Applying for a Block Grant Partnership Doctoral grant from the AHRC can be a daunting procedure. I was extremely fortunate to have succeeded in this area and, while I don't by any means think that my word is therefore the be-all and end-all, I thought I would share the tips that served me well. There is, as indicated in the first section below, no substitute for reading the official guidance notes and speaking to your prospective/actual supervisor, but in the realm of advice, every little helps.
1.) How much funding is there? What guidance notes?
First, the very grim bad statistical news: as an example, there are, every year until 2013, a national total of 51 doctoral students funded for philosophy. This means that not every institution has funding. You need to check that they have a BGP (Block Grant Partnership) slot.
In the 2008 competition (before BGP was introduced), there were 130 eligible applications, which was 8% of the total; in other words, they had 1625 applications and they gave 38 awards: about a 2.3% success rate nationwide. So: your application has to be extremely good.
To get application to "extremely good" status, it's helpful to read these guidance notes. They are somewhat tedious, but extremely important. The ones you need:
2.) A sample application
I have attached my 500 word proposal. Some institutions are now allowing applications of 1000 words, so I'd recommend writing a 1000 word version and then cutting down if it transpires that you need to do 500.
3.) What is should include
General background (definitely put in footnotes/references)
How the project is new and worthy of a PhD
Impact (other fields affected; see Impact document above)
Materials (books/journals etc.)
Strength of supervisory fit
Timetable (v. important!) -- use the phrase "to ensure prompt completion"
Nice formatting. Stupid, but as with first impressions (see below), it makes a big difference.
4.) How to search for and approach supervisors
A close supervisor fit is one of your best chances for securing funding. An excellent way to find people working in your field is to use the “site” operator on Google.
For example: go to Google and type:
site:.ac.uk pynchon wittgenstein
The first part (site:.ac.uk) is invariant and specifies to search UK academic institutions. The latter parts are your keywords.
Remember (I'm sure you all know this, but I'll say it anyway): when you email your potential supervisor to gauge interest, the first impression is hugely important. They will be the person who will push for your funding application to be accepted, so you have to be polite, interesting and sell yourself. Mention a paper of theirs that has interested you (or, preferably, a book). Attach an abstract (about a page) and a CV. State how your research interests are directly aligned with the supervisor(s). Try to avoid being totally sycophantic, but at the same time, do create an impression of politeness, intelligence and rigour.
5.) Keeping up with the field, training events and funding
CFPs: check out http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/ for English. It is incredibly important to know what's going on in your field and Call For Papers will let you know about conference events. Have a look at http://www.whatisrss.com/ for information on using their RSS feeds to keep up to date with conferences etc.
Vitae: see http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/1218/Postgraduate-researchers.html for a whole load of interesting links. Vitae events are listed at http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/1151/Courses--events.html and are a fantastic way to demonstrate that you are interested in your professional development.
Funding: read through the various AHRC offers for projects and learn about the Roberts review and recommendations (http://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy-practice/1685/Roberts-recommendations.html). These are bodies who can offer you money if you are in a department and, if you an express an interest early on in applying for extra departmental money, they will love you.
If anyone has any other tips, feel free to share them below and I'll update this post accordingly!