Morgan recently heard from someone that a good grant proposal must start with “In this proposal we ” and it must be followed by a hypothesis that will be tested. Harumph! Nonsense! First and foremost, a proposal must solve a problem that someone wants solved! If a hypothesis is part of solving that problem, that’s fine and good. But just having a hypothesis doesn’t do anything to convince reviewers that the work is interesting or worth funding. Convincing them of those vital things (interesting and worth funding) is all about psychology, not about “having a hypothesis”. Morgan delves into this issue, and mentions an upcoming series on grant writing that you won’t want to miss.

9 thoughts

  1. Hi Morgan,

    Absolutely correct. More and more the only proposals that are being funded are pragmatic and respond to problems that need solution. That is the approach we take–Basically The Problem Is___. The Current attempts at response are____and are inadequate because______. The Solution is (or may be)_________.

    Simple but it seems to be working for us.

  2. Hi Ingrid,

    It is simple, but yours is the right strategy. I’ll be delving into “why” that strategy works in the upcoming videos. I’ve got the first one done, but need to get it set up on the web.

  3. I agree. I work with humanities and social science people around grant proposals and the thing I find amazing is that they treat the process as a hoop jumping exercise. Even when you are applying to a program that fund the advancement of academic knowledge, you have to be able to claim what your contribution to knowledge is going to be, why it is important, and how you are going to achieve it. And yet people fail to make the connection between, for example, “literature review” and convincing peer reviewers that the problem you are solving is important.

    Like you, I have found that ideas from marketing are incredibly useful in thinking about how to write grant proposals. After all, it is about persuading someone with money to pay for what you have to offer. And the person with the money has several options for where they can spend their money so you have to persuade them that spending money on what you have to offer is a better choice than spending it on what your competition has to offer.

    The idea that this is about persuasion and competition seems a bit harder to sell to humanities folks, but maybe I just don’t know scientists very well 🙂

    1. Hi Joe,
      I checked your site, and it looks as if you have some similar goals: to maximize the potential that academics have in their careers. Kudos!

      It was one of my mentors that turned me on to the idea that this is “marketing” – and from meeting him you’d never think of him as a “marketer” type (quite the opposite). But he had this insight that you mentioned here: that you want them to spend their money with you! Hence he figured out that the key is “marketing”. I have an upcoming video series delving into this principle in depth… stay tuned!

      And no, I don’t think that many scientists are more receptive to the message of “marketing” science than are humanities profs. I think that as academics, we are all taught to avoid “marketing” and be as “impartial” and “unbiased” as possible.

      But the problem with that training is that grant getting is inherently biased because reviewers are asked to select one proposal versus another.

      If we wanted a truly “unbiased” approach, then we should simply come up with some quantitative measures of “productivity” and put those into a computer program that grades grant proposals, much like a multiple-choice test. (Note: I don’t want it to work like that – I’m just pointing out that that is the implication of an “unbiased” approach – of course, even that isn’t unbiased, because the “test” is biased towards the interests of the tester).

      So my goal here is to convince people that they do need to pay attention to psychology and marketing. I need to get back to work on my book on the subject, so I can finish it up and get it out there. But as you might tell, I’m just a wee bit busy at the moment 🙁

      Thanks for writing!

  4. Hello
    can you please tell me what inherent value of grants to the field of psychology means. What is inherent value?

    1. If I actually used the words “inherent value” I’d be surprised, but I certainly don’t believe there is anything “inherent” about value. Value is always a human judgement that is relative to where one is at and what is important. This is true in all fields, not just psychology.

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