NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The GUIDE: How to Write a Research Grant Proposal. (Part 1) [Full link to blog for email clients.]

As promised, here is a glimpse into the process that seems to take up so much of my time:  Writing grant proposals (applications).  Writing a proposal is essentially applying to a funding agency for money to support research.  The funding 'award' is typically termed a "grant."  The application for the grant is a proposal.  However, scientists love their jargon, so writing the application/proposal is usually just called "Writing a grant" or "grant writing." 

Actually, the term "grant" is a catch-all term, and not completely explicit.  The reason, is part of today's blog:

How to Write a Research Grant Proposal:  Part 1 - Selecting a Type of Application

Research funding comes in two main 'flavors' - grants and contracts.  The distinction is in the outcome.  A research grant is awarded (given) to a research institution to perform research.  Also called "Sponsored Research," the scientists receiving a grant promise to perform research on the agreed-upon topic, but are free to change specific experiments and techniques as long as they stay on topic.  Payment is not dependent on results, and there are usually only annual reports of the progress of the research.  At the end of the grant funding (usually 3-5 years), a researcher is free to apply for more funding to continue the work, even if the first grant was unsuccessful!  The logic is often that unforeseen events occurred and the researcher needs more time to continue the work.  Whether the Grant Reviewers accept that explanation is another matter, and we'll get to Grant Review in a later blog.

Contracts are also awarded to a research institution, but they have many more strings attached:  There are often specific steps to take and goals to achieve ('milestones').  The paperwork is more intense - longer progress reports - often due every 3 months.  Contracts can be ended if the researcher or their institution does not follow the contract.  That includes not achieving the research goals, so the only way to continue funding is to make sure you achieve the research goals and get good results.

Nonprofit funding agencies (e.g. American Heart Associations, Gates Foundation, etc.) and the governmental research organizations National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) usually award grants.  The Department of Defense and corporations (e.g. drug companies) usually prefer to award contracts.  My lab and those with which I am familiar have operated under both grants and contracts, and they each have advantages. 

Some corporations - in particular pharmaceutical (drug) companies - will award grant-like funding to labs doing research in fields of interest to the company.  Such Sponsored Research Awards encourage researchers to continue research in an area that is of current interest to that company.  The awards are written like contracts, but may have a bit more flexibility in how the research is performed.  Most of the time, the benefit is that it gives the company a financial and licensing interest in any results.

Despite these differences, most researchers will lump the entire process under the terms 'Grants' and 'Grant Writing' irrespective of the particular award type.  Note the careful wording of the phrase that mentions funding:  grants are awarded to institutions, not individuals.  Once an award is made, it will be administered by a Grants Administration office in the University, College, Institute, Med School, etc.  Contracts are enacted between Company and Institution.  As an employee of that institution, the researcher must abide by the terms of the contract. 

So, to select a type of application, the researcher sort of needs to know to whom they are applying...
...but that's the subject of next week's blog: 

Part 2 - Selecting a Grantor Institution

Stay tuned!

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