The process of writing a grant application is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Like getting ready for any marathon, it takes calculated preparation, consistent work, and some guidance to make it over the finish line.
Mary Truscott, who wrote the eBook The Scientist’s Guide to Writing Successful Grant Applications, knows this process well. With a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from McGill University and over 15 years of biomedical research experience, Mary specializes in writing content related to academic research and personal accountability.
Here are seven key takeaways from her eBook.
The quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” rings true when it comes to grant writing. The ability to communicate, budget, work hard and manage time is just as important as the project itself. Are you ready to sweat? We did say it’s like a marathon.
There are many different grant funding sources, levels of competitiveness, funding amounts, and eligibility requirements. Make sure you not only find a grant that fits your work but pro-tip: you can combine multiple private grants to help support your program.
There are benefits to writing grants early on in your career. To start, junior trainees and investigators have access to more awards and are often judged less harshly. But you don’t have to just write grants to get experience. Review grants with an advisor, and debrief with them at the end. Securing funding as a graduate student may also be your ticket to a coveted postdoc position in a highly-regarded lab. It’s a snowball effect, for sure!
Before you start writing, make sure you can clearly and quickly discuss your plan with colleagues, potential grant reviewers, and grant program officers. In the eBook, Mary lists the questions you need to ask yourself first in order to define your ideas (see page 11). Consolidate these ideas into a short summary, and get feedback about the strengths and weakness. This will help set you on the right course and likely save you a ton of time later.
You can’t go it alone! Before you start your journey, gather a group of peers and advisors who can help. Make sure they have a diverse set of skills and experiences: people who’ve reviewed grants, someone with only general knowledge about your research area, and, of course, a good writer! Don’t forget that they’re doing you a favor. Work around their schedules, give them enough time to provide feedback, and, needless to say, thank them with a nice bottle of wine!
Knowing who will review your grant can help shape your proposal. You can often find who’s on the grant review panel online. If the reviewer is in your field, you can be more technical. If they aren’t, make sure to be more general. Mary suggests that you imagine how you’d present your work if you had a brief conversation with the reviewers.
We can all easily list ways we’ll celebrate if we get funding: sleep, sleep, and more sleep. But, it’s also important to prepare for an outcome you may not want. If it helps, know that most applications aren’t funded on the first try. If yours isn’t, work with the program officer, who is present when the review committee meets, to understand the reviewer’s comments. You should also work with your advisors to decide your next steps.
To end on a high note, treat the whole process as a learning opportunity, whether it went in your favor or not. Next time, you’ll be ready to complete an IRONMAN, not just a marathon!
For more useful tips and advice on writing successful grants, download The Scientist’s Guide to Writing Successful Grant Applications.