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What if you're not successful?

My application wasn’t funded – what next?

Unfortunately there will always be a greater number of fundable research proposals than available funding.

It can be very disheartening when the research idea you have spent months developing is not ranked highly enough at panel to receive funding.

Not being funded is a normal part of academic life. Each knock-back can be used as an opportunity to learn and to develop your ideas further.

To be successful, you need a degree of resilience to either re-work the proposal for another funder, or to develop a new project idea.

Learn from the experience

Once you have sufficient distance, read through your application and the call guidance notes once again in the light of referees’ and panel’s comments and ‘referee’ it yourself.

  • What would you do differently?
  • Did your application address the priorities of the call specifically enough, or was it a forced fit?
  • Did you pay enough attention to each section?
  • Did you actually answer the questions asked in the call document?
  • Did you have the right team in place to deliver the proposed research?
  • Do you understand all the criticisms of the referees?

Another lesson that you may be able to take from the experience is about planning the application and the time it takes to prepare a high-quality proposal.

If you found yourself rushing the proposal and running out of time to seek sufficient input from colleagues, try to allow yourself more time next time. If your application is not the strongest possible iteration of your research idea, your chances of getting funded are reduced.


Most UK funders do not accept uninvited resubmissions of proposals (e.g. AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and MRC).

These funders expect proposals to be substantially changed before submitting the same research idea as a new proposal.

If your amendments only address panel and reviewer comments or make only minor changes, your proposal will count as a resubmission and will be rejected. Similarly, swapping the principal and co-investigators without further alteration is judged as a resubmission.

Some research funders do allow resubmissions (e.g. NERC), but generally you will need to declare that it is a resubmission.

While you might get lucky with a straight resubmission, experience shows that if it was unsuccessful once it will be unsuccessful again. But if you were to thoroughly revise it, take the advice of others, and resubmit, you could be successful.

Submit to another funder

Another option is resubmitting to another funder.  If you do this, however, don’t treat the proposal like a resubmission.

Every research funder, every scheme, has different interests and priorities. Since your unfunded application was written for and tailored to a particular funder, you will need to revise and develop your proposal.

You can search for other potential funding sources using Research Professional.

New idea

If on reflection you decide to shelve the proposal (perhaps reviewers pointed out that the idea itself was flawed or the proposal didn’t even get sent to panel), onwards and upwards to the next fresh and exciting idea. Just remember to take on board the lessons from your last application.