What I Love About Grant Writing

May 27th, 2011 by Potato

I was just sitting here thinking about all the different ways I love grant writing. I mean there’s…


Ok, not much at all to love.

Well there is that unique state of mind, a seemingly impossible superposition of terrified and stressed into pulling your third all-nighter, while also being bored out of your skull. But the word I would use to describe that would not be “love”. (It’s actually pretty similar to thesis-writing).

I understand the need to justify why you should get money to do research, but it’s a pretty frustrating process. It takes a tonne of time since these grant applications are usually huge (even just doing scholarship apps earlier in my grad school days used to take up a full two weeks out of every year), yet the success rate is quite low, on the order of 10% (or worse!). So it’s especially frustrating to sometimes get rejected and find the reviewer’s comments were, well… stupid. Like they didn’t even read the proposal, or didn’t understand the point of the competition, or created a list of tiny nit-picks, but the criticism was enough to not get funded anyway.

I would much rather just give a 2-hour or whatever presentation to the grant committee, especially since it might let them ask questions, avoiding arbitrary denials due to a reviewer skimming a grant and missing a point, or misunderstanding something. Though I do appreciate that with the low success rate (small amount of funds compared to applications) they seek any reason to burn an application, it is just so disheartening to see a month’s worth of work (and the next 3 years of funding) go down the drain because some reviewer phoned it in.


There was a little discussion at some other blogs about how we do science. I don’t want to comment too much right now since I don’t really have any good suggestions on how we should structure science, but something does need to be done, at the very least in the personnel department: as discussed on the other blogs, the post-doc system doesn’t really work. We shouldn’t be penalizing people for trying to put down roots and stay in one place, indeed, in other fields that’s called experience and is considered a virtue. I’m attracted to that idea of a scientist position: like a post-doc, where you do science on a day-to-day basis and aren’t a professor/group leader, except an actual job, with security, benefits, living wage, a place in the organizational structure (rather than a not-student not-employee), and a future. I can’t say though if that otherworldly romantic notion is at all practical, or how we get there from here.

3 Responses to “What I Love About Grant Writing”

  1. wayfare Says:

    /shudder/ I could not agree with you more about grant/proposal writing. I spent yesterday struggling to answer an entire appendix of questions that wasn’t in any way relevant to the RFP, but was *mandatory*.

    They were like this:

    Response to Request for Proposal for An Integrated Software Solution

    Question 269B: Describe the policies and procedures you have in place to address the possibility of an outbreak of illness in chickens.


  2. Michael James Says:

    Grant reading is no great fun either. I find I’m not good at figuring quickly out who is blowing smoke. It’s often the low-key proposals that have the most substance, but many evaluators overlook these less flashy write-ups.

  3. Potato Says:

    Yeah, I don’t envy the reviewers’ job either. Sometimes I wonder if it’d be more efficient to just have a lottery and save the writing/grading effort.