Debbie Knight

The wisdom in waiting to submit a grant proposal – a calculated risk or just plain stupid?

In research issue(s) on February 5, 2013 at 9:00 am

grant proposal due

Today (February 5th) is the official deadline for this round of NIH grant proposals.

Our lab had planned on submitting a proposal.

However, we decided to wait. According to my boss, who is writing the bulk of it, it’s just not close to being ready.

Admittedly, the proposal would be in better shape if we performed more experiments which would add strong support to the proposed research.

But knowing this doesn’t change the fact that deciding to wait is a huge gamble.

It’s tough to get NIH grant funding these days.

Some call it a crap shoot.

And you only get two shots to get a proposal funded.

And if you’re lucky enough to get a score on the proposal (rather than triaged out), you will also get some feedback in the form of a critique.

Admittedly, reading the critique is a bit painful, often resulting in tears or fury (or both). Criticism is sometimes hard to take — after all, you did write the perfect proposal!

It is always wise to put the critique in drawer or on a shelf for a while – allowing the emotions to die down so you can look at the critique in a more constructive (and instructive) light.

Ideally, the critique will give the researcher some idea of what the study section scientists were looking for. And it gives the researcher an idea of how to improve the proposal for the resubmission.

This is all well and good. But getting funded is better.

Yes, my lab, like all research labs out there, needs grant money to keep our research going.

But I also have a personal stake in this: my livelihood depends on this funding.

For me, no funding = no job =  no money.

This weighs heavily on me at the moment since my salary “well” will dry up in a few months. In exactly how many months, I’m not sure. I’m finding the “ostrich method” – sticking my head in the sand, hoping things turn out for the best – is working great for me. It’s certainly keeping the heartburn at bay.

I like the lab I work in. I love the research project I’m working on. I would really (really!!) like to stay and see the project through.

So you can understand that waiting to submit a grant proposal is a huge gamble from my perspective.

It may mean I will have to find another job — especially if we postpone this submission.

I have a friend who is in a similar “boat.” He’s currently looking for a research position. On paper, we look very similar – our skill set is pretty much the same. We’ve worked at the university for about the same amount of time. He’s having a hard time finding a job. Although for him it could be a matter of timing. I’ve found that other research associates who look just as the new funding cycle has started have a somewhat better chance at landing a position.

I’ll admit there are days where I’m not sure it’s worth staying in research — especially if I’ll only be in a lab for a couple of years before the project’s funding runs out. That’s usually when the research is just getting interesting. (But that’s a post for another day).

I’m not quite to the “panic” stage yet. I have a little time before I’ll officially be there. But I won’t kid you into thinking it isn’t a kernel of concern churning and gnawing away in my subconscious.

Waiting to submit the grant proposal is a gamble.

It could be a huge gamble for me.

But if waiting means it will be a stronger proposal, with a better chance of getting funded, it might well be worth it.

Just to be sure though, I think I’ll gather my assorted good luck charms while keeping my fingers, eyes and toes crossed. 🙂


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