May 31, 2011

From The Buck Starts Here

By Karen M. Markin

Scientific expertise alone won't get you a research grant. In addition to having a good idea for your research, you must find an agency that needs what you will discover if you pursue your idea. Then you must establish your ability to carry it out on budget and on schedule, so the agency will trust you with thousands of dollars.

Submitting a winning proposal to the right agency can involve trial and error. If you're up against the tenure clock, you will want to avoid as many missteps as possible. Here are a few tips for the first timer on how to maximize success in preparing a document that is as different from a dissertation as a car commercial is from the owner's manual.
  • Check out your target funder's recent awards. The first step is to narrow down your list of possible grant agencies to the most promising prospects. The best way to do this is to see what they have supported in the past.
  • Speak with a program officer. Although requests for proposals posted on the grantmaker's Web site describes grant-program requirements, talk to a program officer to ensure that your specific project fits the funder's needs.
  • When preparing your proposal, follow the grantmaker's guidelines. If the program announcement says to limit the narrative to 15 pages, limit it to 15 pages. This may seem obvious but is frequently ignored.
  • Be particular about the little things. Pay attention to proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Have a colleague read the proposal before you send it off. A second pair of eyes can be very helpful at spotting sections that need improvement. Choose an educated person who is not an expert in your field. Have the reader focus on overall organization and clarity.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to prepare and submit your application. Murphy's law usually prevails at proposal submission time: computers crash and copiers jam.
  • Don't assume that reviewers will be experts in your specialty or issue. Avoid jargon. Your reviewers will be educated people with expertise in your discipline, broadly defined. But they won't necessarily be familiar with the latest developments in your particular niche.
  • Don't give short shift to the budget and its justification. This is the first part of the proposal that some reviewers read. An experienced reviewer can get a clear idea of what you plan to do from those components.
  • Don't give up if you're rejected. Rejection is part of the process. Most everyone who submits grant proposals has been turned down at some point. See it as part of a larger process of grant-writing.
  • Don't forget to obtain copies of your grant reviewer's comments. To revise and resubmit, it is essential that you know why your proposal was turned down the first time. Sometimes reviewers' comments are not sent to you automatically and you need to request them. Do it.
To read the full article, visit The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Karen M. Markin is director of research development at the University of Rhode Island's research office.
This article is copyrighted by Karen M. Markin and first appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education Volume 51, Issue 25, Page C1.

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