The article below from, The Scientist 14:31, Oct. 30, 2000,
has some important advice
for grant seekers. Although it focuses on the biological sciences,
much of what is said applies to most science and engineering
disciplines. Copyright 2000, The Scientist, Inc. Reprinted with
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WINNING, MANAGING, AND RENEWING GRANTS
The Scientist 14:31, Oct. 30, 2000
Before all else fails, read the instructions
By Karen Young Kreeger
They say it's a publish-or-perish world in science, but how can you
stay alive if you don't have any support? With grant proposal return
rates at all-time highs for many granting bodies, how can you make
your proposals pass muster, let alone sing? "It's the very simple
things that can cause an application to fail," says Jackie Roberts,
manager of career resources at the Federation of American Societies
of Experimental Biology. "Read the instructions. Read the
instructions. Read the instructions. Then finally, read the
instructions," she jokingly cautions.
Common mistakes like too many pages, too small a font size, wrong
forms, too long a title, not enough copies, as well as misspelled and
incomprehensible text are some of the most basic reasons why
proposals are returned, say grant-writing specialists.
"Follow the guidelines," agrees Don Frazier, a professor of medicine
and biomedical engineering at the University of Kentucky in Lexington
and a principal investigator on the University of Kentucky
Interactive NIH Grant Writing Program, an Internet-based
grant-writing program for faculty at minority-serving institutions.
"The guidelines are written by reviewers," adds Frazier, who himself
has been a grant reviewer for the National Institutes of Health.
The acceptance rate for NIH grants is 20 percent to 40 percent,
depending on the individual institute, notes Frazier. For those
investigators with reasonably high scores to begin with and who
address the reviewers' criticisms and then resubmit, he says, "their
chances go up remarkably well," by 50 percent to 60 percent. "Bad
news can lead to good news."
All of this is well and good, but you need to find what's out there
first. Thanks to the Web and E-mail, over the last few years a few
free and subscription-based grants alert systems have cropped up for
scientists and grant administrators (see Resources). One is
ScienceWise, where scientists, engineers, and mathematicians receive
E-mail alerts based on keywords regarding Requests for Proposals
listed in the Federal Register, Commerce Business Daily, at NIH, at
the National Science Foundation, and with private and corporate
foundations, among others. ScienceWise also has another grants-alert
feature that sends out notification about Small Business Innovation
Research, or SBIR, grants given by 10 federal agencies.
"The Internet has changed the administration of grants tremendously,"
says John Rodman, president and CEO of ScienceWise. "It's changed
finding grants, writing grants, everything but doing the science."
Before starting ScienceWise, Rodman was director of research at
Southern Illinois University and the University of Texas, Dallas.
Other one-stop grant shopping sites or grants-alert services include
ones at the Community of Science and GrantsNet Web sites. "I would
recommend using all of these sources," says Frazier. "The better you
can research opportunities, the better chances you'll have. You'd be
amazed at what's out there."
Grant administrators also recommend that researchers check in with
their respective offices of sponsored research. Oftentimes they
employ a full- or part-time grants-information specialist who is in
charge of staying on top of grant opportunities.
Frazier adds: "You should also be prepared to submit ideas to more
than one place. This is only a conflict when something great happens."
Write to FIT
Help for grant writing abounds. Books and videos, as well as special
sessions at professional meetings, on-campus brown-bag seminars, and
summer classes on how to pen a winning proposal all provide great
advice.1 One of those services is the University of Pittsburgh's
Survival Skills and Ethics Program, codirected by Beth Fischer and
Michael Zigmond, a professor of neuroscience at Pittsburgh. The
program is a series of eight one-day workshops per year. One of those
eight concentrates on grant writing. Fischer's main advice for
researchers: Develop good writing skills and develop a proposal that
* One that Fills an important gap in knowledge.
* One that is Interesting to you, your field, and the funding agency.
For this, she advises, researchers need to tailor their ideas to the
mission of the granting agency.
* One that Tests a hypothesis. "Descriptive, 'fishing-expedition'
types of proposals are not viewed as highly as experimental,
hypothesis-driven ones. "Reviewers want to see a testable
hypothesis," says Fischer.
* One that has a Short-term, attainable goal, but that also meshes in
with the granting agency's long-term goals. "Don't promise that
you'll cure cancer in three years," notes Fischer. "Carve out a small
part that contributes to that." She adds that reviewers do need
evidence of the proposed experiments' feasibility within the
suggested timeframe. "A common mistake of young investigators is that
they promise the world." Fischer also lists other important pieces of
advice. "One is called The Christmas Tree Effect--if one light goes
out, they all do," she explains. If an investigator proposes one
experiment that all the rest hinge on, then the grant needs to
include a contingency plan if that keystone experiment fails.
What if the results turn out to be ambiguous or inconclusive? Fischer
says that proposals also need to include a back-up plan of what to do
next: "Show that you have thought of the possible outcomes and have a
plan." And by all means, she says, "get a second, third, or fourth
set of eyes to review the grant, but allow for the time to do that."
Lynne Chronister advises grant seekers to make contact with the
sponsors, in addition to filling out the paperwork.
Stay in Contact
What Lynne Chronister, director of the office of sponsored projects
at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, does is reasonably typical
across academia. Her office is responsible for helping faculty to
locate funding opportunities, make contact with sponsors, navigate
the proposal-writing process, especially with items such as the
budget pages, negotiate terms after a grant is awarded, and establish
an account for grants. The most important piece of advice Chronister
has for grant writers is: "Make contact with the grant sponsor. When
you skip to just putting in the proposal then the success rate is a
bit lower." Grant administrators at foundations can tell you what's
already been funded, the direction of what the organization wants to
fund in the case of private foundations, and emerging topics of
Community of Science
Office of Sponsored Projects at the University of Utah
Survival Skills & Ethics Program
University of Kentucky Interactive NIH Grant Writing Program
dlmedia.uky.edu/topclass/ Fischer agrees: "People assume it's
cheating, in fact it's the opposite." Program officers want the best
portfolio of grants for their organization. "They can give advice for
targeting ideas and common pitfalls."
Offices of sponsored research and grant administrators also are
helpful in grant renewal and management. Regarding managing grants,
grant-writing specialists say to make use of the granting agency or
organization's website--check to see what you can and can't do with
the money. When in doubt, again check with a grant administrator.
Regarding renewing grants, the main focus is that you have to
actually have demonstrated that you did what was originally proposed,
says Roberts. "You need to show progress and evaluation. NIH is
looking for accountability."
Try, try again seems to be the grant-writing mantra. "Take the advice
that comes from reviewers' critiques," says Frazier. "Successful
grant writing is a matter of perseverance and a thick skin."
Karen Young Kreeger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing editor for
1. Stephen P. Hoffert, "Proposal writing services give researchers a
competitive edge," The Scientist, Jan. 19, 1998.
The Scientist 14:31, Oct. 30, 2000? Copyright 2000, The
Scientist, Inc. All rights reserved.
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