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How did you learn to write grants?

  1. Nov 7, 2013 #1


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    I imagined there would be more hints of that in graduate school (perhaps that's the point of projects). Is that something that you learn in postdoc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2013 #2
    I think this may vary slightly between regions, but around the postdoc level I would say. For me personally it was as a postdoc, simply because that's when I decided to write the first grant. For learning how to do it the first time I think it helps a lot if you're able to talk to a professor with grant experience, maybe even look at some of their successful grant texts.

    Other than that it's simply a matter of trial and error, and trying to learn as much as possible from failures and trying to get good at reading between the lines of what the particular funding agencies are looking at. It also helps to talk to people who have experience being reviewers for funding agencies, especially if there exists people at your institution that maybe even have time to read through your application and give you direct tips. In addition, some universities/departments have groups/staff that are dedicated at helping with grant proposals, since successful application is a clear benefit to the university/department as a whole as well, so you can try asking around for that.

    Hope that answered some of your questions.
  4. Nov 8, 2013 #3


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    In US biology PhD programmes, it is often an exercise that is part of the qualifying exams. http://bioegrad.berkeley.edu/handbook/qualifying-examination

    If you google about there are models that the NIH provides as guides. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/researchfunding/grant/pages/appsamples.aspx

    The structure of grant applications varies (eg. is preliminary data needed?, must the project have a clinical application?), but you should always make sure reviewers understand the key goals and importance of the work as quickly as possible. You should use appropriate fonts and spacing to highlight the key points. Don't be afraid to be reiterate the key points, since reviewers are busy people, and most will read your grant very, very quickly.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2013
  5. Nov 8, 2013 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    A point of clarification- one does not write (or submit) grants. One writes and submits *proposals*. This seemingly minor linguistic point often indicates those who obtain funded proposals and those that do not.

    In any event, learning how to write proposals should start in grad school or even undergrad- think small travel awards. Grad students should be encouraged to write proposals for fellowships, and as atyy points out, many programs include a proposal-writing exercise as part of a qualifying exam.
  6. Nov 8, 2013 #5
    IME, my senior year project advisor encouraged/showed me the ropes of proposal writing. Mid-year progress reports were to be written in this fashion, and for one undergrad summer research grant I applied to also had to include a personal statement that was more along the lines of a "proposal" than a SOP, since I had to detail what the project would be on after I had discussed the details with an academic willing to supervise it (ultimately didn't get it).
  7. Nov 8, 2013 #6


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    Certainly that's pedantic though. People use "grant" interchangeably in class names, how-to books, and talking shop (about their grant that just got *accepted*). In Canada, one of the official instruction booklets is called "The Grant Writing Handbook".
  8. Nov 10, 2013 #7
    I learned how to write grants by reviewing grant applications for a non-profit group.

    Many grant application processes tie themselves up in knots by having a series of questions that they want answered. Often these questions are not answered well (tell me what I asked for!). Often these questions are poorly written (answer what I meant to ask, not what I actually asked). Sometimes you have to think about your audience and figure out what they really meant by asking such a question --and give them a truly complete answer.

    That's how they know you're trying hard. The other big caveat is that people often ignore the mission of the grant agency. In other words, they're giving grants, but they are giving them for a purpose. If you can't cast your project in that light of their purpose, then your chances of getting that grant are minimal.

    This is more than learning to draw proposed three dimensional round pegs that will fit in a square peg blue print.

    You are asking someone for money. They have stated why they're giving this money away. You have to tell them something that fits in their world view. If you can't, it won't matter how erudite and clever your verbiage may be. And by the way, this is an excellent reason to pay attention to your liberal arts classes!
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