Grant Applications, and Tigers, and Bears

Oh My! Advice from Panthera’s Dr Wai-Ming Wong on producing a strong grant application.

If you love your cats big (and small) then you’ll likely have heard of Panthera, an organization dedicated to the conservation of wild cats of the world. Panthera aims to secure a future for these majestic animals through scientific research and applied conservation by leading cat biologists. If you love tigers in particular you probably watched the breath-taking GoPro Causes video of Muli the Sumatran tiger and thought to yourself “Wow! How cool would it be to be there releasing one of those incredible critically endangered animals.” That’s exactly what Dr Wai-Ming Wong thought ten years ago, and now it’s not only a career highlight, but a treasured memory.

As Assistant Director of Field Programs and Grants Manager at Panthera, Dr Wai-Ming Wong is involved in all aspects of scientific management, conservation activities and the grants programs. Prior to this position, Ming has had an impressive field research career that started with tracking leopards in Zimbabwe and then moved on to bear and tiger conservation in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. For his PhD, Ming investigation into the impact of deforestation and agricultural expansion on sun bears in Sumatra. I’m sensing a theme here, it’s no wonder Ming became a member of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group at the same time as joining Panthera as the Tiger Program Manager in 2013.

A key component of Panthera’s mission is to support the next generation of wild cat conservationists, which they do by offering grants and fellowships. I was very happy then, when Ming agreed to talk to me on behalf of Conservation Careers readers, specifically how to submit a strong grant application (although we occasionally deviated back to Muli).

Choose a suitable grant

The first step in applying for any grant is selecting the right one(s) as each application requires planning and effort. At Panthera, all grants are within the reach of early career researchers; from those looking to advance their own field skills, fund graduate level research, or simply provide resources to a new research initiative. Ming suggested researching the granting foundation to understand their Mission and goals. You may then want to contact the granting foundation to express your interest and talk about your project. Panthera tries to be as helpful as possible, so ask them what they want to see in an application. With suitable research into the foundation’s Mission and on further discussion, you may realise your request to fund camera traps in your backyard to film bobcats just isn’t going to cut it. Alternatively if you’ve only ever worked on bears you might be at a disadvantage proposing research on tigers.

Plan your project

There is no such thing as being over prepared when applying for grants. Do the ground work before applying and think about possible projects and make sure it is ready to go when you secure funding. Panthera particularly likes to see long term plans and collaboration; therefore, involvement of local researchers, field assistants and other organizations is favourable, not just for the grant application, but implementation and project impact.

Make a strong application

The first stage for all grants at Panthera is to submit a letter of interest (LOI). The LOI takes the form of a concept of your proposed project, including an abstract and a budget. Following this, the Program Director will invite ten applicants to submit a full proposal. These invited proposals are reviewed by external experts in the field, so make sure you know your Canada lynx from your caracals. It is important too to demonstrate that your research aligns with grant objectives. Panthera aims to fund both applied conservation projects that can have lasting impact, as well as research projects on understudied species.

Network (just like for everything else)

In case you haven’t heard, networking is invaluable in the conservation sector. Everyone knows someone who could put you in touch with someone else. When it comes to grant proposals this is also true, as researchers are often aware of who else is doing similar work at the times. This can benefit you when trying to initiate a project if you are able to connect to the right people.

Apply, apply and apply again

As a recipient of a Panthera fellowship myself I wanted to add this section to Ming’s advice; however, it was on my second attempt – with an updated, and undoubtedly better written, application. Even Ming, in his position as Grants Manager, admitted to being unsuccessful in his attempt to apply for the Kaplan Graduate Award. So don’t give up! If you don’t succeed the first time and your project still fits the objectives and could benefit from funding, then apply again. It’s definitely easier to improve on an existing application and the pay-off is probably worth it.

Grants are competitive and resources are limited, so Ming says “Go for it!”. With his advice you should now be able to put together a strong application, but definitely not for those backyard bobcats.

For information on the grants available from Panthera and to apply you can visit their website. And, if you haven’t seen the video of Muli I encourage you do so below. The footage is spectacular, and you’ll be moved by the story of not only Muli, but the dedication of rangers and conservationists in Sumatra. 

This article was written by Sophie May Watts. You can find her at her website and on Twitter.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Senior Level, Organisational Manager