Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Experimental workshop on grant applications

It is currently grant writing season in Australia. Arghh...!

Writing grant applications is a painful and demanding process. It is bad enough for old timers like me, but even worse for beginners. In the School of Mathematics and Physics at UQ, we are experimenting with different ways to support applicants and provide constructive feedback. Previously, I spoke at one such workshop.

We already have a "Reader" program where applicants give their whole application (50-100 pages) to a senior faculty member for feedback. However, I don't think this program gets used as much as it might or should be. That includes by me!
By the time I have finished the application I am sometimes so "burnt out" I don't want to spend time and energy changing it.
This highlights the importance of early feedback: even before the writing starts, when people are picking projects, co-investigators, and planning budgets.

Today we tried something different. About twenty people came to a meeting (with a free afternoon tea!), with a good mix of senior and junior people.

The following then happened.

A volunteer had 3 minutes to do the following:

Write the title of their grant application on the whiteboard.
Give the names of the Chief Investigators and Partner Investigators (outside Australia).
Write the total requested budget.
State why the project was important.
Explain why they were the best person to do the research.

The audience then asked questions and gave feedback. I think this was a little daunting for the volunteers, but they still did it.
People seemed to think this was a worthwhile exercise.
I thought it was pretty illuminating. It highlighted that you really need to have a sharp and clear message, and a realistic budget.

I welcome suggestions of other ideas on how other departments improve the quality of applications.

1 comment:

  1. In our large chemical engineering department, young faculty are "required" to have several people from different backgrounds read each proposal they write until they successfully receive funding. They are very strongly encouraged to do this weeks before the submission deadline so there is a chance to make substantial revisions (which are often suggested). The hope is that this helps communicate that (a) writing good proposals is a learned skill and (b) seeking input from colleagues is far less painful than receiving feedback from anonymous reviewers.

    I like the idea that you described of having people describe the bare bones of the proposal a lot. If the core concept of a proposal isn't well thought out, all the effort is for naught.