Grant-writing mania

‘member that back at the beginning of the year I wrote that I was planning to submit 6 grants by June 5?  There was some discussion that this was a CRAZY plan (whimple).  Well, I’m happy to report that there will only be 5 after all, and the very last of these will leave my hot little hands this week. I am the PI on 3 of them that were due in rapid succession – one in March, one in April and one this coming week…. and Co-PI on two others. Oh- I forgot to mention that ARRA stimulus grant for equipment that I was a last minute addition to- but that was really only a commitment of a couple of pages of my time- so I’m not counting that as #6. This last grant can’t be done a minute too soon, I am TIRED of grant writing – and want to move on to the gratification of paper writing, building the lab, training people, and looking at data hot off the presses with my full attention.

A recent post over at FSP that she wrote about an article in Slate about the grant-writing mania for stimulus dollars made me laugh (or cry!).  FSP quotes this particular passage from slate:

The grant-writing mania is palpable across academic and medical institutions. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, for instance, faculty members normally spend about 50 percent of their time working on grants, according to Glen Gaulton, the school’s Chief Scientific Officer. (This number rose substantially during the Bush years, he said, as NIH funding flattened out.) He estimates that in March and April, however, faculty members have spent more like 75 percent to 90 percent of their time going after stimulus dollars. (bold is mine)

FSP seems surprised that faculty in the biological sciences spend even 50% time these days writing grants:

The amount of time I spend working on proposals varies a lot from month to month, and in some cases from year to year, but it is definitely not 50%. If I spent 50% of my time writing proposals, I wouldn’t have time to do the research that was funded by the grant. Yes, much of the research is done by graduate students and postdocs, but not all of it.

I like writing proposals, but I would not want to spend so much time attempting to acquire grants, leaving little or no time for doing science. For me, a reasonable % proposal planning and writing time that can potentially provide me with enough funding for research, not take over my life, and still let me enjoy both proposal-writing and science-doing is probably somewhere around 25% (±5).

I guess I’d say that for the last 5 months- I’ve spent more than 75% of my time grant writing- but this wasn’t stimulus $ related. My own grant mania has been about being junior faculty in the biological sciences in a time of flat NIH budgets and 10th percentile funding. And this is a huge problem- I don’t have enough hours to do the research, to teach people as thoroughly as I would like, to do the science- and in many cases even to think fully and clearly (and read), and have those conversations about data that are so valuable. This is very frustrating- and I am ready for a change of focus and pace.

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8 thoughts on “Grant-writing mania

  1. YOWSERS! You get down with your bad self! May the funding gods look favorably upon your lab.

  2. I thought I was bad-ass with 3 grants this semester! I bow in the presence of greatness.

    I’ve been thinking about FSP’s post as well, and I’m not sure the grant-writing emphasis is a physical sciences/biological sciences difference. I suspect it’s an NSF/NIH funded difference. I’m a NSF funded biologist (no medical relevance to my work in the slightest) in an area where grants are pretty small. Furthermore, with funding rates of competitive grants in the 8% range, I’d have to spend 110% of my time writing grants to support the number of personnel my NIH colleagues’ support from just 1 NIH grant. My lab is literally me, my two youngish grad students, and an undergrad. This means I’m a huge percentage of the research productivity of my lab. If I spent 50-75% of my time on grant writing, I wouldn’t have enough paper productivity to justify them giving me grant dollars or for my university to give me tenure! Furthermore, NSF does “portfolio balancing” when making awards and in recent years it has been clear that if you currently have a grant, you probably won’t get another so that they can spread the money further. This makes putting in several grants while you already have one in operation less attractive. I think the funding constraints at NSF simply drive a different time allocation model. Odyssey? Are you out there? I’d love to know what he thinks since I think he seems to have practical experience with NIH/NSF differences and all I know is what I am gleaning from blogs!

    Thanks for making me think about something other than grades!!!!

  3. River Tam- Remember that I’m probably a little further down the road from you- so I don’t have to synthesize every grant de novo- there are parts to put together from other places- but still the continuous deadlines make it hard to do anything else with real concentration in between. Also, I have the advantage that I can apply to multiple funding agencies- this somewhat gets around your NSF issue.

    DrMrA does both NSF and NIH (not just limited to those either)- and I think you are probably right about the time commitment being different – I don’t know anyone who has two NSF grants- and they have two grants and one of them is NSF, the other is usually NIH… gets around the portfolio balancing. Odyssey is an awesome source of information on NSF- I just don’t have any experience there.

  4. I pretty much always have at least one R01 application in the pipeline at any given moment, and I spend what amounts to probably less than 10% of my time in actual preparation of grant applications. I dunno; maybe I’m a fast writer.

  5. I have bounced around from feeling comfortable (no grants in pipeline) to vanity (occasional submission because the idea was too good not to / can’t-refuse RFA appeared) to seriously engaged (at least one per round) to ohshitohshitohshitohshit (multiple per round) at various points.

    In the latter phase, yeah, it’s taking up most of my functional brain power and effort to do that. I might be able to argue some significant fraction of time spent on actual lab work but that’s housekeeping stuff. I have also noticed that I can’t sustain this pace for very long.

  6. C PP, and Bikemonkey- The two of you are at a different career stage from me. I fully expect it to be as your experience Bikemonkey- that I’m now in the multiple-per-round but will move through the different stages you experienced as time goes on…

  7. Pingback: Harms and Company Consulting » Archives » Views on proposal writing

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