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How to write grants after PhD

  1. Aug 27, 2013 #1

    Monique

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    After having finished a PhD it's time to start writing grants to finance further research projects. I wonder what people's opinion is on the following four things:

    1) Should one continue their postdoc career under the supervision of their PhD supervisor? I think one should find a new research lab, to show independence. However, of the grant I applied for 70% of the funded projects continue in the same lab, on the same topic, under the same supervisor. Very unoriginal in my opinion, shows scientific dependence.

    2) Should one continue their PhD work? In my experience the PI is in charge of the research topic, thus the work is also unoriginal and one thus shows dependence.

    3) Should one submit the same grant to multiple organizations in the hopes to get one funded, or always write up very distinct projects and go into the direction that is funded. Again here I see people doing the former, which leads to double funding (and is unoriginal).

    4) Can one apply for a full-time position (100%), when there is a chance that a part-time (20%) position can be funded? Or should one apply for 80%, just in case the 20% might be funded? In the same regard, when one has a full-time contract, can one apply for a grant or should one wait until there is less than a year of contract left? (with an application taking 8 months to be funded).

    I'm trying to clarify what grant-organizations view as original / scientifically non-overlapping work. The grant organization I applied for doesn't want to tell me. By funding point 1–3 I think they are stimulating unoriginal, dependent research.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
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  3. Aug 27, 2013 #2

    SteamKing

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    The cynic would say that the point of grant writing is to get the grant money. Any research which falls out, original or otherwise, is purely incidental.

    Most research work, by nature, is derivative or a continuation of previous research. It is much too expensive and takes too long to come up with a completely new paradigm or theory intentionally. For example, at the end of the 19th century, everything worth discovering in physics was thought to have been discovered and everything worth inventing was already invented. Then, some chaps at a local electric light company asked an obscure physicist to determine if their light bulb was as efficient as it could be. The physicist chap noodled about for several years on the problem, but was not able to significantly improve the design of the light bulb. However, he hit on a new way of looking at how energy was emitted by the hot filament, and came up with the quantum theory. The obscure physicist chap: Max Planck.
     
  4. Aug 27, 2013 #3

    Monique

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    There lies my problem: I've spent the past two years setting up a new research line (paradigm) of which only one publication exists. It's not a continuation of my PhD, while I do use my expertise, it's not at the same university and not under my PhD supervisor. The grant committee evaluates the plan of action as innovative, I ranked high, but was pulled out at the last moment.

    I'm trying to understand how staying in the same lab, under the same supervisor, on the same topic is original independent research.

    Also point 4 bothers me, I was told by a colleague I did something wrong by applying for a full-time position when someone else applied for a part-time advisory position for me. This is nonsense to me, since there is no overlap in tasks and it's allowed to do the full-time grant part-time (it would've been negotiated after funds would be secured).
     
  5. Aug 27, 2013 #4

    Choppy

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    I'm under the impression that typically grant evaluation committees aren't all that concerned about whether or not work shows "scientific independence" - particularly on the level of the individual researchers.

    What they try to do is evaluate the scentific merrit of each proposal, factoring in (a) the probability that you'll be able to do what you claim you'll be able to do (which is evaluated by the academic history of the individuals involved, the proposed methodology, and other recent successes in the field), and (b) the final value of the potential results in terms of the mandates of the grant agency and the individual grants being applied for (ie. the "will anyone care" factor, or the "will our donors be happy" factor).

    So one of the reasons, I imagine, why it's more popular to fund people continuing on under their past supervisors, is that continuing a previous project is more likely to produce a result than starting a new one... particularly if they are already on a great project.

    I was involved in a grant application that came back with the comment that we needed more references of work that was being done... but at the time the work was so brand new that there really wasn't any other work being done! It was quite frustrating.

    Submit the same project to multiple organizations? If it fits the mandate of the particular grant, then yes. I'm not sure the best approach is to think up multiple projects and then pursue whichever one ends up with funding. In most cases, I think you should be trying to come up with the best project you possibly can and then refining it based on feedback.

    I don't have much experience with your fourth question, but I suspect that when applying for a position you need to tell your potential employer that you've applied for your own funding and try to work out a deal where they will guarantee your salary regardless of the outcome of grant proposal. Maybe that's a little pie in the sky for some fields.
     
  6. Aug 27, 2013 #5

    DrClaude

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    In my experience, there is no single answer to your questions, that it varies immensly from country to country. While independence is essential in some places, in others you need protection from someone with power.
     
  7. Aug 27, 2013 #6

    Monique

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    Thanks for your thoughtful feedback. My application has been specifically rejected for scientific overlap/originality/double funding. They don't want to disclose their arguments, which is frustrating because I seriously don't understand their problem. I'm appealing the decision, but I can only appeal protocol and not the reasons for the rejection.

    I can relate to that, I think the novelty is what tripped me up here. For some reason it is being attributed to a collaborator, while it is my work (and the collaborator wrote a statement, but they don't care).

    I can relate with that as well, but have never done it and don't think I could. What if an organization finds out the same project was submitted multiple times? What if both applications get funded?

    The fourth question is about two separate grant applications, so no employer involved. I received the message that if someone would apply for a 20% position for me, I can only apply for a 80% position in another grant (without knowing the outcome of the former). Otherwise there would be double funding that would be ground for rejection. I think that really is a stretch and can't believe an institution would base a rejection on that.
     
  8. Aug 27, 2013 #7

    Monique

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    But what if the evaluation criteria include originality?
     
  9. Aug 27, 2013 #8

    DrClaude

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    Doesn't matter if the committee doesn't think it's that important.

    When I applied for a scholarship for my MSc, the selection criteria indicated that, in addition to academic performance, extra-curricular activities would be counted. I had a good CV in that respect (I had been president of the student body, among others), but was beaten by another student in my class who had no extra-curricular activity, but whose GPA was 0.01 point higher than mine.

    It has been 20 years now, and I guess I'm still sour about it. Especially since she never even finished her MSc.
     
  10. Aug 27, 2013 #9

    analogdesign

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    Hi Monique,

    I would be very careful taking a postdoc in the same lab where you did your Ph.D. When the time comes for you to get a job, it is possible that people may think you couldn't find a postdoc and therefore your advisor threw you a bone. This doesn't sound like it's true, but I would be afraid to give people that impression.

    Also, continuing on the same topic is typically a no-no. You should use this opportunity to broaden your skills and capabilities and demonstrate that you can shift gears.

    Regarding grants, in my experience the funding agencies are very conservative. The trend lately is to only fund grants that they are reasonably sure will get results and you can only get follow-on funding if you get satisfactory results. I think this is crazy but it is what it is. What people do is apply for money to do work that they have already almost completed, and then use the grant to pursue related questions. Then you can use the new results to write the new grant proposal. In that sense you are always one step ahead. it sucks but that is what you have to do.
     
  11. Aug 28, 2013 #10

    Monique

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    I can imagine the sting remains, but the committee does care since the sole reason for excluding me was "originality": I was ranked high in the fundable list (based on CV, proposal, referee reports, interview) and taken out last-minute (after 8 months multi-step selection procedure). My head cannot wrap around that the majority of the funded grants don't follow the guideline of originality.
     
  12. Aug 28, 2013 #11

    Monique

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    Thank you, I'll keep those positive words in mind. What happens in real-life however is quite the opposite: in my observation people who stay under their supervisor's wings get all the grants and permanent positions. Quite the opposite how I imagined science.

    So true. I once saw an article that stated that the best grant applications are the ones that get the most divergent scores: they trigger some to see the innovative nature while others think it is too risky.
     
  13. Aug 28, 2013 #12
    I'm in a very similar situation as you, just starting to write my own grants, however, I'm in a different field and region than you (physics/europe) so my experience may be different from yours.

    Whenever I have talked to the senior people on the departments I've been, that have themselves been apart of several funding committes, they have all said that scientific indpdendence and originality does matter and is important. However, publication record also matter a lot, and if by choosing new fields and new places makes you publish less the first period (very common) then that may also be a problem. So, in the end the committes have to weigh candidates with different merits and it may be difficult to predict if the scitific indedepence "is enough" or not in that case.

    There is another reason for choosing to do something new however, outside of just the first grants, and that is that you actually get a lot more experience from working in more than one place. In the long run that extra experience is usually very valuable (it was to me at least, I already did a postdoc in a new group and field), and not just for getting grants, but also for you personally. It helps seeing things from a new perspective etc. I found this important to remember, because when you don't which choice will get you more grants money, what you acutally want to do is an important tie breaker.
     
  14. Aug 28, 2013 #13

    Monique

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    I couldn't agree with you more Zarqon, a major comment I received from two reviewers is that I didn't have a proven track record in the new system. Also setting it up cost me time, however I did push out a first-author publication recently and have at least two more lined up. However, I keep coming back to the inconsistence that they didn't reject me on my plans or output.

    Changing places is very important for the new perspective. I'm now planning to apply for an ERC starting grant (I'm in Europe as well). Good thing is that all those people that stay with their advisor are not eligible.
     
  15. Aug 28, 2013 #14

    Andy Resnick

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    My remarks are biased, based on the US funding system:

    Absolutely not. If you choose to post-doc, it should be in a completely new environment, preferably with no link to your PhD lab.

    Absolutely not. The PhD should represent the *completion* of a project. Future work (post-doc or otherwise) should be, at the minimum, a wholly new and independent aspect of the underlying science.

    Absolutely. To be sure, different agencies/organizations have different interests (for example, the NSF prefers fundamental science while the NIH prefers disease relevance), but that just means I 'fine-tune' the details, not generate entirely different proposals. And yes, follow the 'path of least resistance'.

    I'm not entirely sure what you mean. In the US, some academic positions are entirely 'soft money', in which case my proposed budget must include 100% of my salary. My position is 9 months (academic year) of 'hard money', so my proposal budgets ask for summer support only. However, if I wanted to on NIH proposals, I could ask for more than 3 months of support which translates to 'buying out' teaching time.

    In any case, *never* wait to apply- success rates are so low that getting funded the first time is highly unlikely. Get the money first, then figure out how to spend it.
     
  16. Aug 29, 2013 #15

    Monique

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    I'll use those arguments in the hearing I'll probably have to go through, the decisions of the committee go against every aspect of the program they're supposed to represent.

    The organization demands that people must write entirely different proposals (and is cross-checking with a few other funds). I don't know what to do. Others that did submit identical proposals and got multiple funded did get money, so unfair :frown: I talked to the program secretary and he said I absolutely would've received the money, without the twist.

    I don't get any salary from my employer. The situation is the following:
    • A professor (from another lab) writes a grant proposal, in which money is requested for a postdoc to supervise a work task (0.2 fte).
    • The postdoc writes a grant proposal for own research (1 fte).
    Both proposals are submitted at the same time, the proposal of the professor is funded first. Should the proposal of the postdoc be rejected, because the postdoc would earn 1.2 fte for "only working" 1 fte?

    It's the insanity I've been drawn into. I've had discussions with my supervisor, I say it's absolute, utter nonsense, but then get "to them it means that you get 1.2 fte but deliver only 1 fte" :uhh: I didn't even sign any contracts on the 0.2 fte!
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2013
  17. Aug 29, 2013 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Wow! That is insane!

    My grant proposal experience has been in dealing with the Dept of Energy and the National Science Foundation here in the US. I think, compare to what you had to go through, now I suddenly feel bad about whining on the stuff I had to go through.

    Zz.
     
  18. Aug 29, 2013 #17

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm not sure how to respond- here in the US, the requested budget is considered *after* the decision is made to fund the science- I receive a request for 'just in time' information that is used to perform minor changes to the budget (which generally means the PI needs to cut about 10% of the budget without impacting the science). This is where you would say 'since I already have 0.2 fte funded, I can reduce my level of effort on this proposal to 0.8 fte'. An alternative would be to move money around post-award; for example, taking 0.2 fte on your grant and moving that money to pay 0.2 fte (or however it scales) for a postdoc/grad student/technician.

    But you seem to be working within a more 'managed' system- many people in the US are very critical of national/continental science programs that are centrally managed by a ministry or other governmental agency, for the very reasons you are encountering. I guess your best course of action (other than relocate to the US...) is to keep talking to colleagues that have successfully navigated the process and try to follow their example. You have my sympathies, and good luck.
     
  19. Aug 29, 2013 #18

    Monique

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    OMG, my local grant officer wrote up a meeting report together with another witness that was present at a conversation with the program manager. She sent it to the organization for approval (to make sure that we had the facts straight). After two weeks (after extending our deadline already with a week) the organization replies "It was not agreed upon that there would be a written report of the meeting. The purpose on our part was to explain the procedure carried out. It is clear your motives were different. We do not recognize ourselves in the report of the conversation." :confused:

    What? The report only contained uncolored facts and was approved by a legal officer (to take out subjective remarks). Could it be more obvious they don't want their lies and deceptions on paper?
     
  20. Aug 29, 2013 #19

    Borek

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    You are still in Netherlands, or have you relocated to Belarus? :surprised
     
  21. Aug 29, 2013 #20

    Monique

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    I'm not sure anymore!
     
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