How to apply for a grant from the Research Council of Norway (Norges forskningsråd)

Or, “Hvordan søke FRIPRO” , “Hvordan søke Forskningsrådet”.

OK, so I’ve only won one grant from the  Research Council of Norway (RCN). But so far I’ve also only applied for the one grant. My success rate is therefore currently at 100%.

Joking aside, I openly admit that I might not be the most experienced grant applicant of the RCN. However, going through the process of applying for the mobility grant has taught me a thing or two that might be useful for others.

In other words, this is the blog post I searched for in vain while I was writing an application.

Step 1): Decide to apply.
This is a big decision. First-time grant applicants may be struggling with Impostor Syndrome, where they feel like they’re kids dressing up as adults, hoping no-one will notice that they’re not supposed to be at the grown-ups table…

Don’t worry. At least for early career researchers, I’ve been assured that no bad mojo will follow you if you get a lousy review on your first application. And, even thinking about applying to FRIPRO probably means that you’ve done well so far in your career; have a few (or many) publications behind you; and generally understand how the system works.

Step 2): Find a mentor (or two)
Because grant proposals writing is such a specific genre, and a genre that Norwegians are mostly unaccustomed to well into academic careers, due to our specific financing system, it’s a huge advantage to have someone in your corner who has applied.

In my case, I was lucky enough to find not one, but two mentors. Importantly, one of my  colleagues was also willing to let me read a few successful applications. This provided invaluable insight into these texts I’d so far only heard tales of. Luckily, my second mentor serves on several large grant committees. This provided a crucial reader’s perspective.

Step 3):  Read the announcement carefully
Read the announcement again. Then look around through the completely incomprehensible web pages of the RCN. Find the new, hitherto unknown, information, and read that.

Then read the original announcement yet again.

Then you may perhaps start to draft an outline of your grant application — based on the application templates.

Step 4): Outline your grant proposal
Be sure to choose the correct template for the application type  you have chosen. Currently (2016), the RCN operates with five different application types under their free grants program (FRIPRO):

  • Mobility grants (Mobilitetsstipend)
  • Young research talents (Unge forskertalenter)
  • Research grants (Forskerprosjekt)
  • Top research grants (Toppforsk)
  • Centres of excellence (Sentre for fremragende forskning)

Types of applications under the RCN, however, are subject to change. You should therefore always carefully read the announcements and instructions on RCN’s webpages.

After finding your chosen grant type’s announcement, carefully read the instructions and requirements for the grant proposal. There are several important points that you are asked to consider in your application, as well as word– or page limits.

For the mobility grant, I was asked to consider such topics as:

  • transferable skills
  • main and secondary aims
  • budget
  • milestones
  • dissemination/publication plan
  • contribution to society*
  • ethical considerations
  • gender issues

And of course, you need to underpin why your project deserves funding before numerous other projects.

In other words, your project needs to be well thought out, integrated, structured, and organised.

Mine wasn’t.

Step 5): Structure and organise your project
For me, this was the most challenging part of writing the application. I knew that I had an idea, perhaps even a good idea, but I needed to make the project work as an integrated whole.

I needed the infamous (oh, how I really detest the word) synergy effect.

I’m a profoundly visual person, so I often start articles, applications, or other kinds of texts with visually mapping out the different components. And so I did here. How could the different components of the project work together?

I usually use my office wall or door to map out arguments or texts. I use Post It-notes, write down points, issues, or arguments on separate notes, and move them around to see where they fit. In this case, I wanted to use one specific archaeological material (three-aisled longhouses) to examine a range of social, political, and cosmological questions of later prehistory in Scandinavia.

In other words, I needed to divide my research questions into the infamous work packages.

Step 6): Work packages
A work package is a term borrowed from project management. A work package can be a sub project or a set of related tasks pertaining to a larger project. By breaking your research project down into smaller sets of related tasks, you can show how different work packages relate to each other.

Will work package 1 and 2 generate a platform for wp 3? Can your separate research questions be answered by designing a work package to answer each of them? And thus create the completely overexposed yet necessary synergy.

Here is an example from a project from the University of Oslo.

Step 7): Write the intro, pitch the project — but be careful with ‘identifying a gap’
Of course, all academics know that introductions are important. But I didn’t quite understand how important they were in this context until one of my mentors said that without a drive to ‘pull the reader in’ and lead her onto the ‘meaty parts’ of the application, I could forget to get funding.

The need for a ‘warrant’ for your project is important. Karen Kelsky has generated what she calls a Foolproof grant template:


The original post can be found here. However, my mentor who serves on several grant committees, and who’s probably never read this particular blog, told me not to ‘identify a gap’ in my introduction. This was becoming very common, I was told, but wasn’t at all convincing. Not every gap in research is worth pursuing.

So, warrant why your research is important – answer the ‘so what’-question in the introduction – but do not identify random gaps and expect that to be the warrant of your research.

Step 8): Lay your head on the chopping block
… and let your mentors read the proposal. Brace yourself. Then execute the changes they ask for, especially when they have challenged the same point/phrase/argument.

Step 9): Submit
… and be proud of your hard work!

My life philosophy is that everything you can celebrate, should be celebrated. Thus, pat yourself on the shoulder for getting out of the comfort zone and working hard towards your goals.

Step 10): Prepare for feedback
With FRIPRO applications, you get feedback on your proposal no matter what. The application as a whole, as well as different components such as ‘impact’, ‘transferable skills’, and ‘dissemination’, are graded on a scale from 1-7. In practice, only projects which are graded 6 or 7 are competitive in FRIPRO runs. However, for non-winning grants, relatively detailed feedback is provided.

This bit can get uncomfortable. One of the aspects that are always assessed is the Principal Investigator — you. You will be given a grade from 1-7 regarding your ability to lead the project. Try to separate you professional and personal selves at this point. This isn’t a verdict of everything you are — and its not a completely objective assessment either. Expert panels of FRIPRO are incidentally from 2016 made public.

Be grateful. Feedback is a gift. If you did not succeed, the comments you get should be used to rewrite your proposal for next year.

— And if you win the grant… wow, what a feeling…!

* I have heard (unsuccessful) applicants laugh cynically about this requirement. Why should we always have to justify research in an instrumentalist way, etc. Although I dislike the current trend in the humanities of having to link every research project to present-day social issues (immigration, identity, climate change, etc.), I actually find this RCN requirement fair.

We are using taxpayer money. We owe the public, not to create phony links with Hot Topic of The Day, but to elucidate how research can have impacts that are real. If you do not believe your research can provide new insights or potentially change minds, why do it in the first place?

The beginning of something new: ArchDwell

Starting the research project ‘Archaeology of Dwelling’

In December 2015, I discovered that I have been lucky enough to have been awarded a so-called FRIPRO Mobility Grant financed by the Norwegian Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions’ COFUND scheme. The post doc grant entails a two-year research visit abroad, in my case, at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University, and a final year at my home institution, the Dept. of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo.

Additionally, I had already been awarded an internal position at my department, a temporary position as Associate Professor. I was extremely pleased when the two offers could both be realised, with a year as Associate Professor in Oslo first, and subsequently a three-year post doc position divided between Cambridge and Oslo.

About the project: ArchDwell
Archaeology of Dwelling. Architecture, Household, and Social Structure in Scandinavia through Deep Time (1800BCE to 1000CE)

The research project springs from an apparent paradox: How and why could a specific form of dwelling – the three-aisled longhouse – survive in Scandinavia for almost three thousand years, from the early Bronze Age throughout the Iron Age; simultaneously as Scandinavian societies underwent ground-breaking social, ideological, and political changes? ArchDwell is concerned with fundamental questions in the discipline of archaeology and the humanities/social sciences at large, namely the relationships between continuity and break, between agency and structure, and the relationship between space – herein social space expressed through the built environment – and time.

A crucial background to the project is that traditionally, studies of both the Bronze and Iron Ages have been directed towards top-down, socio-political topics: e.g. the emergence of chiefdoms and kingdoms, expressions of power in the form of monumental grave mounds, long-distance trade, warrior ideology and cosmology. Sporadic attention has been directed toward the domestic sphere. Yet, I argue, it is everyday life and everyday practice that creates the social world. Contrary to approaches that place the house outside and beyond the socio-political sphere, I argue that practices and spatial order of the house are intrinsic, entangled elements in the production of hierarchies, social identities, and cosmologies. Therefore, an important motive for the post-doctoral research is to explore how later Scandinavian prehistory, known for its chieftains, warrior ideology, and idealization of masculine ideals, looks from the point of view of the house.

My PhD work may in this context represent a ‘proof of concept’ for ArchDwell. Although the PhD research centred on a specific architectural element of the three-aisled longhouses – the door – I was able to, through comparative analysis of more than a hundred buildings from the late Iron Age (550-1050CE), generate much wider understanding of social structure, gender, ritual and mortuary practices, and mentalities. The post-doctoral project will extend the proof of concept to a longer time scale in order to expand existing knowledge not only of later prehistory, but also more generally of the dynamics of change and stasis in relation to built environments.

Through this blog, I hope to disseminate not only ongoing analyses, preliminary results, etc. from my research, but also thoughts on academic writing, archaeology and research in general. Stay tuned.