How to write a research proposal

IP Draughts is learning a new skill. He would like to establish a research centre for IP and international commerce, with a particular focus on legal relationships in the STEM field. The centre would undertake research and policy work, develop templates, and propose new ways of working. It would also provide training in IP and contracts to scientists, lawyers and others.

The skill that he needs to learn is how to write a research funding proposal. There are two audiences. First, the proposal needs to persuade a decent university to take on the team that would undertake the research. Second, the proposal needs to persuade potential funders. The funders could be a mixture of private foundations and public bodies.

IP Draughts has circulated a first draft to some friends and colleagues. He now realises how much he has to learn. His draft was based on a successful grant proposal. That proposal had some features in common with his ideas, including the need to build a team that comprises both academics and professionals. With hindsight, he should have focused more on constructing a solid argument, rather than rely on someone else’s structure.

He is grateful to have received comments back on the draft. All were kind, most provide helpful suggestions, and a few pointed out the real difficulties. Some were all three! He is working on what he hopes will be a much stronger proposal.

There are many hurdles to overcome. Some of those hurdles are probably obvious to anyone who has spent their career in academic research. They include:

  1. Generally, the need to persuade people who don’t understand the issues why the research is important, the originality and realism of the author’s ideas, and how the objectives will be achieved. This is a completely different skill from doing good research. Much as it sticks in IP Draughts’ throat, it seems that adding a few buzzwords to the text could improve its chances of success. Would you like some inter-disciplinary, geopolitical, blockchain outcomes?
  2. Will a university take on a team led by someone who is not a career academic?
  3. Outside the sciences, is the priority of university departments on teaching undergraduates and postgraduates, and associated revenue generation, rather than employing teams to conduct research?
  4. How realistic is it to raise funding from external sources, outside scientific disciplines?
  5. How do you measure success?

IP Draughts is encouraged that no-one has said his ideas are bad, and some people have been very complimentary about this aspect. If he had inherited wealth, he might be tempted just to build a team, and do the research in a private capacity, perhaps under the umbrella of a charitable trust. As it is, he will go back to the drawing board, and prepare a better draft. It may be a long hard slog to get to base camp, but if he puts his mind to it, he is hopeful of success.

If you have a serious interest in seeing the proposal (and preferably, some insights into how to make a successful research proposal), please get in touch.

Link to podcast here.

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