Are you struggling with formulating a great specific aims page?
The specific aims are one of your keys to success. If a reviewer encounters your aims, and gets confused or lost, then it is likely game over for your grant. Do not collect $200, do not pass go.
In both my advising and consulting work with my younger colleagues, I focus first and foremost on the specific aims. I won’t look at the rest of a proposal until the aims are water tight, rock solid, and exciting as well.
It is amazing how much complexity can go into formulating just this single page. Perhaps that’s why so many people don’t do it very well.
I often see half-cocked aims pages. But a half-cocked aims page is the start to a half-cocked proposal. Why bother, if you aren’t going to do it right?
Just say “no” to half cocked aims
I was recently helping a consulting client with an aims page, and there was an aim which was half-cocked.
By that I mean that it was a good thing to do, but the plan for doing it wasn’t well thought out.
I suggested to the client to either firm up the plan, or get rid of the aim.
His response was, “But then I’ll only have 3 aims”.
“So what?” I said.
In my ensuing explanation, I firmed up something that was vague before.
Your aims page is a main “public face” of your proposal.
Think about your first date with someone. Don’t you usually make sure that you look nice, before you walk out the door? Your aims should be that same way. They should put your best foot forward.
Sure, you may have flaws (all of us do), like a little too much flab around the waist (or whatever), but in all likelihood, you’re going to wear clothes that minimize that flaw on the first date.
Your aims should be like the first date.
A half-cocked aim is like letting the flawed parts shine out right away, saying “look at me”. Some reviewers might overlook that. Others will not. All it takes is one reviewer who doesn’t like your proposal to sink its chances.
Your goal is to show strength, confidence, and logical thinking about your research, with each aim well thought out and accomplishing a critical mission within the context of your proposal.
If you put an aim on your aims page, that says, “this is one of the central things that I will focus my time and attention on during this research.”
So, if you list something, then you proceed to have a not so great plan for how you will do that “critical thing”, reviewers will wonder – has this person really thought out this work? You don’t want reviewers holding any doubts, whatsoever. When paylines are 1 in 8 or 1 in 10 proposals funded – one doubt can burn your funding chances to the ground.
The bottom line is that for each aim in the proposal, have a well thought out plan. If you are struggling with figuring that plan out, then it shouldn’t be an aim! You may still propose to do that work as a part of another aim (within the text of the proposal) – but something that is not solidly formulated should never go on the aims page.
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