Grant Writing Season Will be Upon Many of Us
Up here in the northern reaches, many of us are sadly reminded that very soon it will be the Season of Hell. What is the Season of Hell? you ask. In Canada, it's that time when we realize we have yet to prep any of our courses for the fall, students are asking questions about the syllabus we have yet to finish, administrators are lining up meetings for much of September, and we still HAVE TO WRITE OUR GRANTS. Yes, in Canada, some wise soul decided that social scientists should have to submit their proposals for major projects to funding agencies in early October. Who needs summer holidays, right?
None of this is to say that grants aren't written throughout the year. There are various smaller, and some bigger pools of funding, available at other times. In fact, I've just completed my second set of grant reviews for this year. Fresh off this fun, I have some insights to share about common mistakes I see academics make in grant writing. In no particular order.
a. Assume knowledge transfer (KT) isn't that important and so put the least amount of thought into it, despite the fact that it accounts for a significant part of your score on many, many grant applications. Here's an example: say you'll host a workshop after your research is done and then provide zero details about what the workshop will do and who will benefit.
Guess what? On some grants, it counts for the same amount as your methodology.
Yup! I've seen people go on and on about methods and then say nada about KT.
b. Say you will provide "feedback" to community stakeholders and the feedback
consists of telephone calls, letting them sit in on some meetings and/or giving them a report. This has got to be some of the lamest feedback I've ever seen, and yet it's pretty near
standard in most grants I review. How about instead of saying you'll host a workshop at which you and other academics will blather at community folks, you hosted community forums for some useful two-way dialogue?
c. Say you will publish in academic journals and present at academic conferences. But you don't list any of the potential journals or conferences. And also, how does this benefit anyone but other academics? How does talking at other academics improve society? How does it help practitioner communities make evidence-informed decisions? Etc., etc., etc. As a reviewer, I want to know.
d. Make zero plans for getting your academic research out from behind paywalls. Okay, I can hear it now: "I don't have the money to pay for open access!!". Except many grants now allow you to budget for open access publications AND there are a host of other ways in which you can self-archive online or otherwise share your research digitally.
e. Create a crazy budget for your KT efforts that includes paying a developer $20,000 to create your website. This website was created by me for the low, low price of about $150. You would be better off finding some creative students and paying them as RAs to create fantastic social media outputs for you (and that gives you bonus marks for creating 'highly qualified personnel' (ie. training students)).
f. Show zero creativity. Now I'm not talking about hosting puppet shows here, but there is a wide world out there of free apps, tools and platforms that allow you to very quickly and easily showcase your research to different communities. Is your research amenable to being presented through digital media? Instagram. Want to reach public audiences? Facebook. Want to connect to practitioners? Twitter and LinkedIn. All of these platforms allow you to host all sorts of different video, text and pic content.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. Undoubtedly, there will be many, many more things to say as grant writing and reviewing season gets underway. But don't worry: we're here to help you avoid some of these pitfalls!
University of Western Ontario