grants

Grants applications writing: time-consuming but not always rewarding

“We spend more and more time assessing what we do, and fewer and fewer hours doing it”, in this citation many scientists will surely recognize themselves.

The question concerning different time allocation forms, research excellence framework documentation, and, of course, research funding applications creates a big field for debates. Scientists are spending more and more time filling out forms and writing applications than thinking, reading and writing. It looks clear that bureaucracy is somehow turned the institutions devoted to the search of knowledge into commercial enterprises.

Let’s take the example of research funding applications.

Grant writing varies widely across the disciplines, and the research intended for theoretical-cognitive purposes rests on different assumptions than the research intended for practical applications. Writing successful grant applications is quite a long process that requires a lot of time, diligence and patience. Although at first sight we may think of grants application writing as a linear process that goes just from idea proposal to award, in fact it is a circular process. The scheme below gives an overview of the grant writing process and shows its complexity. [1]

Moreover, every grant distribution organisation has its own procedure for grants application, which applicants should take into consideration while applying for a particular grant. For instance, the UK Welcome Trust Investigator Awards require a research plan first. Then, shortlisted applicants are asked to provide more information. [2] The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has a similar graded process for their Platform Grants. [3] The USA National Science Foundation (NSF) also sticks to this kind of process. The NSF outlines that a key reason for short-listing the applicants is to reduce the wasted time and effort of researchers preparing proposals with a low chance of success. [4] In Australia, the process is contrasting with those mentioned above. It involves the assessment of full proposals.

Despite the specific features of every funding bodies, the process itself is quite complex.

Before starting a grant proposal, an applicant should study the funding source he/she wants to address the application to. The chances of a proposal to receive funding will generally depend on whether its goals and purpose closely match the priorities of granting agencies. Identifying possible grantors is a time-consuming task, but it eventually will bring benefits in future. Even if a researcher has the most appealing research proposal, if it is not sent to the right institution, then it is unlikely to receive funding.

Then comes the most important part, the creation of a grant proposal. Within this process, an applicant should also take into consideration different standards on contents and composition. When the proposal is ready an applicant should submit it to any chosen grant institution. After that, the notice of acceptance or rejection will be received. Depending on the final result, an applicant should later revise the proposals. Grant applicants, whose proposals were rejected should revise and resubmit their proposals during the next funding cycle. Grant applications, which were accepted, lead to ideas for further research and new grant proposals.

Despite the importance of applying for research funding, the total time spent by researchers preparing and submitting proposals is not known. Guidelines advising how to efficiently write grant proposals highlight that they cannot be written in a short amount of time. Moreover, spending more time on writing an application does not increases the chance of success. [5]

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia pursued an observation study on how much time the scientists spend preparing grant proposals. This is what the investigators report: “The NHMRC received 3727 proposals of which 3570 were reviewed and 731 (21%) were funded. Among our 285 participants who submitted 632 proposals, 21% were successful. Preparing a new proposal took an average of 38 working days of researcher time and a resubmitting proposal took 28 working days, an overall average of 34 days per proposal. More time spent preparing a proposal did not increase the chances of success for the lead researcher. As success rates are historically 20–25%, much of this time has no immediate benefit to either the researcher or society, and there are large opportunity costs in lost research output”. [6]

The researchers themselves express their opinions on the existing system and its consequences.

Matt Welsh, a former professor in Harvard, in his blog says he once calculated that some grants he was seeking had a net negative value: they would not even pay for the time that applicants spent on them. [7]

A Nobel Laureate in Physics, and an Australian-based researcher, Professor Brian Schmidt, outlined the large amount of time the Australian researchers were wasting on preparing lengthy proposals for Australian Research Council funding. [8]

Bob Bushaway, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton’s Centre for Higher Education Management and Policy, depicts the system of grant applications as a bureaucratic “sledgehammer”. He states that over the past 20 to 25 years, 80 percent of research council funding has gone to 20 percent of universities. Bushaway specifies that much effort is wasted: for every approved application, research councils reject about 15 to 20 others. [9]

The conclusion is quite clear: it takes far too long to write a grant because the requirements are so complex and demanding. Applications have become so detailed and so technical that trying to select the best proposals has become a dark art. The current system of grant proposals should get some reforms and be simplified.

DEIP decentralised model liberates researchers from this stressful and time consuming process of grant application writing. There is no strict formal documentation which a researcher should provide in order to submit a research to the platform. After registration, a new member creates an announcement of a new research, including the description and the real estimated results. Then, depending on the stage of work on a research, a scientist submits the intermediate results of a research (milestones) and final results of a research, after which the research is considered completed.

On DEIP platform research works are not selected by a centralized committee to be posted on the platform as they will be assessed by the whole community of the platform. The scientists will no longer have to spend days and weeks on writing tons of grants documentation, and be “astrologists” to predict precisely the development of their research and create overestimated expected results.

This way DEIP will give the scientists the opportunity to do what they are supposed to do — create, research and innovate.

Marie Mulyarchik, Editor, DEIP

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1. https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/grant-proposals-or-give-me-the-money/

2. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Research proposal funding rates 2011–2012. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/funding/FundingRates1112.pdf

3. National Science Foundation. Grant proposal guide.http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf11001/gpgprint.pdf

4. Wood FQ, Meek VL, Harman G. The research grant application process. Learning from failure? Higher Educ 1992;24:1–23.

5. Kreeger K A winning proposal. Nature 2003;423:102–3

6. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/5/e002800.full

7. http://matt-welsh.blogspot.fr/2010/11/why-im-leaving-harvard.html

8. Schmidt B. We must rebuild our grants system. The Australian 14 November 2012. Section: Opinion. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/we-must-rebuild-our-grants-system/story-e6frgcko-1226516110682

9. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/audit-overload/410612.article

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