A Grant Professional Association colleague of mine likes to challenge nonprofits and grant writers with asking them, “So what?” Likewise it’s a challenge to researchers. As an open-ended question, this stops people in their tracks about their or the organization’s mission and goals. It should stop academic scientists too. To me, it is about taking time to consider the following questions about your research:
- What are you doing?
- Why are you doing it?
- How are you going to accomplish it?
- Where are you going to do it?
- Who is responsible for doing it?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
If these look like they came from Journalism 101, it is because grant proposals, even research proposals, must address these questions to be competitive for funding. It’s partly about what do you want to be known for? To use current marketing terms, it means brand and branding. Brand identity and branding is all over the nonprofit world. This piece in Science discusses brands, branding, and a social media presence in scientific research community.
It is about marketing, an uncomfortable topic for many in academic research. Money drives research careers and money drives nonprofit causes. That money comes from extramural grants. Like it or not, a grant proposal is a marketing tool. Two of the worst marketing mistakes in grant proposals many PIs and nonprofits make are writing proposals for the money and writing applications that propose too much. Both mistakes show a lack of focus at worst and short sightedness at best. They dilute your brand identity.
Like nonprofits, principal investigators, must always guard against “mission creep” in their research and quest for funding. Curb your enthusiasm for “Do all the research now!” Take some time, but not too much, to find the right research niche and balance, but before tenure time. Focus on what scientific questions are fundable. Develop fruitful collaborations. Answer the Journalism 101 questions and face the So What Challenge as you develop a research brand, but be on alert for your new research directions. The Research Sustainability Challenge will come all too soon.
Deb Cook PhD