Category Archives: grants

Effective grant proposals, Part 4: Who are you writing for?

Today, the fourth part in my series on writing effective grant proposals. The first three parts were concerned with content, but in hindsight, I’m not sure that I put first things first. That’s because before you write anything, you should think carefully about who you’re writing for – and this is this is true in spades for grant proposals. Who will read your proposal, and decide its fate? If you haven’t answered that question, you’re throwing darts without knowing where the dartboard is.

So, who will read your proposal? Well, the answer is (as it is so often) “it depends”. Continue reading

Effective grant proposals, Part 3: Qualifications

Today, the third part in my series on writing effective grant proposals. I’ve pointed out the importance of careful thought about what a grant proposal is for. In brief, the function of any grant proposal is to convince its readers of three things:

  • that the work you’re proposing is worth doing;
  • that the work you’re proposing can be done;
  • that the work you’re proposing can be done by you.

Or (in order): novelty and significance; feasibility; and qualifications.

Having dealt with the first and second bullets, it’s now time to think about the third: qualifications. A funding agency will want return on its investment in the work, so they’ll need to be convinced that it can be done – and more particularly, since you’re asking for the money, that it can be done by you. Continue reading

Effective grant proposals, Part 2: Feasibility

Today, the second part in my series on writing effective grant proposals. I’ve pointed out the importance of careful thought about what a grant proposal is for. In brief, the function of any grant proposal is to convince its readers of three things:

  • that the work you’re proposing is worth doing;
  • that the work you’re proposing can be done;
  • and that the work you’re proposing can be done by you.

Or (in order): novelty and significance; feasibility; and qualifications.

Having dealt with the first bullet, it’s now time to think about the second: feasibility. A funding agency will want return on its investment in the work, which means that they’ll want to be convinced that the work can actually be done. Continue reading

Effective grant proposals, Part 1: Novelty and significance

Last week I promised to begin a series on writing effective grant proposals. This is the first in that series; but for context, remember that I suggested that good grantwriting means asking yourself three questions. The first of those was, on its face, rather simple: what, in general, is a grant proposal for? Simple, but so critical.

It will take a few posts to work through that question; but in brief, the function of any grant proposal is to convince its readers of three things: Continue reading

Three questions to ask yourself, if you want to write a successful grant

I’ve just finished my third year sitting on a major grant panel (the Discovery Grants evaluation group for ecology and evolution, for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada). (No, I won’t tell you if I reviewed your grant.). This experience had me reading and then debating over 100 grant proposals (over the 3 years) – some of which blew my socks off, and some of which didn’t. Continue reading

Can we please stop paying attention to grant funding on researcher CVs?

Given how much time and energy we academics put into evaluating each others’ CVs, it’s a bit startling to realize that we’re doing it wrong. Hiring decisions, promotion decisions, tenure decisions, grant funding decisions – all of these draw heavily on the candidates’ records of “excellence” as documented on their CVs. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – there’s no other way science could be the meritocracy we like to think it is, and that it ought to be (but isn’t yet).  But nearly every time I’ve been involved with evaluating CVs, the process has involved an enormous mistake: we’ve* paid attention to the candidates’ past records of grant funding.

There’s a very simple reason why grant funding should receive absolutely no attention in our assessments of each other: Continue reading

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