Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation aims to build capacity in dementia research in Australia. AADRF has seen hundreds of applications over the years, but only some applications are successful. There are many reasons why one application succeeds where others fail.
We have outlined some of the considerations you should make and common pitfalls applicants fall into when applying to us. We have also collected some advice from our external reviewers, who help to determine the fate of many applications.
The following points are a general guide only, with information that may help you improve your application.
Before beginning your application, read the winning profiles from previous year’s award winners to ensure your project is within the scope of what AADRF supports. Please read the Handbook to ensure that you are eligible to apply.
If you have questions regarding your eligibility, contact us before you start an application. You should make sure the email address and phone number you supply AADRF will still be monitored up to nine months later. If your contact details change post application, update these with AADRF as soon as possible.
Let your Research Office know as early as possible about your intent to submit an application. The Research Office can ask AADRF questions on your behalf if they cannot answer them, as well as provide other forms of help during the process. You will also require them to sign your endorsement form.
If you are unsure how to start writing your research proposal, seek tutorials or workshops in grant writing through the Research Office of your institute. If your institute does not offer tutorials or workshops you may find that someone in your research group or institution’s Research Office will have experience in writing successful grant applications. Ask if your group or members of your department can offer any advice on your proposal, give past examples, and critique. Establish this support network up front to make sure that you know who you can seek help from as you need it. Larger grant applications are usually collaborative efforts, so practise collaborating and asking for help now.
Start writing your application early. Do not rush your proposal and remember that late applications are not accepted.
Every form of writing has its own style and pattern. Reading and taking notes of successful applications can help you learn to write in the appropriate style, so always ask if you can view successful proposals of colleagues in your field.
Carefully consider the language you use and make sure it is appropriate to both your target audience (other researchers) and the population who ultimately benefits from the research you are undertaking. Never refer to ‘dementia suffers’, instead refer to ‘people with dementia’ – there are many other examples but this one comes up often and is mentioned by reviewers. A guide to dementia-appropriate language can be found here.
Make sure you (and others) proof read for spelling and grammar, and be consistent in your use of hyphens, acronyms and scientific terms e.g. use one of beta amyloid or beta-amyloid or amyloid beta etc. Poor language can be jarring to reviewers and will reduce the clarity of your message. You must do what you can to show that your application is the best, as you are often competing against equally qualified peers.
Remember to take your reviewers into account when you write your application. Limit the use of acronyms (spell the phrase in full) and jargon as your reviewer may not be in your exact field. Address your proposal as if you were talking to your department, not just your supervisor.
A solid structure is very important. Plan in dot points how your proposal will be laid out. At this stage it is worth seeking an opinion on your plan so that the structure of your proposal is sound – it will save you re-writing it later, or may help you address logic problems early on. Add notes to your outline and build it from there. A logical application where each point, method and explanation flows is clear and easy to follow. But balance the information carefully – cramming to much information in does not impress reviewers.
When writing your background, be through with your research and literature review. Ensure that you have identified the most recent papers on your topic. You may want to ask your supervisor and group members to check to make sure you haven’t missed anything, especially if this is a new project for you.
You must also submit your CV with your application. Tailor your CV to the your application. A curriculum vitae is your handshake with the reviewers – be clean, firm and not too long.
- Remove high school achievements from your curriculum vitae as these are irrelevant to research awards.
- Remove occupations that are irrelevant to your ability to perform your role as a researcher e.g. part-time retail work should be excluded, tutoring and lecturing can be included.
- Remove photos, personal interests/hobbies, marital, parental or carer status.
- Always make your academic awards and publications easy to identify.
- Separate your publications from conference presentations.
- Keep it professional; only use one font, do not use more than two colours, font size should be consistent between the body and headings etc.
For example you should include the following details:
- Phone Number
- Current Occupation
- Summary (150 words max – outline achievements and key skills)
- Skills (relevant to your research)
- Employment History (you may outline key achievements or brief description of roles)
- Education and Training History
- Academic Awards, Achievements and Grants (don’t forget to state the value of these awards, and distinguish between salary and project funding).
- Publications (separate by type of publication – paper, book, media stories etc.)
- Presentations (posters and speeches)
You may include other information such as professional memberships, peer reviews, supervised students and volunteer work, but keep it succinct.
Many universities and other educators will offer short courses in curriculum vitae preparation. If you are unsure about your curriculum vitae, see your Research Office or supervisor for guidance.
A key component of writing your first grant application is a supportive mentor. Your mentor may be your current (or proposed) supervisor, or you may find experts in your area willing to lend their assistance (possibly as a collaborator or associate investigator). Ask senior researchers to be an associate investigator on your application (noting that most AADRF grants limit associate investigators to three). Chose people who are experienced in your specific area and with expertise where you may be lacking. Identify what help they will be willing to provide you. Ask if they would be willing to share successful grant applications of their own.
Ask senior colleagues for feedback on your proposal well before you submit your application. Give yourself and your colleagues plenty of time to edit and improve your draft proposal.
This is the most important part of a project grants application, and is also very important for scholarships and fellowships. Essentially, the reviewers will be looking to ensure that your proposed project builds on existing research in an important way, that it is well designed (using appropriate methodology), and that it is feasible given the timeframe and budget available. These sound simple, but more often than not they are where unsuccessful applications fail.
- Keep up to date with the literature to make sure your proposed project hasn't been superceded before you begin.
- Explain the knowledge gap your research will address (but avoid hyperbole)
- Identify your hypotheses and explain why they are important
- Explain and justify your methodology. If you are doing something differntly to other researchers in your field, you'll need to explain why. Are you innovating or just deviating?
- It helps to have subheadings to address issues such as recruitment, key variables and outcome measures, study design, instruments that will be used, data collection and analysis plan, as relevant. If necessary, seek help from a supervisor or statistical/methodolgoy consultant within your institution to see where you can strengthen this part of your project plan (because you almost always can). If possible, consider adding a power analysis to justify your sampling strategy and analysis plan.
- Make sure that the outcomes you are planning to measure will actually meet your objectives and answer your research questions (make sure that they are the best outcomes to use, based on the literature).
- Feasibility is a big factor that you must always keep in the forefront of your planning. Project grants are only for year, Fellowships for two, and PhD Scholarships are for junior researchers. How much work can you really do in this period of time? And have you allowed time for things not to go exactly as planned (because they often don't!)
- Don’t re-badge an unsuccessful grant application for a larger, longer grant into a proposal for one or two years of research. Reviewers certainly notice this!
- Aiming for three years of work in only one year significantly reduces the feasibility of your project. Instead, consider how much of your larger grant could realistically achieve in one year. If you are successful, that one year of research AADRF funds will be a platform for applying for a longer term grants, as many of our past grant recipients have done.
You should consider the following questions as you develop your proposal:
- Is your proposal innovative?
- Do you know the current issues, controversies and questions in your research area?
- Can you place your proposal in context of previous research?
- Have you defined your methodological approach clearly?
- Did you conduct a power analysis (if relevant) to determine the minimum sample size you will need to make generalisations and recommendations?
- Have you thought of potential barriers you may meet throughout the duration of the project and how you might overcome them?
- Does your proposal make clear why you chose a particular methodology?
- Have you provided a rationale for your chosen method of subject selection/procedure/dataset?
- Have you addressed potential limitations of the methodology?
- Is the project proposal feasible within the time and budget available? Will it still be feasible if ethics approval takes a month longer than expected, or if only half as many participants volunteer as anticipated?
- Does the timeline take into consideration breaks and holidays (your own, and other collaborators)
- Are there external deadlines that will impact on the project, and are these sufficiently accounted for?
- Does your research team have the necessary experience (both in intellectual capacity and in available time, taking into account other obligations) to successfully undertake the project?
- Is there adequate support from the institution (resources, equipment, supervision, access to scientific literature and networks, etc)?
- Is the infrastructure necessary for a successful performance of the project available, or can it be acquired within the project budget?
Ask a colleague to proofread your final draft before submitting. Make sure grammar and spelling are correct, and ensure that you have uploaded all of the necessary documents.
Finally, own your project. An AADRF Grant or Fellowship can be a first step in your career as an independent researcher, so let this shine through in your application. Lead your project from inception, application to final report, but seek guidance and welcome feedback from more experienced colleagues.
If you have any questions or need help with your application, please contact us promptly, well before the closing date of the grant round.
Alzheimer’s Australia is a consumer organisation, and although funded research projects are not required to engage with consumers, we believe that there are mutual benefits for both researchers and consumers from doing so.
- If your project will recruit people with dementia and/or their carers, are the requirements for participation going to be practical? Arrange to talk to consumers to ask them directly (through your local Alzheimer’s Australia organisation if necessary) before you finalise your application
- If your project involves people with less common forms of dementia, are you able to generate the numbers of consumers you will need for the study?
- Did you consult with any consumers (people with dementia, their carers, friends and families) about your research proposal? Is it something that consumers consider is useful, or did they suggest other ideas that you could consider?
- Have you thought about inviting one or more consumers to be more actively involved in your project (in an advisory capacity or assisting with recruitment or dissemination of findings through their networks)?
- If consumers are involved in the project, will they be sufficiently compensated? (i.e., travel and parking reimbursed, or a per-diem if required)
- Will participants be informed about the outcomes of the research in a timely manner? Becoming involved in a research project requires significant commitment and most people want to hear about the outcomes of the research, and may want to stay informed during the course of the project too.
How will you communicate your findings beyond the academic community to inform consumers and the broader community? There are numerous channels for this, including the Understand Discuss section of our website.
AADRF is committed to promoting dementia research to the public, so contact us to find out the ways we can help you get your message across.
Stop Being Such a Scientist, by Randy Olsen