4 Funding Tips from an Experienced Grant Writer
Dr. Richard Gill developed an interest in ecology as a child while exploring the forests and seashores of Washington State. This attraction to wild places motivated Dr. Gill to study Conservation Biology as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University and to receive a PhD in Ecology from Colorado State University.
His PhD research on plant-soil interactions in dryland ecosystems, supervised by Indy Burke, dovetailed well with his postdoctoral research on plant physiological ecology with Rob Jackson at Duke University. Dr. Gill returned home to Washington in his first faculty position at Washington State University. There he pursued research on global change ecology, studying the impacts of changes in atmospheric CO2, temperature, and drought. In 2008 he joined the faculty of Brigham Young University as an associate professor of biology. He teaches Conservation Biology courses and in the general and honors education curriculum.
Dr. Gill has been successful in obtaining funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Dept of Energy, and the U.S. Department of the Interior. He also helped guide one of his graduate students in winning research instrumentation from the Grant Harris Fellowship, provided by METER. We interviewed him about his thoughts on successful grant writing. Here’s what he had to say:
- Understand the call: I think it’s important to understand what’s being asked of you and write to the call for proposals itself. We all have ideas, and we think everybody should give us money for every idea that we have. That’s part of being a scientist, but understanding the parameters and the purpose of the grant is crucial. This is because the easiest way to eliminate proposals is to cull those that don’t address the call. In this way, proposal readers go from a stack of 200 to a stack of 50, without having to get into the details of the research at all. So my advice is to read the call for proposals, and make sure you actually address what they ask for and stick to the requirements for length and format.
- Be true to the vision: There is always some sort of vision tied to the call, so make sure you are true to that vision. For example, let’s say it’s the Grant Harris Fellowship, which provides instrumentation for early career students to do something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Make sure you say, “Here’s what I’m already doing with the funding and instrumentation that we have in our lab. There’s a key component missing, and I can only do it if you support me.” Show a clear need, aligning your research with the purpose of the proposal, and you’ll have a strong case for funding.
- Make sure you edit: Many proposals don’t get funded because of poor writing. Your great ideas can’t come forward if the reader is mired down in your verbiage. Don’t send them your first draft. Make sure you have somebody read it for clarity.
- Be clear and concise: When scientists are involved in a project, it is common to develop a sort of tunnel vision, a byproduct of having worked on the project for years and being familiar with all the details. When you write a proposal you should remember that the person who is reading is going to be intelligent, but have no idea what you’ve been doing. You should say, “Here’s what I’m going to study, why I’m going to study it, and how I’m going to test it.” Be clear, specific, and declarative.
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