By University of Surrey PhD students, Ayse Aslan, ARC KSS Digital Innovation, and Rachel Lawrence, ARC KSS Primary & Community Health Services.

Applying for funding is an essential stage for all research projects. As future academics, it is important to know what is covered in a grant application, as well as what funding boards consider a successful application. Understanding the basics allows us to have a chance to prepare a successful application in the future.

Inspirational and educational talks

Throughout our first day at the training camp, we had a range of talks from inspirational speakers sharing their research and career journey, as well as from academics who gave presentations on How to Sell Yourself and Your Project and explain what goes into a good grant application and what a fundings board looks out for.

Pseudo grant application task

At the end of the first day, we were put into groups where we had to come up with a research proposal for a grant of up to £350,000 related to public health. We had until
5pm the next day to submit a research grant application, and then present our idea to the funding board on the third day. Throughout the second day, we were able to have meetings with individuals from specialist areas, such as finance, patient and public involvement, qualitative and quantitative research, and the director of the funding body. These meetings helped us hear different perspectives on how we can better our research proposal and they made us think of things we did not think of.


We were put into purposeful mixed groups with each person having different backgrounds, areas of interest, and in different stages of their academic journey. It was great to hear peoples’ ideas on how best to tackle the task, however, it was hard, initially, to get everyone in the team to work coherently.

For my group, our main stressor of the two days was finalising our research aim and who our target audience was going to be. We attended all the meetings with the specialists, but we were still conflicted about what our idea was going to be. It was around 1:30 pm when we finally had some direction into where we were going with our research proposal, and then everything after that was intense stress mode.

Presenting our pitch on the last day seemed like a minuscule task, after the intense day we had before, and I felt confident in defending my section of the application during the questions from the panel.


After being allocated into groups, the first night involved a quick discussion about potential ideas and getting to know everyone and their area of expertise. I really got along well with my group and we had great discussions about potential ideas.

On the second day, things were much more intense. We had deadlines throughout the day, so needed to work together quickly. I was one of the team leaders so after we had discussions about what topic we wanted to do, the next job was to allocate tasks round to people so that we could meet the deadlines. The day was stressful between going to meet the specialists and trying to get it all written alongside doing a presentation, but we did get there as a team.

The final day with all of the presentations was something I was quite apprehensive about as I was the presenter but it went well and we got some good feedback from the panel and our mentors.

What we got out of attending


The opportunity to attend the NIHR Doctoral Research Training Camp has been an insightful experience and provided me with a better understanding of what goes into a grant application, which I feel like I would not have known if it was not for the training. It also provided me with knowledge of what funding is out there for me when I come to the end of my PhD.

It has also increased my self-confidence in my ability to write and be able to defend a research grant application. One of the main things I’ll remember from the training camp is that when writing about my academic accomplishments to emphasise the ‘I’ and hold back on the ‘we’ – so as not to depreciate what I have done and to make sure I sell myself to wherever I end up going in the future.


Prior to this experience I had little understanding of what was required for a funding grant and also what the funders tend to be looking for (e.g. how specific you need to be within certain areas). I think that attending this training camp has helped to prepare me for post-PhD life, where I may need to use these skills for grant applications. Overall, I found that it has improved my knowledge of the process and my confidence when it comes to grant proposals and writing.

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