I had a fun evening reviewing some grant proposals for graduate students taking a grant writing class.

None of the proposals got me excited. I’m sure this was because the assignment specified that the students had to come up with a proposal unrelated to their research. They had to use one specific paper to come up with ideas for its extension into new areas (having to do with innate immunity and gut microflora).

But here’s the thing. If I were a grant reviewer of real grant proposals and they were this uninspiring, I’d have given them all poor scores. Yet it is clear that most of the students worked hard on the assignment. They get an “A” for effort. But that doesn’t translate into funding. The real world is not like the classroom.

A real grant proposal has to have emotion. That emotion should include enthusiasm. Intrigue/suspense doesn’t hurt either. Inspiration is great.

If a reviewer is faced with a stack of 10 grants in front of her, she needs a way to sort them aside from just technical merit. At least half of them will have technical merit. But only 10-15% will get funded (at least through the NIH). How to sort? Those that get the reviewer the most jazzed up take home the prize.

If I were running this grant writing class, I’d find a way to get the students more pumped up and enthusiastic. I think they are writing from a place of wanting to avoid criticism, rather than from a place of “hey, check out my awesome science ideas – they will solve major problems.” But alas, I am only a volunteer grader this year (besides, I don’t have time to run this class, my bioinformatics class consumes enough time).

Grant proposals must contain emotion. That is lesson number one in Morgan’s bag of grant writing tricks.

3 thoughts

    1. Yves,
      I know it is difficult when people say “it needs more emotion” or “it needs to be more interesting.” I have struggled for a long time to explain how I do this to my students, and I’m not sure that I’ve always been successful, because it was just something that I “did” without knowing how. However, in working on my book, I think I’ve figured out a good formula for how to do this. One of the chapters that I’ve written gets to this point directly. So, hopefully you can wait for the book…. in the meantime, you can get a preview chapter by signing up on the mailing list… that preview gives a hint, but it is not the whole story. Sorry to not be more specific here, but I don’t want to water down the story that I’m developing in the book.

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