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calling all academics - AIBU to think proposal writing is torture for little reward?

(23 Posts)
kipperroo Mon 18-Jul-11 16:22:37

Hi. New lecturer here writing first grant proposal. Have been writing for months and do not feel like I've got anywhere. It's so laborious and today I heard the success rate is only 32%. Please fellow academics come and reassure me its all worthwhile... oh and some top tips on bid writing would be great too!

Dorje Mon 18-Jul-11 16:31:37

Mwah ha ha ha ....wait till you start applying for anything from the EU!! <hollow veteran's laughter>

Seriously, all applications are a pain in the neck, but, if you can explain the why of what you want to do in a very concise paragraph, it will help enormously.
Work back from there for details of how every aspect of the project requires X amount of money
and don't forget the measurables - the results, and the metrics of these.
You may have to build in a before and after aspect of the project so those who are giving the money can stand by the 'results' you get. They need to cover their arses, so make it easy for them.

It's a sales job. Get a book on sales to make your proposal appealing and readable. Explain it to an 8 year old and listen to their questions: it will help you hone your pitch.

Chin up - you are in clover really - just think, most of us are in business and have to apply to the bank!!
<veteran's shudder>

crazyspaniel Mon 18-Jul-11 16:33:01

32% is not too bad - some of the grants in my field have a 5-10% success rate. Unfortunately writing grant proposals is part of the job description and it's expected that we apply for them, despite the odds and the fact that they take hundreds of hours to write. I know it's ridiculous but it's worth it from the point of view of being seen by your employer to be writing them IYSWIM. Plus someone has to get the money at the end of the day, and it might be you.

Tips - try not to get bogged down in jargon, most of the panel will not be experts in your field. Try to emphasise the possible impact of the research beyond academia. Make sure you have referees who are respected in the field. And as a junior academic you need to apply for small grants first and built up a funding record before applying for larger pots of money. If there's someone in your faculty who has had success with this particular grant in the past, ask if you can take a look at their proposal.

Allinabinbag Mon 18-Jul-11 16:35:36

Oh dear, I think 32% is probably a bit of an overestimate, it would be in my field anyway where success rates are less than 10% for most of the major funders. My tip is only apply for things which your research is very very suited for, the days of putting out generic applications in lots of places and hoping one hits home are over. There is a larger debate to be had about what this really adds to research quality and whether it is a good use of your work-time (answer to both: probably no) but for good or for bad, we are now targetted on grant applications so have to do them.

Tchootnika Mon 18-Jul-11 16:43:54

Ew - only opened thread through strangely masochistic Monday p.m. displacement craving...
But 32% success rate sounds pretty good, no?

kipperroo Mon 18-Jul-11 17:37:09

Have started applying for small grants but no luck yet. Am having trouble demonstrating 'impact' as my ideas all seem to challenge the industry status quo. The 'pathways to impact' doc (EPSRC) is not really helping. Just can't seem to write research proposal which are considered worthy of funds. Should I change tack (and indeed philosophy) to better my chances or stick at it and face a lack of funding? As we all know the pressure to publish is high and without active research finding fodder for journals is hard.

Am probably just sounding off and airing professional fears but can't really do this at work.

peppapighastakenovermylife Mon 18-Jul-11 17:41:05

5 - 10% is normal I'm sorry although some of the early career have closer to a 30% success rate. Occasionally grin

I hate it. I write loads and get no where - well, I get around the 5 - 10% mark. I kind of feel like I am wasting my time - would have same outcome if I didn't bother hmm

Tchootnika Mon 18-Jul-11 17:42:57

peppa - it doesn't sound as if you're doing that badly, to me!

bigkidsmademe Mon 18-Jul-11 17:49:54

30% wow! I was going to write a Dorothy Hodgkin on mat leave till I saw the success rate was 2% and decided I couldn't be bothered grin

But it is torture, yes. I write a list of points I want to make and assign a paragraph to each one, helps stop me waffling

Indenturedserf Mon 18-Jul-11 18:24:53

Any new lecturer mini sort of start up grants in your area of interest at all?

What is the research office like where you are? have your dept given you a mentor?

It will be worth it when you get a squillion pounds in one day. One of my colleagues got a million pound grant, hello Professorship! social science subject so was spectacular. DH is in a science subject and his new microscope alone cost 30k, the grants he applies for are enormous amounts of money that don't stretch very far.

Good luck you will get there, we had two lectureships advertised in my dept and had about 300 applications a couple of months ago, your already doing well.

kipperroo Mon 18-Jul-11 21:45:47

Thanks indenturedserf
I know I need to keep going just wanted to let off some steam

skidd Mon 18-Jul-11 21:54:38

32%??? That is amazing. I have never heard of such fantastic odds. More like 5-10% in my field as others have said. If you are not convinced that your idea will attract funding I would hold off and think some more until you are really convinced your proposal is worth funding. Also asking a colleague for a (successful or unsuccessful) application might be a good place to start? Good luck

kipperroo Tue 19-Jul-11 00:03:25

Wow. Only 5-10% success rate. How do you maintain enthusiasm and drive (and stamina) to keep applying with those odds? I guess I haven't much experience of the funding landscape outside of my discipline. Given others experiences here I should be more optimistic! Thanks for giving me a fresh perspective. Would still appreciate some tips though (every little helps)

peppapighastakenovermylife Tue 19-Jul-11 08:32:16

Enthusiasm? You don't grin

After your first rejection you usually collapse in a sobbing heap. After twenty or so rejections you just brush them aside and barely bat an eyelid.

You kind of turn into a machine to try and keep your job. At least my College recognises submitting (rather than just capturing) as something good.

kipperroo Tue 19-Jul-11 08:54:00

Yes peppa. For probation you only need to be seen to be submitting not necessarily being successful. Plus my dept have acknowledged that times are tough and funding has become more competitive. But it is still disappointing not to be funded. I guess over time it becomes easier to brush yourself off (i hope).

ennistonemother Tue 19-Jul-11 09:26:25

YANBU, since you ask!

Can I sidetrack slightly (ok, completely) to ask if anyone knows whether a Dorothy Hodgkin has ever been awarded to a man?

Guidelines say that women are especially encouraged to apply or some such wording - is this code for "Men, don't bother." - does anyone know? Are the selection people enlightened enough to know that men too can have childcare responsibilities? Although, at 2%, it's obviously rather a moot point..

51wksApart Tue 19-Jul-11 09:38:24

Yes, a Dorothy HOdgkin has been awarded to a man - a single dad last year I believe and there is another man with one I know. They used to be for women only but clearly the flexibility requirements can equally apply to men so it has been expanded accordingly. It is always worth trying - I have just got one (very smiley) even though it was written at 1am over christmas. No-one is going to think badly of you for trying and failing given the appalling odds of success, they will look more askance if you don't try though ('trying to make myself feel better about another upcoming grant interview' emoticon). Success rates for me (bioscience) normally run at 5-10%. Keep trying.

Fennel Tue 19-Jul-11 09:44:12

YANBU. Success rate in my field is around 10%, or lower, though I also work in a field that has a 30% rate - a field I'm far less interested in but at least they get funding....

It does feel to me like a lottery, I've been involved in so many grant applications and we so often get lots of top marks but there just isn't enough funding, so it doesnt' really matter how much effort you put in. One proposal was in a bid with 30 others, and only 1 got funded, each proposal had an experienced dedicated team of people with a good history of getting grants behind them.

I don't think it's worth the effort. however, I had a long run of unsuccessful grant applications and then recently 3 in a row shock smile shock. and though I'm obviously pleased (and suddenly overworked), really I'm quite angry about the randomness of it all and the wasted effort, so much of all our time going into more and more bids with less and less money to bid form.

ennistonemother Tue 19-Jul-11 10:40:57

Wow, congratulations 51weeks - and thanks very much for the ray of hope there. Am wondering about it for my DH - which makes me sounds like some sort of ... "wife" type - but I want to go back to work after my mat leace, and he wants to see much, much more of his daughter than he can at present, or indeed could, with a typical position in academia. Hmm... I'm thinking they'll look at his form and say "but he has a wife!" - but then they'd not say "but she has a husband!" about a woman, would they, so .. perhaps it's worth him giving it a bash.

Still we're both worried about work/life balance in academia in general (if he's able even to make that his career, with the odds the way they are) - his boss works 7 days a week, and most of his colleagues (male) are not the sort of parents that DH would like to be, simply in terms of the physical number of hours they get to spend with their DC. I think we're probably the first generation for whom this is an issue for (some) working fathers, as well as for working mothers ... I suppose this is progress!

bigkidsmademe Tue 19-Jul-11 10:53:16

Continuing the Dorothy Hodgkin sidetrack...

I'm going to write one for the next round now I'm back from mat leave and my position is the same as your DH ennis - my DH has a flexible job and does 50% childcare. Do I have a hope of getting one or is is reserved for people who shoulder most of the childcare burden? 51 weeks congrats! How did you spin it?

Fennel Tue 19-Jul-11 11:39:01

Dorothy Hodgkin didn't actually do much childcare though, I read her biography (it's the sort of thing my mum buys me for Christmas). She and husband lived in large leafy Oxford house, with nanny and housekeeper, various bits of domestic help (IIRC), and kids also went off to boarding school fairly young. All on a couple of academic/research salaries.

51wksApart Tue 19-Jul-11 13:52:09

Thank you! They are for 5 years now too btw smile. My scenario may be a bit easier as the DCs are little and DH works utterly inflexible hours on a rotation system (inc nights) so I have to be the flexible one. Also, everybody I know who has one seems to work 4 days a week. This could be either a day off per week or leaving at 3 every day for school etc. It might make them think that you take the flexibility thing seriously so I applied for 4 days. However you are judged on the science right up until the end. They only look at the flexibility then (to check you meet the criteria, and possibly to decide between 2 candidates of equal merit). So focus on the proposal, get that right, and then the fact that you have children should be enough! Yes, I haven't found academia to be great for the work/life balance so far but I'm working on it. I do a lot of work in the small hours when the DCs are asleep which infuriates me as I know how unproductive I am being as I am so tired, but it is the only time to do it. I need to get more efficient at using small bits of time :-)

bigkidsmademe Tue 19-Jul-11 13:57:29

Hmmm I might be ok then as I work 6.30-2.30 to collect DS early while DH does mornings. Thanks!

Five years sounds wonderful- might actually have a chance of getting a mortgage!

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