Research careers

Research support

Research Support Services in universities help improve the research performance of Higher Education institutions. They support academic researchers and their institutions with activities including sourcing funding and writing grant applications, developing new PhD programmes, managing research programmes, and the commercialisation of a university’s research.

Some staff work freelance or for a specialist consultancy, supporting private or third sector researchers in a similar fashion. You could also work for a private sector company which writes funding bids for a wider variety of clients, or write grant applications for funding to support the work of a charity, NGO, or social enterprise.

Types of graduate roles

Staff working in Research Support in Higher Education assist with a range of activities and roles, including:

  • Finding funding and grant writing
  • Intellectual property and patents
  • Overseeing contracts for collaborations
  • Ethics
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Developing new PhD programmes
  • Commercialisation

If you want to find out more what sorts of careers might be available in research support services, see examples of this area of work on the website of the University of Sheffield's Research Services department (see ‘Useful websites’ below). Research Services departments (and what they are called) do vary between institutions, so explore a variety to get an accurate overview.

A good way to find out about these careers is to contact people doing the roles, and ask for a short meeting. It’s important to remember that in these roles, you will not be acting as a researcher: for example, in a university, you will be supporting and helping academic researchers in putting together their proposals, or facilitating the impact of their research.

Entry points

Most people start their career as a trainee or junior bid writer. For research funding roles or roles in a university, it may be a requirement that candidates have a track record in successfully securing funding, making this role likely to be more suitable for PhD graduates or research staff looking for a career change.

However, an alternative entry route may be to gain an administrative support role in a university’s Research Services department and move into a ‘specialist’ role such as bid writing or other research service function. It is possible to become a junior/trainee bid writer with a specialist bid writing company, providing their writing services to client companies who are seeking to tender for business contracts.

Skills and experience required

Whilst a science or engineering degree is usually an advantage, some employers may recruit non-science graduates who demonstrate an aptitude for research, analysis, problem-solving, and the ability distil and communicate complex ideas to a non-specialist audience. For some roles, a postgraduate qualification may be desirable or essential.

Whilst being able to write a persuasive grant proposal is an essential skill, excellent interpersonal skills are often equally important. You will need good research and networking skills to identify funding opportunities. In addition to applying for research funding, grant writers may apply for funding to support the work or continuation of charity, NGO, or social enterprise.

Since research is increasingly collaborative, you are likely to be required to identify and build relationships with potential partners. You will need to liaise with funding bodies, and a wide variety of research stakeholders. Excellent planning and organising skills are a must, as grant writers are responsible for managing and requiring the grant writing process from beginning to end.

Use the ‘Useful websites’ at the end of this article to find job profiles and vacancies to get further insight into what specific employers are looking for.

Job search strategies

Look for jobs on the jobs webpages of individual universities or specialist bid writing companies. Higher Education jobs are also advertised in relevant journals such as the Times Higher Education Supplement and the website (see useful links below).

Useful websites for further information
GORS - Government Operational Research
Employs around 500 analysts, supporting policy-making, strategy and operations.
Jobs in higher education, including teaching, academic research, PhD opportunities, administration and student services roles.
Operational research - Civil Service
Civil Service scheme aimed at science and maths graduates, interested in finding solutions to government policy making and resolving complex management problems.
Operational Research Society
Includes a training learning and careers section.
This mailing list is a great way to keep up to date on a variety of science communication topics and careers.
Stay up to date on a variety of science communication topics and careers.
Science - article
This article in Science has several career case studies of grant writers.
Times Higher Education
Includes news along with academic and administrative jobs.
UCAS - article
How to Become A Bid Writer.
University of Sheffield Research Services
Explore the typical activities of a university research services department.
See also

Related information in the following sector:

  • Higher education - work in universities and other types of institutions of higher education

Last updated: 18 Jan 2019