Rat Race: 5 Tips for a Successful Funding Application

In the last Rat Race post, The Hunt for Funding, I highlighted various sources of financial support available for fashion, textiles and dress history students in the UK and US. In this post, I will reflect on my past experiences of applying for funding, and how to make your application successful.


1) Research the Organisation. Although it may sound obvious, discovering what the organisation is interested in, what projects they have previously funded, and if they have any particular themes they are currently pursuing is vitally important. Firstly, you, as the applicant, do not want to waste your time writing an application which does not fit the funder’s remit. Secondly, it is extremely off-putting to a judge to find that an applicant is unfamiliar with their organisation. Why should they take an interest in you, if you don’t take an interest in them?


2) Suitability of the Source. Expanding on the first tip, once you have researched sources which cover your research topics, or your proposed output, make sure you are applying to the most suitable sources. The Pasold Research Fund will provide support or various different kinds: MA, PhD, publications, museums, projects, and individual activities. For example, when a masters student, I was advised to apply for MA funding as opposed to a general grant. If you are an MA student wanting to attend a conference, and you apply for an activities grant, you will find yourself competing against numerous experienced academics. On the other hand, if you apply for the MA grant, you will be competing with your peers, and can request money for a wider range of activities, such as archive visits, within one application.


3) Significance and ‘Impact’. How will your proposed research make a difference? The term ‘impact’ get used a lot in advertisements for funding, yet most academics will have a hard time defining what this really means. In my experience, it can be taken in various different ways. In many dress and textiles projects, particularly those which are museum based, it can have a very clear, practical meaning, in that the funding body may expect an exhibition, or even a publication, as a result of your work. For more academic work, it may simply mean your contribution to your field. To more progressive organisations, they may be looking for opportunities for innovative public engagement projects. Which of these definitions is applicable should be something you are considering whilst researching the organisation (point 1).


4) Provide Accurate and Complete Costings. Although it may seen difficult to accurately predict how much research trips, conference attendance, or organising an exhibition will cost, providing well thought out costings is key. The judges at the funding body are aware that your predictions and your final receipts will not necessarily match, but showing that the project is viable, that the money they can provide will fit with your needs, and that you have the ability to budget are very important. Additionally, make sure that you have researched the cheapest way of carrying out your project. A funding body is unlikely to wish to fund your stay at a fancy hotel, or travelling first class.


5) Sell Yourself! Why you? Finally, make sure that you stress why you should carry out this research. What skills do you have that set you apart from other candidates? What experience have you gained that may be applicable? This is particularly important if you are applying for longer term funding, such as for a 3 year PhD stipend or for a postdoctoral grant. For these applications, the judges are looking for candidates to invest in, as much as for interesting projects. They want to know that you will be reliable enough to stick with the project for its duration, that you will continue to have impact in the field following completion, that you have actively been engaging with peers and academics, or others in your field, and that you have the ambition and drive to make the project a success.

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