"Without the support of the BES grant, it would have been very difficult for me to attend this course."

Sarah Dale Specialist Course Grant Award Winner

Making a Difference in Conservation: Conference Report

Last month, our joint symposium with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Making a Difference in Conservationbrought together over 250 delegates to explore the complex relationship between ecological evidence, conservation policy and practice.

BES/CCI Symposium Programme

Over two days, a wide range of speakers – from ecology and conservation science, policy, social science, campaigning NGOs and beyond – explored the successes and failings of the links between science, policy and practice, and the consequences for conservation. Speakers reflected on the different stages of the process, from identifying priorities and organising evidence, through to making decisions and engaging publics.

In their conference report, delegates Clive Mitchell (Scottish Natural Heritage) and Juliette Young (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, BES Policy Committee Member) reflect on the main themes of what was said at the symposium, whilst also considering what remained unsaid, exploring points that there was little time to explore, including assumptions and the importance of world-views in filtering the evidence that is used to support policy and practice.

What were your key messages from the symposium? What actions will you take? Leave your comments below, or get in touch if you would like to write a blog post. All the videos from the symposium will be available online very soon. You can also catch up on the key points in our Storify, read more of our reflections, or revisit one of the workshops.

Read the Conference Report

 


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Maximising the policy impact of your scientific research

By Alice Plane, Assistant Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology

At the recent joint BES and CCI Symposium ‘Making a Difference in Conservation: Improving the Links Between Ecological Research, Policy and Practice’ Journal of Applied Ecology Executive Editor, Marc Cadotte, and Associate Editor and Policy Direction author, Sarah Durant coordinated a workshop on maximising the policy impact of scientific research. This post was first published on the Applied Ecologist’s Blog.

In recent years there has been an evolution of the types of papers journals publish and as funders increasingly require impact it is becoming increasingly important to provide the policy and applied recommendations that can be taken from your research.

The workshop was split into two sections, with Marc discussing how to achieve and communicate policy relevant research and Sarah focusing on how to maximise policy impact when working overseas. The primary concerns of workshop attendees, who ranged from academics to practitioners to those who work somewhere in between, included:

  • access to the funding and resources to engage with policy when publication often comes at the end of the grant period
  • access to the scientific evidence in the form of papers is a huge barrier for practitioners, but not all academics can pay for open access
  • practitioners rarely read primary scientific papers and need information distilled into accessible and policy/management relevant formats
  • the novelty and generality required by many journals doesn’t necessarily fit with engaging with policy, which often requires details on a specific situation
  • the door to engage with politicians isn’t always open – how can this be overcome?
  • influencing policy seems to depend on knowing people who define policies
Marc Cadotte discussing what we mean by policy. Photo credit: Martin Nuñez.

Marc Cadotte discussing what we mean by policy. Photo credit: Martin Nuñez.

In this blog post I have listed the key take-home messages from the workshop for maximising the policy impact of your scientific research. It was agreed that as a scientist you should bear some of the responsibility to communicate the policy implications of your research – you are best placed to communicate your research because you have unique insights into the topic, you can best represent your research and you may be funded by public money.

There are many reasons why ecologists should prioritize policy communication and you can also read Marc’s post on who should communicate the policy implications of ecological research here.

Tips for maximising the policy implications of your research:

  • Bear in mind that policy instruments are complex. Where you lack experience in this complexity seek advice from an expert who specialises in the aspects of policy your research could affect.
  • Distil evidence into accessible and policy-relevant formats e.g. lay summaries, policy briefs, short reviews (the IIED briefings are good examples of this).
  • Choose the right journal to increase the chances that the relevant policymakers will see the paper when it is published.
  • Plan ahead and make the policy relevance of your article clear, especially in the abstract. You can read Marc’s tips on planning and execution, writing clearly and effectively and post publication communication in the presentation slides.
  • Engage policymakers right from the start, and – although it may sound obvious – know your problem. What aspects of policy may need to change? What are the policy implications of your evidence? What is the scale of the effect – Local/ National/ Regional/ International?
  • Think about what the potentially relevant policy instruments are e.g. relevant national legislation or international policies such as CBD, CITES, CMS, and which are likely to have the strongest impact and are most practical for what you want to achieve.
  • Think about whether you will need funding to consider the policy aspects of your research in your original proposal. Sometimes this can be difficult as you don’t always know what the policy implications will be until you have your results, but it is often possible to hazard a good guess. Very often the add-on does not mean significant additional funding and separate policy funding streams are available.
  • Bring the scientific community together so that there is a majority scientific consensus on the evidence e.g. the new Policy Direction format provides a good forum for doing this – see, for example, Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. This makes it much easier for practitioners to understand and make use of your evidence.
  • Be aware of different perspectives and build relationships of trust with governments (this may be especially important for conservationists trying to increase policy impact in overseas research).

  • Use social media to communicate and share knowledge.
  • After publication communicate your research through blogs and local and national media. As discussed later in the CCI-BES Symposium meeting by Serah Munguti from Nature Kenya and Fiona Fox from the Social Media Centre it is important that scientific stories make it into the media because the public pay attention to the media and policymakers take into account what the electorate are saying when making decisions.

The final, and possibly the most important take-home message from the workshop was to talk to people about the policy implications of your research. Communication is crucial. You know your evidence better than anyone else and if you don’t engage – then who will?


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Making a Difference in Conservation: Key Messages and Reflections from the BES/CCI Symposium

By Camilla Morrison-Bell, Senior Policy Officer

Camilla Morrison-Bell reflects on her key messages and highlights from last week’s BES/CCI symposium, “Making a Difference in Conservation”.

BES/CCI Symposium Programme

Last week (11th-13th April) was the joint BES and CCI symposium, “Making a Difference in Conservation”, which focused on improving the links between ecological research, policy and practice. The programme was packed with great presentations, workshops, posters, and even a guided walk of Cambridge. Professor Sir John Beddington also gave a fascinating public lecture on ‘Emergencies, Evidence and Policy’ during his time as Chief Scientific Adviser to UK Government.

During the symposium we covered a full range of issues, starting on the first afternoon with understanding what the current barriers are between ecological research, policy and practice as well as how to identify priorities for policy and practice. The next morning focused on evidence, including its generation, collection, synthesis and collation; while the afternoon saw a number of parallel workshops being run (I was part of the ‘demystifying the science-policy interface’ workshop). Wednesday was a full day of talks on public engagement, making decisions and the different techniques to use to help make a difference (be that from engaging at the international convention level to informing behavioural change). Finally, the symposium was rounded off with a panel of six reflecting on their key take home messages from the two and half days.

I thought I would also pull out a few of the key themes that (in my view) surfaced throughout the symposium.

The first message I heard clearly coming through is that scientific evidence is just one strand of information used within the decision-making process.  To be clear, there was no doubting the importance of rigorous scientific evidence being used to inform decision-making. However, it was apparent there is also a need to make space for and recognise the importance of personal experience and informal experiments for ecological practitioners. This was highlighted by Malcolm Ausden during his presentation on the ‘collection of evidence by practitioners’. Similarly, public policy making is so infused with politics (which in turn is influenced by public choice and preferences, amongst other factors as well as the evidence) that we should aim to have policies built upon the multiple evidence base approach, also referred to as evidence based reasoned policy and even evidence informed policy!  The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was highlighted a couple of times as an example of using the multiple evidence base approach to inform policy.

How to package and communicate evidence in an accessible, organised and neutral way was also a key topic of the conference. Systematic Reviews were mentioned on a few occasions and in particular Andrew Pullin focused his presentation on ‘using systematic review and evidence synthesis to inform decision-making’. This may seem counterintuitive when referring to evidence since it should, by default, be unbiased. However, evidence can be selected, used and communicated in a biased way and systematic reviews were highlighted as a way to help prevent this by ensuring a collaborative evidence base that is transparent, open and shared. Systematic reviews not only gather up all the evidence in an open and objective fashion for a policy maker or practitioner to use, but they can also provide a further meta-analysis to identify where the evidence stacks up across different studies in support of, for example, environmental management techniques.

We then heard how the Conservation Evidence Synopsis (a project that packages, synthesises, communicates evidence) will include an evaluation of the evidence that has been synthesised in order to help practitioners see what interventions have worked or not. We also learnt how so often within big international assessments the key message that gets communicated is one or a few key headline facts or a summarising infographic. Therefore, a key message for me working within the policy arena is not to bombard decision makers with information but to distill the key facts into an engaging format that is then supported by the more complex evidence.

Underpinning both of these issues and a word that was repeated regularly was transparency. Transparency in collated evidence is fundamental but also in the policy-making world. For example, when a policy does not fully align with what the evidence would suggest as being the best approach, policy decision-makers need to be transparent and explain the decision they have reached.

This leads to my fourth key point which is communication and the need to communicate with a wide range of audiences – be this media, the academic community, engaging in public evidence calls such as select committee inquiries or by providing advice to Government. In each case how to present or disseminate the evidence might be different but the important point being to make sure to communicate the evidence clearly and effectively.

Finally, horizon scanning for ecological issues that are going to be fundamental for society is a useful exercise to identify early signs for drivers of change, as well as identify knowledge gaps and priority research questions that need answering (then answering them!). This can help policy makers identify threats before they become a problem, and make the link between prioritising key research questions and identifying key research areas to fund. We heard of a few horizon scanning initiatives at the symposium including the Horizon Scan of Global Conservation Issues by Sutherland et al, Bonnie Wintle’s work at Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) and the 1st Antarctic & Southern Ocean Science Horizon Scan.

I have pulled out just a few of the key messages I took away with me from the symposium. There will of course have been more as it was a full programme with so many interesting presentations. If you were at the Symposium, let us know what you took away from the meeting in the comments below, or Twitter using the hashtag #BEScci.

We in the BES policy team are working hard to take some of these key messages forward. We aim to highlight to our members when there are opportunities to submit ecological evidence into, for example, relevant public consultations or select committee inquiries. We do this through our Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and by looking at our expertise database. So if you are thinking about ways to communicate your evidence into policy forums it is worth starting by filling in your expertise in our database and to join one of our SIGs.  Two areas that we will be proactively focusing this year are upland ecology and rewilding – get in touch if you would like to be involved in this work.

We also run a number of schemes to show how the policy-making world works. These are aimed more at early career scientists and include some schemes such as BES Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme (here is a recent blog for more information), the POST Fellowship scheme and six month paid internships with us in the BES office.  If you participate in any of these schemes you can then join the BES Policy Alumni Network. Another exciting initiative we are embarking upon is our Policy Guides project. The Policy Guides will improve communication between BES members and policy-makers to increase the impact of ecological research and support evidence-informed policy-making by explaining how scientists can engage with policy.

If any of the policy support schemes that we run are also of interest then please get in touch and send me an email.


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Making a Difference in Conservation: the BES/CCI Symposium

By Ben Connor, Policy Manager

Last week saw over 250 people come together in Cambridge to tackle the challenges of improving the connections between ecological research and conservation policy and practice. We’ll be posting blogs and all the videos from the symposium very soon, but in the meantime, catch up with the key discussions and whet your appetite for more with our Storify…

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Royal Society of Biology response to the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework

By Camilla Morrison-Bell, Senior Policy Officer

In January of this year, the UK Government launched a call for evidence for its review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that was seeking to “investigate ways in which a simpler, lighter-touch, system for the REF might be developed”. Led by Lord Stern, this review was the latest in a number of consultations on higher education and research policy.

The Royal Society of Biology has published their response to the Stern Review of the REF to which the BES contributed. Overall we remained supportive of the broad aims and objectives of the REF. However, the response identified a number of areas that need further guidance, clarification and in some instances amendment so as not to lead to unintended negative consequences.  Four of the stand out issues from our response were the clear support for retaining peer review of research quality (with some additional supporting measures); The burden placed on researchers, their teaching and career progression by the REF; the problem of credit for multi-author and interdisciplinary papers for early career researchers and collaborations; and finally, the negative effect of over focus on journal impact factor (IF).

To expand on a few of these highlighted issues staring with journal IF, it has been found that the problem of using journal IF as a measure of research importance is it is can lead to institutions distorting their investment priorities towards research fields that lend themselves to high impact factor publishing routes. What is needed is a system that incorporates a more sophisticated use of citation data and accounts for variables such as publication time. This should help ensure some important research areas that do not necessarily lend themselves to publication in high IF journals, such as taxonomy/systematics, don’t undergo a decline in funding in preference for broader popular topics.

While the REF has made improvements to ensure research benefits for society, policy, health wellbeing as well as the environment are better accounted for, there is still a need to understand and communicate the principles behind how to measure impact on these areas. As such there is a need to know how to recognise these impacts, how to capture them and how to widely communicate them.  This process of measuring research impact needs further guidance and to be clear, yet without becoming too tightly defined that it cannot be flexible enough to accommodate the different research outputs; be they more theoretical versus practical. It will also need to take account of whether research will have an immediate impact or a longer term impact, as well as the importance of research at the local versus international level.

These nuances all also serve to highlight the importance of the peer review process, and how difficult it would be to replace it with a metric assessment (quantitative indicator) only. A standalone metric assessment cannot provide a satisfactory assessment of the quality and impact of research. In addition, the over simplification might also see the loss of important information captured through the REF. This supports the view expressed in the independent review of metrics chaired by Prof. James Wilsdon that: “No set of numbers, however broad, is likely to be able to capture the multifaceted and nuanced judgements on the quality of research outputs that the REF process currently provides”.

There are also a number of other implications of REF, which is having a considerable influence on academic behaviour and not always with a positive outcome. For example, subjects which are naturally interdisciplinary can be penalised by the current REF if they fall between different units of assessment and the available funding is often low; for example any given ecological topic may be submitted to a number of different subject panels such as environmental science, biology or agriculture. Yet interdisciplinary research often plays an important role in policy discussions and thus has an important role to play outside of academia. There is also a danger that the REF could inhibit collaborations by over-incentivising REF performance of individual institutions and competition for papers authorship.

The REF is also perceived as having an impact on the role and focus of staff within research institutions with negative consequences such as there being extra pressure on research output, possibly the expense of quality teaching. It can also foster an over focus on REF performance when considering staff promotions, and encourage researchers to move too frequently to new institutions as well as unintended implications on the curriculum with a preference for staff working in fields more likely to produce REF-eligible outputs.

Finally, there are a few other key areas that the REF has a strong influence over such as publication strategies, potentially concentrating of research into an ever smaller number of institutions and even hindering development of both early stage careers.  Changes are needed to ensure these sometimes unintended consequences to do not continue to have problematic impacts so we will remain engaged with this issue as it develops.

Further details on the implications of the REF as well as for more information on the metrics and impacts can be seen in the response from the Royal Society of Biology to the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework. We will continue to engage with this review as it develops and, and welcome views from members – get in touch with your ideas or concerns.


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Getting on with interviews

By Heather Crump, Aberystwyth University, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Early Career Representative @hec72012

Many doors can open as a result of a PhD, whether they lead to continued research, lectureships or work with a non-governmental organisation; none are to be left unexplored. However, finding the key to open the doors of success and longevity can be a tricky process! Well, thanks to Ben Collen and Zoe Davies , who facilitated the interview session at the BES Conservation SIG Early Careers Workshop earlier this March, the key cabinet is a little less muddled!

Opening the door to your future

Their session took a step by step approach, guiding us through application content and interview techniques for post-doctoral research assistants, to fellowships and lectureships. All three stages concentrated upon longevity, progression and a “future perspective” of not only you but within your field of choice.

One of the biggest hurdles to climb is convincing the employer that they should interview you! The thing is, you could be the best person in the Universe for the job, but the reviewer doesn’t know you yet… at the moment you are just “Candidate #1”…

Your CV is a great opportunity to detail your experiences, skills and knowledge bases. However, most institutions require a covering letter or an application form in addition to your CV. This session took us through the creation of a covering letter, from the perspective of the reviewer. Some of the core things to detail are:

* Why do you want the job?

* Can you verify your skills?

* Why do you want to work there?

* What are your future plans?

* How can you further the field?

* What is your vision?

Other tips: when you write a covering letter, just make sure you stay on track. Try to cover all of the requirements in the job description and dig deeper into the ethos of the institution. How do you represent their core values and fit into their already established workforce? Becoming part of a new institution is not only about your skills but how you, yourself, fit into the team.

You, institution, job

When it comes to the interview itself, it is your time to shine! Zoe and Ben, both having been interviewers themselves, gave us some great insights into textbook interview techniques and even helped us to ensure the best first impression is made. Some of these tips can also be found here, here and here.

As mentioned on the day, interviews are a great opportunity for you to elaborate on your application form and have a discussion with like-minded individuals. Be confident, be concise and finally, don’t forget to shine your shoes! Read more about what to expect here or have a look at examples of questions here and here.

Importantly, don’t get disheartened if you don’t succeed at first; sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find the key to YOUR door to success.

And “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” said Milton Berle – so why not also take a look at the networking and funding blogs in this series?

Good luck!

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologist’s blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog. Find out more.


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The nuances of networking and the crux of the CV

By Lydia Cole, Rezatec, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Liaison Officer @lydcole

“Who enjoys networking?”

Silence.

And then we all hear the news: our first task is a game, which consists in spending 20 minutes networking our very hardest.  The rule is simple: the winner of the ‘competition’ is the person whose name is written down most by members of the group for being a useful connection, e.g. could offer them career advice, suggest a useful publication to slot into their thesis or draw to their attention a potentially invaluable peatland vegetation identification key (albeit in Finnish – yes, wonderfully niche!).

Networking, in action

Networking, in action

Ben Connor (BES Policy Officer) spent the first half of the session imparting wisdom on the finer skills of networking (some of which covered here and here). These included:

  • Remember that everyone is human, everyone has been in your position (dreading networking as an awkward early career drifter) and everyone has had to work their way to greater knowledge and experience somehow;
  • The ultimate networking success is when both parties gain from the interaction: try to embody the “you-rub-my-back-I’ll-rub-yours” saying;
  • In a busy conference setting, it may be more effective to pre-plan a meeting with your hero to ensure it does actually happen before they sneak off, but if there is nothing specific you want to ask someone in particular, following your interests and instincts on the day (wine glass in hand) may yield equal or even more interesting results;
  • The art of politely ending a conversation that isn’t coming up with the goods in your limited time-frame is just that: an art; and thus,
  • Practice makes perfect.

The second half of the session (to our relief!) focused on critiquing CVs and matching them to job descriptions. Elina Rantanen (ZSL Publications Team) led us through this activity, where we were given various hypothetical people’s CVs and a pile of job applications, and asked to match them up.  This proved a very interesting exercise in seeing which CVs were more appealing to us, based on layout, content, brevity, etc..  We discussed the relatively new fashion in CVs of including a brief profile at the start, which gives a c. five line introduction to your education and experience for the role that you are applying for; something of a short narrative on you.  Other things to consider when constructing your CV are:

  • How can you tailor it to the job you are applying for? For example, for a research position, list your University education/academic background and publications towards the start;
  • What detail is needed for this job application? Perhaps you don’t need to include your 50m swimming badge for a desk-based policy job;
  • How can you redesign your academic CV for a non-academic job application?

We left the session with new knowledge on the tricks of the networking trade, ideas for how to appropriately revamp our CVs (interesting tips can also be found here, here, and here) and even some ideas about the range of potential jobs we could apply for (starting by regularly visiting websites such as this one, this one or this one).  So next time, take a risk and start a conversation, as you never know what doors it might open!  It might even help you to queue jump the lunch queue, unnoticed.

Here are Ben’s three key take-home messages from this session. You may also want to watch the BES webinar on “How to plan your career”, including presentations on CV building, moving from PhD to postdoc and finding careers outside of academia.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologists blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog. Find out more.


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Update from the BES Policy and Knowledge Exchange training day

By Amy G. Fensome, Policy Intern

On the 4 March 2016 the BES held a Policy and Knowledge Exchange training day at the University of Liverpool. About 30 PhD students attended as part of the doctoral training programme of ACCE (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment), the partnership between the University of Sheffield, York, Leeds and NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

The day included a combination of practical tasks such as the “Tweet your PhD challenge”, won by Melanie Brien, interspersed with excellent presentations from guest speakers including Naomi Weir from CaSE, Andrew Miller Former Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Jonny Wentorth from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) and Sarah Blackford, Head of Education and Public Affairs at the Society for Experimental Biology.

The day was a great success with some very positive feedback, especially with regards to the presentations but the quality of the cake served at lunch also received a couple of mentions. The event will be held again next year. The highlights from the day included:

Sarah Blackford spoke about the importance of communicating your research in the media with the premise that “If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist”. Take away messages included:

  • Your research can reach the media via press releases from your university, scientific journal or conference but journalists might also pick up a story from EurekAlert!
  • A press release, or article, is not the same as an abstract. The rules of engagement are: 1. Begin with a catchy, fun title; 2. Think about your opening line- strong statements and questions are popular; 3. Say what’s new, timely and important about your research early on- don’t build up to it; 4. Find a great picture.

Andrew Miller spoke about the Science and Technology Committee and how to influence science in government. His tops tips were:

  • Submit written evidence to inquiries
  • Suggest witnesses for oral evidence
  • Suggest ideas for inquiries (a “long list” is kept and under regular review)
  • Engage with your MP

Jonny Wentworth spoke about the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology and presented us with the diagram below showing the key governmental and external bodies that provide, review and scrutinise evidence. He noted that policy decisions are not only informed by evidence but also cost implications, ethics and morals, public acceptability and politics.

Capture

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Publicising your work to support your career aspirations

By Katherine Baldock NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Bristol, BES Conservation SIG early career rep @Kath_Baldock

Publicising your research and learning to communicate with a range of audiences is key to raising your profile as a researcher, especially in the early career stages when you may not have published many papers. Visibility isn’t a component to be neglected when building a career, which is why the one day conservation career event organised by the British Ecological Society Conservation Group decided to give this topic its full attention. Thanks to Nathalie Pettorelli (Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London) and Becky Allen (journalist and British Ecological Society press officer), each participant was thus offered the opportunity to discuss online profile building and securing media opportunities.

We started off by thinking about why engaging with the media is important in communicating research to a wider audience. Many of us work in our field because we want to make a difference: to make a difference, we need to communicate our message to audiences outside of academia, including policymakers, campaigners, funders and the public. Most of these audiences get their knowledge of science from the media, so it’s important to learn how best to interact with the media to make sure you can get the key information across.

The workshop was split into two tasks. The first task was to develop a communications strategy for a published article. We learned that it isn’t always easy to pick out the main messages from published papers and the exercise highlighted the importance of making sure the main study findings can be clearly identified from the abstract, and presented in a jargon-free way.

Some recommendations that emerged during our discussions on promoting published papers included the following:

  • Once your paper has been accepted, approach your organisation’s press officer and tell him/her what’s really exciting about that work. If you don’t know who your press officer is, find out and talk to him/her about your research (and well before you need to publicise your paper!)
  • The aim of a press release is to “sell” your story and persuade media organisations to cover it. A press release should therefore have a snappy title, a clear message and be understood by non-scientists. Becky provided several examples of press releases associated with the publication of articles in BES journals. For example a proposed press release title for this paper was “Translocated birds speak with a different accent”.
  • Think about creating a lay summary to accompany your paper to help non-scientists understand the main points (as done e.g. here).
  • Consider translating your abstract, lay summary and/or press release into different languages to make the research accessible to more people. For example if your research was conducted in Argentina translate your findings into Spanish so local people can read about your research.
  • Make sure you use social media to publicise your paper (and read more on this below!).
  • Think about using different media to promote your research – you could create a blog, video or podcast, or use an infographic – visual approaches will appeal to a wider audience. If you have sound clips, you can use these as well!

The second task was a practice interview in which we interviewed one another on the papers we’d been given. This is probably much easier when discussing your own research but made us all think about the types of questions that journalists might ask in interviews.

Press_blog_image

Practicing media interviews

We ended the hour by discussing the use of online social media to promote your research. One clear recommendation was to build up your social media profile well ahead of when you expect to publish your research. It is no good joining Twitter on the day your paper is published! Promoting your research ahead of time, e.g. by posting photos during fieldwork and linking to relevant articles, will help to raise your profile so you’re well placed to promote your research when it is published.

Nathalie summarising her three take-home messages from the session.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologists blog and the ZSL Wild Science blogFind out more


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Writing successful grant applications: power in numbers

By Claudia Gray, Zoological Society of London, BES Conservation SIG Communications Officer

To contribute successfully to biodiversity conservation, you will almost certainly have to get money from somewhere. Your salary, your research assistants, your equipment, any engagement with stakeholders and ultimately the conservation of your focal habitat or species are likely to depend on you getting funding. An essential part of the day was therefore the workshop focussed on the challenge of convincing a funder to back your plans.

The funding workshop was run by Colin Beale (University of York) and Jon Bielby (Zoological Society of London), providing their hints and tips for how to put together a successful bid. First, there is the challenge of identifying the right pot of money to go for. The conservation specialist interest group committee from the British Ecological Society (BES) provided a shortlist of potential funding for conservation action and associated research to the participants, which compiled various lists found on the web (such as this one, this one and this one). However, this shortlist was still over eleven pages long and covered a vast range of different options.

Happy facilitators sharing a tea and a biscuit before the start of the event

Happy facilitators sharing a tea and a biscuit before the start of the event

So, which one to go for? Each participant chose a project or selected one from the list of suggestions, and then hunted out a potential funder. The shortlist of funders revealed pots of money we hadn’t heard of before, that could very possibly be useful in the future – very handy knowledge to take away.

Trying to match up projects to funders prompted important questions: How can I find out what this money has previously gone to? Can I submit an informal enquiry before my submission? Can I email previous applicants or the funders to ask for successful applications? Do they tend to focus on particular types of project even if this is not mentioned in the criteria?  The group discussion provided some helpful answers. For example, yes, it is certainly worth emailing applicants that previously received funding – they may share the secrets of their success, and you have nothing to lose if they don’t.

Once a promising source of cash is identified, the second challenge is writing the application. Although the session was only one hour, Colin and John had everyone choose a project, refine the key selling points, think through the methods and then write a funding application in small teams. For which funder? Well, the BES of course!

Each team wrote an application for a BES small grant (£5000 – £20,000) in record time. The main focus was on the title, the lay persons’ summary and the project description. The word limit for all of these sections is short, only a couple of hundred words, and splitting up the sections made for fun team work. The time pressure also made it easier to focus on the most important, most attractive components of the project. My team wrote a great plan for testing whether a cull of invasive rats would benefit the fictional lesser spotted squivlet!

Focusing on selling the squivlet to the BES

Focusing on selling the squivlet to the BES

Back in a big group, we looked through a successful application (not about the squivlet) and having just tried to create one, the pros and cons of that application stood out really clearly. The project description was really short and general, but very clearly written. The methods were laid out in clear steps and could be understood easily by non-specialists. The outcomes would be exciting and important for science.

Overall, the session was engaging, fast-paced and very interactive. Colin and Jon walked around throughout the session to answer questions and provide specific insights. The group discussions offered a chance for everyone to raise their concerns and share their thoughts, and, in general everyone left feeling a little less daunted by the challenge of getting new funding.

Some of the tips discussed during the session have been captured by others: interesting links include this highly retweeted post by Conservationbytes, this post by the Guardian, and the tips shared by the ESRC.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop. Find out more


Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Event, Research and Development, Science, Science Funding, Uncategorized, Workshop | Leave a comment

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