The Six Essentials To Crushing It With Your Research Grants
Why “old school” techniques and relying only on “great science” are not enough to get your grant funded today
If you’ve been around for awhile, you know it’s no cakewalk: a look at the funding rates for biomedical research have been hovering near their all-time-record-lows of 17% funded, posted in 2013. Even the “optimistic” 2016 funding rate of 19.1% posted by NIH1, are nowhere close to the once “rosy” funding rates of over 30%. There are more competitors than ever (54,220 in 2016), the competitors are better trained than ever, and a small number of big labs get a disproportionate number of grants.
Everyone else is struggling for the scraps: many institutes are quoting 8 percentile pay lines, which means less than 1 in 10 submissions are funded. Given that a proposal represents a massive investment of time, energy, and even reputation, this is not only a colossal waste, but for many ends up being the worst part of their jobs: the constant struggle for funding. Meanwhile, research gets delayed as everyone struggles to play the game.
What this means to you…
If you are using the “old school” ways of writing proposals – or worse yet, the “I learned how to write grants through a combination of guesswork, random advice, and a few short seminars” approach, then it could be a very long uphill slog.
The Old School doesn’t work anymore
In the Olden Days when my father was doing science, if you were doing good science and were willing to be just a bit persistent with your grant revisions, your funding was likely after a few attempts.
What this meant is that you didn’t have to be an “expert” at writing proposals, just an expert at doing your research. However, with the big decline in funding rates from the high of 32% in 200, accompanied by the ongoing over-building by many research institutions, the “amateur grant writer” approach has become a sure way to fail. Expertise in the writing itself is now a mandatory foundation if you want sustainable funding for a sustainable career.
Just Submit More Proposals…
Many younger faculty are being brainwashed by senior faculty and mentors to “just play the lottery more,” i.e. submitting more and more proposals until one finally “bites.”2 These seniors advising them are living in the past. While a senior researcher with an established reputation and momentum may be able to get enough funding by submitting enough “weekend warrior” proposals, those without a big name or substantial momentum get lost in a sea of rejections. In some cases, it leads to career suicide.3 Worse, an increasing number of senior faculty are struggling to maintain funding with this approach.
“The Lottery” approach only works if all proposals in the mix are of similar overall quality. However, with large differences in quality, clarity, and other attributes, it is instead a strongly-weighted lottery in the favor of those who have either: 1) A big reputation in the field and/or 2) A deep expertise in how to write very persuasively (with the research chops to back it up).
Getting Deep Expertise isn’t easy
Everyone is so busy that almost nobody has had the time to deeply study the science and art of persuasion and clarity – much less to spend the necessary time with trainees to pass on any such knowledge.
While there are some older resources on what worked in the pre-2000’s, those have not kept up. And short workshops are not enough to change deep skills and habits. Becoming an expert in great proposal writing isn’t about theory, it is about skills development.
It unfortunately falls on the shoulders of the individual researcher to gain their own skills and expertise in writing compelling proposals – at least if they want to have a good shot at funding. This takes time, commitment, and sometimes money.
Why Start Here
I have spent the time to go deeply into what it takes to wow your reviewer. I have trained over 300 researchers like you in how to write proposals in a way that is persuasive, fun, and interesting. My trainings have resulted in multiple perfect-scoring R01 grants, and 10’s of millions in funding for research (it has been so many I have lost track). All my trainings are based on my own successful track record of funding up until I stopped writing grants for myself in 2011 (to avoid competing with my clients).
If you want to join your successful colleagues in taking learn how to take your ability to the next level of expertise, clarity, and success, you’re in the right place.
Fortunately, it’s free to you right now to get help
After years of working with clients and studying what works and what doesn’t, I distilled it all down into one training that is going to help you step up your game in a way that is fun and compelling. Don’t worry, I don’t teach the same old boring crap like “read and follow the instructions.”
This training, “The Six Essentials To a Successful Proposal,” is at no cost to you to attend. However, there is one catch: I only offer it at a limited number of times in the next few days.
In this training, I walk you through six essential things to pay attention to in any research proposal. These are based on seven years of working with clients (plus my own funding track record), and are things that even many senior researchers overlook.
Plan on spending 90-120 minutes to attend. If you want deeper follow-up help at that point, I’ll tell you how to get it.
What This Training Is About
If you are serious about getting your research funded (and I know you are), you'll want to know how to present your ideas clearly and persuasively. We'll cover what reviewers are looking for, such as:
- The Hidden "Landmines" of reviewer expectations
- How to get your reviewer excited about your work in the first 5 minutes
- Why reviewer feedback often masks the Real Reason they didn't like your proposal
We'll also cover the Six Essentials your proposal Must Include in order to be discussed and scored, for example:
- How to up your proposal's value in the reviewer's mind
- What a persuasive proposal looks like
- Traps and pitfalls to avoid in your writing
Your reviewers don't have time to wade through unclear writing to uncover the great science underneath. But if you spend some time learning great writing skills, funding is possible, even in today's climate.
Why My Grant Trainings are Unique
I started as an assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill in 2002 who was struggling with grants. My first six grant proposals were rejected, until I found a mentor who worked with me intensively to turn it around. Starting in early 2005, I received my first R01 award on the first round of submission, and from then until 2010 I received three more R01's without any rejections of my R01 proposals. Furthermore, I wrote a successful "Grand Opportunities/RC2" proposal in 2009, and co-led the writing of a successful U24 proposal in 2010 that brought in over $8M for our team. As well, I participated in numerous smaller grants that were awarded. At last count, I participated in writing for over $23.1 million in successful proposals as PI/Co-PI/Co-Investigator (not including large awards I was only peripherally involved in).
In 2010, I started shifting towards helping others with grant writing, through consulting and training. This coincided with leaving UNC-CH as a tenured professor in 2010 with over $1M/year in funding at the time. I now focus on mentoring and training researchers as my only full-time profession.
- NIH Numbers from 2016: https://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2017/02/03/fy2016-by-the-numbers/ ↩︎
- It's a bit like the "random fishing" approach where one trolls a large lake, just randomly throwing in the line to try to find fish. Expert fishers on the other hand learn to go where the fish are, what the fish are eating, and they go there. ↩︎
- While I don't have statistics on this, I have firsthand experience with several clients coming to me for help when it was "too late" - they'd already submitted 10's of failed proposals, had tarnished their reputations, were out of funding, and out of time. ↩︎