My focus the past few weeks has been preparing a grant proposal. This is my first attempt at a major, multi-page, grant proposal. I have done minor proposals in the past—the field work for my master’s project was funded with a small GSA grant, and I have obtained a fair few travel grants over the years. Indeed, before submitting this proposal I was in the happy place of being able to truthfully state that I have received 100% of the grants for which I have applied. Needless to say, in addition to wanting this proposal to be successful because of what it would mean to my ability to do science (many of the steps in the process are expensive), that past success rate means that I am even more keen to have this application succeed, since it would be lovely to keep the 100% successful rate for a bit longer.
What have I learned about the grant-writing process? Well, for starters it is very good that I did the initial submission of the application a full week before the deadline, even though I knew that I did not yet have all of the information from my boss that I needed. Why? Because I had forgotten, until I saw that section of the webpage, that a grant application, like job applications, require letters of reference. By doing the submission of the first draft of the paper a week early it gave me the opportunity to remember that important detail, and to contact my referees to ask if they would be able to write a letter before the deadline. How would I have looked if I had had to write to them with only a few hours to spare before the deadline? (Note: the letters of reference have the same deadline as the application itself. If they don’t get it in by then their words will not be heard by the review committee. However, the web page is kind enough to email us applicants when our letters of reference are uploaded into the system, so that we know that they are done and don’t need to worry about that part.)
What else have I learned? There are three sections to the application packet. The first is where you describe the planned project: why it is scientifically interesting and why humanity will benefit from the project. The second is where you describe the scientist(s) who will do the research (that would be me, in this case) and explain why my background makes me the perfect person to do this particular research, and the third describes the institution at which the research will be conducted and why it is the perfect place to undertake such a project. Not surprisingly, I found the first two sections easier to write than the third, since I am so new to this institution. Fortunately, my boss was able to provide me with much helpful information to make the third section come together as it should.
I think that the thing which most helped me with this grant application process is all of the many job applications for academic positions I have done over the years since my PhD first started to draw to a close. The two processes are very similar. However, all in all, I think I have a preference for writing grant applications to job applications—there isn’t quite as much riding on it. If I don’t get this grant I still have a job, I still continue to eat and have a roof over my head. In this particular case I even still get to do the research I speak of in the proposal, since this grant is aimed at researchers who already have an employment contract and a project in progress, but wish additional fund so as to improve the list of what they can accomplish in the process. This level of security permits me to be happy about what I have accomplished over the last few weeks of working on the application—I now have an even better understanding of what my research will entail and how and when I will accomplish various tasks. Even if for some reason my grant is unsuccessful I still gain immense benefit from the process of writing up that work plan and the abstract saying what I will be doing. Besides, you never know—mine might be one of the applications chosen for funding. If I didn’t ask they wouldn’t be able to tell me ‘yes”.