Quick Steps To Winning A Grant (Part 2)

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Following on from Quick Steps To Winning A Grant (Part 1):

  1. Generate preliminary data – Having preliminary data is the best way to demonstrate your ideas. Thus, there is a “chicken and egg” problem. Namely without the money you cannot generate the data, and without the data you cannot obtain the money. The easiest (although not easy) way around this is to find either a young researcher to undertaken a small part of the problem as an undergraduate project or as an unpaid internship. If this is not possible because you need special equipment or materials, find someone who has these things and volunteer yourself as par of a joint, unfunded collaboration, with the goal of having a joint publication at the end of the process. This strategy has many potential benefits. In scenario one, you will have a partially trained student who might be a great candidate if funding becomes available. In the second scenario you may have found yourself a long-term collaborator, gained new skills, and/or started a publication record in a new area. All of these can be real wins. 
  1. Check your eligibility – deep within the fine print of all grant call documents are the eligibility rule and the submission requirements. Depending upon the grant and the granting entity these can vary widely. In some cases you must be invited to apply. In other there must be a preliminary expression of interest, often months before the actual grant submission deadline. More commonly these relate to the year your PhD was awarded (or whether you even need one), the type of position you currently hold (e.g. permanent, contract), and the type of institution at which you are employed (e.g. academic, commercial, not-for-profit). These may also relate to your citizenship and/or country of residence. 
  1. Check the submission requirements – nothing is worse than to find out the day your grant is due that you need some special letter or certification from either your institution or (even worse) from a third party, such as a company. You might even have to have a scanned copy of your diplomas and transcripts. These letters often certify aspects of your employment or a promise that certain equipment, space, or teaching buyout will be provided upon he successful funding of the proposal. In addition to those things required by the granting agency, your own institution may have an additional set of requirements. There may even be a preliminary competition at the institutional level. More typically, however, is the budget approval process. Without a signoff from someone with fiduciary responsibilities, most universities will not provide an eligibility letter or generate the necessary signature for the cover page. At most institutions, budgets and their justifications must be submitted at least 1 week ahead of the deadline (more about budgets below). 
  1. Do your budget first – in my mind there is no use dreaming up a fabulous scope of work if there is not sufficient budget to fund it. So my primary rule in writing a grant is to always start first with the budget. For this you will need to know if you must charge your own salary to the grant. You will also need to know what the direct overhead charges are on a salary. For example, if I want to hire a doctoral student, the typical annual scholarship at my university is €18,000. I must then add the tuition costs (€13,500 per year for non-EU and half that for EU candidates). In contrast, a post-doctoral research might be paid €40,000, but as these are wages and not scholarship, I must add 20% for pension and another 10.75% for employer contributions to the employee taxes. In most organizations, all things have a cost. There might be space charges or daily machine use charges. If you are uncertain how to go about pricing your grant, make an appointment with the finance office. You will typically find them super friendly and helpful, as it behooves them to train you correctly once instead having to fix all of your submissions piecemeal. These professionals will also alert you to any special restrictions in the grant (e.g. non-permissible charges, depreciation issues with large equipment, salary caps). 
  1. Find a real problem – your reviewers are much more likely to be sympathetic to your grant application if you can identify a real world problem where it could help. Do not over promise (e.g. “This grant will eradicate poverty in 5 years”), but do quantify the problem with real numbers (e.g. financial costs, lives impacted, artefacts lost through lack of preservation, etc.), and do demonstrate a direct linkage of how your work could alleviate or mitigate the severity of the existing problem.

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