Grant consulting is hard work. I am fortunate to belong to the Grant Professionals Association. It is a great group and I’ve found some great colleagues. Scientist members are pretty rare within the organization, but there are large higher education and health care special interest groups. Once I got more involved with the local chapter and then attended the national convention, I was stunned to realize how much I knew about grants just from preparing NSF and similar proposals. This past January, I was the invited guest for #grantchat on Twitter. Here is a link to the Storify archive of that chat. There is more at grantchat.org.
We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.”
As opening sentences go, these two sentences are not as memorable as the examples below and many others from literature that draw a reader into a great story.
Call me Ishmael.
It is a truth universally acknowledged…
Happy families are all alike…
Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices…
In the beginning was the Word…”
Yet, they serve the same purpose. That purpose was to draw a knowledgeable scientific reader at the time into a story about the structure of DNA. Anyone working in what we now call molecular biology sixty or more years ago would have known the latest information and the controversies surrounding the research on nucleic acids. Watson and Crick don’t give away much information, but they layer the information in a step-like fashion, drawing the reader into the larger story. The reader learns these three things before Watson and Crick even begin to discuss the new proposed structure:
1. The paper is about the structure of DNA.
2. The proposed structure has novel features.
3. The novel features have biological interest.
Then, the second paragraph begins, “A structure for nucleic acid has already been proposed by Pauling and Corey.” Three sentences in and the reader is hooked and wants to know what Watson and Crick are proposing. They tell a good story backed up by Rosalind Franklin’s data and their structural model. Such a story and the compelling data convinced the scientific community that the double helix model of DNA was the correct one. The ability to tell engaging research stories from the beginning that compel a reviewer to read more gets a working scientist funded and published. Science is full of compelling and engaging stories. They need to be found and well told to the right audience. The introduction of a compelling earlier work begins,
When on board the H.M.S. ‘Beagle’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent.”
That work, On the Origin of Species, coupled with the seminal paper on the structure of DNA and all those that followed changed biology forever.
As a principal investigator, a program officer is another research resource, but it is on you to use that resource widely. Jo Miller of JM Grants does an excellent job explaining the grant seekers role to that of a foundation’s program officer in Program Officer: Friend or Foe? Like their foundation counterparts, federal research agency program officers serve as gatekeepers to federal research funds. Most of my knowledge arises from my experience as a National Science Foundation (NSF) principal investigator, reviewer, and panel member. [Read more…]
Humor and Truth from the Research Lab
As a grant writer, did you ever want to know what it is like to write a federal research grant?
Well, this flowchart from a biochemist really shows that crazy process with humor and truth. I lived this as a faculty member and laboratory researcher.
This timeline and task list is a great educational tool for the larger grant writing community. Proposal section names are different for science grants, but the basic ideas in each section are the same for non-science grants. As funny and seemingly absurd as it is, the chart reveals planning involved because of the required detail and organizational skills it takes to prepare these multi-year laboratory research proposals.
All the points on the timeline discussing experiments, gathering data, and publications speak to evidence-based grant writing. There is no other kind of grant writing in the scientific community. Gone are the days where a researcher could propose an idea with little supporting evidence. Frankly, I am not sure those days truly ever existed. [Read more…]