Category Archives: grants

How to review an NSERC Discovery Grant

This is a guest post by Jeannette Whitton, Group Chair for Group 1503 (Ecology & Evolution) of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada) (and Professor of Botany, University of British Columbia). She has extensive experience with the review and evaluation of NSERC Discovery Grants (among other things!) While Jeannette writes here specifically about reviewing proposals for Discovery Grants, much of her advice will serve you well in reviewing other kinds of grants, or grants for other agencies*. It will also serve you well in writing grants – because if you know what reviewers and evaluation panels are looking for, you can deliver just what they need.  Dig in!

Some weeks ago, you graciously agreed to review an NSERC Discovery Grant (DG) proposal, or possibly two or three**, which makes you an awesome person, especially in 2020. Because of confidentiality issues, we don’t get much training with reviewing grants – but just as for manuscript reviews, it takes time and care to provide a thoughtful grant review. How I review DGs changed after I served on the evaluation panel and got to see what was most useful, so I thought I would write down some thoughts about what to focus on. I hope this helps those who are new to NSERC DG reviews – or to reviewing grants more generally.  Comments are most welcome! Continue reading

Out in the forest, and out on a limb

Images: A field crew disappearing into the forest; field sites and gear for our soil-carbon project.  All © Stephen Heard CC BY 4.0

Warning: long and detailed – but the details are really the point, so don’t give up too quickly.

I called this blog Scientist Sees Squirrel in recognition of my lack of an attention span.  For 25 years, I’ve been bobbing and weaving academically, shifting research focus as collaborators, funding, access to systems, and just my idiosyncratic curiosity have favoured new projects asking new questions in new systems.  This has benefits and, no doubt, costs (so I’m definitely not claiming it’s right for everyone or even that it’s optimal for me), but it’s kept me excited about science for a quarter of a century.

And I’ve done it again.

Continue reading

Timelines in grant proposals are useless. Here’s how I put them to use.

Image: A completely useless Gantt-chart timeline, from a grant proposal I submitted before my recent epiphany

I’ve written a lot of grant proposals in my 30 years as a scientist, and that means I’ve jumped through a lot of hoops.  I can wring the most text from a specification of font size and margins.  I can describe a piece of research as simultaneously novel enough to be exciting and yet, at the same time, pedestrian enough to be risk-free.  I can justify the crap out of a budget.  But one hoop nettles me more than any other hoop held before me: the grant timeline (sometimes called “schedule of proposed activities”).

I can jump through that hoop, of course – I can make a Gantt chart with a veneer of plausibility.  But I don’t see the point.  Continue reading