrary to Fellowships, grants do not include the salary of the PI and CoIs, who need to be already employed by a research organisation.
For this reason, postdocs, who are employed on fixed-term contracts, are often not eligible to apply for grants as PIs or CoIs. This mainly depends on the funder and funding scheme.
Grants often include the salaries of research staff who will be hired to carry out the research, such as postdocs. Postdocs can be "named postdoc" on a grant, which means that if the grant were to be awarded, the role would be theirs.
However, being "named" on a grant doesn't automatically imply that a postdoc was involved in developing and writing the grant, which is often the case.
To address this issue, UK Research and Innovation have created a new status for some of their funding schemes: Researcher co-investigator (RCoI). A RCoI is a person who is not eligible to be a PI or CoI, but who is significantly involved in the design and writing of the grant proposal. Postdocs can be RCoIs on applications. At the time of writing, this role was supported by the MRC, BBSRC, NERC and EPSRC.
Queen's internal system: Queen's Research Application System (RAS) only enables the listing of postdocs as PI in the case of fellowships, not grants, and provided a Queen's academic is listed as CoI. For grants, postdocs can be listed as CoI on rare occasions, upon request from the PI. This internal system is an accounting tool and is not used to assess performance; how you appear on it (or not) doesn't reflect on your involvement. However, following postdoc feedback, the PDC requested in 2020 the creation of a new field in the internal RAS system to capture the contribution of postdocs (or other staff) to grant applications when they are not PI or CoI. This will enable important contributors to feel value and to be included in congratulations communications sent to successful applicants (for grants above a given threshold). Such modification has been added to the testing version of the system and will be rolled out in due course.
Note that not being listed as PI or CoI on grants when you are a postdoc can actually turn to your advantage as having held such positions may make you ineligible for some fellowships and new investigator awards.
Why should you get involved with grant writing?
You can get involved in grant writing in many ways: proof-reading drafts, generating preliminary data, writing part of the application, co-designing aims or part of the project, liaising with collaborators etc.
The benefit of getting involved with grant writing of course depends on your career plan. It is mostly beneficial for those seeking to become an academic PI, but can also be relevant in other sectors depending on the role considered.
Prepare for an academic career and improve your CV:
- Get a better understanding of the grant writing process
- Get some actual grant writing experience
- Get a track-record of being awarded funding
- Develop your leadership: in some cases, you may be in charge of the management of a part of the project you were involved in designing and writing (this should be discussed with the PI when preparing the application)
Secure future employment:
- secure your next contract if you are "named postdoc" or "Researcher CoI" on the grant
- opportunity to negotiate the level at which you would be hired and, as such, increase your salary (this needs to be done when costing the proposal; in accordance with the PI, your experience and contribution)
When you contribute to writing a grant but don't hold an "official title" such as PI or CoI, you can STILL record the experience on your CV; just spell out what your contribution actually was
How to get involved in grant writing as a postdoc?
Designing and writing grant applications is very different than writing a paper.
Learning how to do it takes time and there's no better way to learn than to actually get involved in the process:
Grant writing workshops
Learn about grant writing at workshops provided by Research Development
These workshops will appear in the PDC workshops list
Read grant applications
Read successful grant applications (and unsuccessful, especially with reviewers' comments), and familiarise yourself with the language used, the structure of applications and how they fit the funder's call
Help your PI
Proof-read applications and, when possible, get involved in designing and writing part of a proposal, interacting with stakeholders etc. If possible (depends on funders), work to be listed as RCoI or CoI.