, The Research Whisperer: https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/one-weird-trick-to-get-a-research-grant/
Psst. Wanna know a secret? This one weird trick will
let you read other people’s grant applications, even before they are
funded. Not only that, you get to decide who gets the money. And it won’t cost you a cent.
the past, when talking about how to write a better application, Tseen
has advised you to ‘be the assessor’ - to channel the assessor and
understand what they are looking for. It is great advice.
The most effective way to do that is to actually become an assessor
for a granting agency. Actually, I recommend that you put your hand up
for two - one in your home country and one overseas. Here’s why:
Write better applications
Grant applications are a particular genre of academic writing. They
are carefully structured documents that provide detailed plans for the
future. They require information that never appears in other sorts of
academic writing, such as budgets, CVs, and Gantt charts.
They look forward, when most other academic writing looks back at work that has already been done. We don’t write them very often and we don’t read them very often.
Compare the number of articles that you’ve read recently to the number
of grant applications you’ve read ever.
By reading more grant applications, you will learn to write better
grant applications. You’ll see what sort of evidence impresses you and
what style of writing engages you. You’ll see what enrages you, too,
when an otherwise good application contains obvious gaps or someone
Not only that, it will help you to place your own work in context. If
you can see how other people position their work, it will help you to
Strengthen your research
That won’t just help you to write better a grant application, it
strengthens your research overall. In the same way that reading a
brilliant journal article inspires us to greater heights, reading a
brilliant grant application can help us to think about our own research
in new ways.
We learn to do research from the people around us - mentors, PhD
students, colleagues. This is our ‘research environment’, as the
Australian Research Council calls it. We also get comfortable within
Reviewing excellent grant applications can provide you with a clear
challenge - something to compete against, to aspire to - that will
improve your own research because it moves you beyond the comfort of a
Help to make the decisions
When you review an application, you are required to read it, then
give clear, considered, and balanced feedback (and scores, usually). The
process requires you to reflect on the application and write down what
is good and what is bad about it.
Reflective writing is an excellent way to learn. You may even use it
in your own classes. It’s like someone has designed the perfect way to
teach grant application writing. There’s even a rubric.
Demystify the process
Of course, you’ll probably review grant applications the same way
that your undergraduate students do their assignments - in a rush, just
before the deadline, without as much consideration as you would like.
Even that experience is valuable. Knowing how tired, rushed, and
grumpy you are when get your reviews in gives you a clear insight into
the context of how your own applications will be (or are being) read.
More than that, being an assessor can help to demystify one of the
key elements of granting process. It will give you a much better sense
of how the funding agency works and what the competition looks like.
That is gold!
Do it overseas
That is one of the reasons that I recommend that people assess for their own country and
for another country. You will get a clear view of how funding works in a
completely different system. That means that you can start to
generalise, and understand the underlying rules and processes.
you can start to understand how funding works generally, rather than
only how it works for the national funding agency that you usually apply
Just as we get comfortable in our own research environments, we get
the feel for the level of competition in our own country. We know where
the strengths and weaknesses in our field are, and who the major players
are. By reviewing applications from another country, you’ll be exposed
to a completely different level of competition. That can be a salutary
For this reason, most government funding agencies welcome
international assessors. They bring a different point of view, and are
somewhat divorced from the local politics, which can be helpful.
You might choose a country that you’ve spent some time in, or that
you hope to go to in the future. You might pick a country that your
ancestors came from, or that you have no connection to at all. It
doesn’t matter - just pick somewhere and write to their main funding
You can usually find the right contact person by searching for
[assessor, reviewer, referee, <name of the funding agency>,
contact] and then looking for the area that represents your discipline.
Give something back
In addition to all that you learn, you will have the satisfaction of
giving something back, of being a part of the larger whole. Single-blind
funding review doesn’t work without the efforts of all the assessors.
It is a big task that always seems to come when you are frantically
busy, and requires a tight turn-around time. Doing it right requires
concentration and tact. It isn’t easy.
But it is important. Vitally important. Most granting agencies are
receiving more and more applications. People are likening it to the tragedy of the commons. However,
the commons were a fixed resource. Grant assessment isn’t. If we can
get enough people into the game, then we can continue to spread the
load. The centre can hold.
This may help to forestall other options, such as universities being required to limit their number of applications, or more extreme measures.
Update your profile
With most funding bodies, if you have received funding, then you are
automatically added to the pool of potential reviewers. However, you
still need to do some work to make yourself a useful as an assessor. You
need to keep your profile up to date.
Generally, there is a part of your profile on the funding system
where you can describe yourself. It might ask for keywords, a short
description of your area, or even a CV.
Please fill out this profile and keep it up to date. You may have
filled it out when you put in your first application. How long ago was
that? Have you ever reviewed it? It might be five to ten years out of
date by now. Go and have a look, see what the funding agency thinks you
do. It might surprise you.
It might also explain why so many of the applications that you are asked to review don’t fit your research area.
Put a process in place
If you are a lab or centre director, or a university research
whisperer, make sure that you know the processes for registering your
staff to be assessors.
Conduct regular subscriber drives for your centre, school,
department, or university. Have an annual process to encourage people to
update their profiles. You want more of your staff involved in the
decision-making process, so this makes sense.
The process for registering staff varies across different funding
agencies. Most work with universities to ensure that they get good
quality assessors. This can often miss international assessors, which is
why I’ve suggested that individuals might contact funding agencies in
other countries directly.
At the institutional level, don’t forget to invite honorary and
emeritus fellows to be assessors. There might be overseas academics who
have part-time appointments with your university. There might be
industry people who are on advisory boards who would make good
assessors. All of these people can help to widen the pool.
Keep in mind that, even if staff are registered as assessors, they
may not be picked. The funding agencies have a responsibility to choose
the best, most experienced assessors that they can. They take that
responsibility very seriously. So, if staff are relatively new to the
game, they may be passed over for people with more experience.
However, I can tell you one thing for sure. If you haven’t stuck your hand up, they won’t pick you at all.