Advice on writing a grant proposal

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When applying for a grant, it is of utmost importance to fulfil the requirements that are laid out in the terms and conditions.

In the case of Petsavers, which funded my own project (on ocular findings in cats with diabetes mellitus), the study must not involve any experimental procedures, including procedures that could be construed as experimental, or data from experimental studies. All required interventions must be considered appropriate for normal good clinical practice; in other words it must potentially benefit the animals being studied. For example, taking a blood sample from a normal but older cat is considered acceptable as it is acknowledged that it is an advantage to an older cat to have geriatric blood tests carried out. However, taking a skin biopsy from the same normal cat would not be considered acceptable. Clear advice is included in the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct.

Study design

The title of the project is essentially the question that will be answered by the research. It should be short, clear and relevant. The clearer the question, the easier it is to obtain the answer. Also, the more work that goes into the study design in the proposal, the easier it will be to carry out the project if the application is successful. Application forms need to be filled out carefully, as the conditions must be adhered to or the grant will not be awarded.

In the case of Petsavers grants, the application form can be downloaded from the Petsavers website. Information required for the application includes a current CV, the project title and intended duration, aims, background, experimental design, how the results will be analysed and how they should be of benefit to pets.

Three reviewers will be asked to consider your application. These are vets with clinical skills and knowledge within the subject area, and they may be able to provide positive feedback as to how you might best achieve your goal.

Estimating costs

An analysis of expected costs and expenditure needs to be provided, noting that Petsavers does not provide direct funding for salaries, travel or continued professional development.

Separate travel scholarships are available, which you could also apply for, and these are offered by the RCVS Charitable Trust, the British Equine Veterinary Association Trust and various veterinary specialty associations.

From the outset, the project costs such as consumables and laboratory fees need to be estimated. There are a few measures that can be taken to keep costs down. It is worthwhile contacting laboratories to get a quote for the work that is required, as they may give a discount for bulk samples. Also consider what equipment you need and whether you might be able to borrow essential pieces. While Petsavers may consider helping with the purchase of essential equipment, this will remain the charity's property when the project is completed.

"The proposed project should be feasible, interesting, ethical and relevant"

It is a good idea to be aware of other research projects that are being carried out in related areas, as they may be trying to recruit samples and have the funds to provide you with results, which would reduce your own costs.

The proposed project should be feasible, interesting, ethical and relevant. The applicant must show that the study is likely to advance the understanding and management of disease in small animals; that the work may be carried out effectively in the time given and with the facilities available; that they are competent to carry out the proposed work with realistic costings, and, most importantly, that the project is ethical both under UK law and within the Petsavers conditions.

The successful applicant is required to sign a contract with Petsavers, agreeing to the terms and conditions and formalising the commitment before the funds can be awarded. Of course, some pay-back is required: a lay summary of the project is required for publication in the BSAVA's magazine, companion; an annual progress report has to be submitted until completion of the project; publication of at least one scientific paper in peer-reviewed literature is expected; the support of Petsavers must be acknowledged in written publications and oral presentations arising from the project.

What the committee considers

In considering a proposal, the Petsavers committee considers:

  • The welfare, wellbeing and safety of the animals being studied;
  • The scientific merit of the project;
  • The extent to which the project is likely to increase knowledge and benefit pets;
  • The ability of the veterinary surgeon to carry out the research;
  • Whether the costings are realistic and acceptable;
  • The likelihood of the project being completed in the timeframe proposed.

The available Petsavers grants range from £1000 to £8000. The Petsavers committee is very helpful and committee members are available for advice and feedback, and will guide applicants seeking assistance as best they can. The deadline for applications is published on the website, and applications cannot be accepted after this date. 

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