Writing Skills Grants 101 Careers Resources

How long is this going to take?

Mar 23, 2023

How long does the whole grant process take? Most people will tell you “a long time,” or “it depends.” That’s what people told me when I was getting started, and I remember feeling these answers were unsatisfying. I tried to find my own answers by digging around in Reddit archives. I wanted at least one example of what a grant timeline might look like.

So in case you’re like me and want to see an example, here’s my timeline for my first grant. This was a National Science Foundation grant. My collaborator was Ann-Margaret Esnard. 

Overall, it took 20 months total from the time I had the idea to when I received the grant award. These months break down into 13 months to develop the grant. I submitted it. Then it took 7 months post-submission for the grant to be awarded. Here’s my timeline in full (estimates are marked with a ~):

Developing the Grant (13 months)

January 2015 (13 months pre-deadline). Made a short list of potential ideas.

~February 2015 (12 months pre-deadline). Met with my colleague to see what she thought of my short list of potential ideas. She thought one idea had the best promise.

~June 2015 (7 months pre-deadline). Worked on a one pager for that idea. When drafted, reached out to a program officer to discuss that best idea.

Fall 2015 semester (5 months pre-deadline). Spent full semester writing, using about 50% of my time on the grant. 

January 2016 (1 month pre-deadline). Got feedback from critical readers.

Mid-January 2016 (2 weeks before the deadline). Scrambled like crazy to revise based on feedback.

Submission Day (One day)

February 2016. A full day of stress. Checked and rechecked PDFs. Emailed with my grants office to make sure the grant was compliant with the rules and they could sign off for submission. 

Post-Submission (7 months)

~July 2016 (5 months post-deadline). Heard from the program officer. He wanted us to address issues raised by reviewers. Wrote back responses to those queries.

September 2016 (7 months post-deadline). Grant start date.

A few caveats. My first grant was funded on the first round. This is not the norm. You often have to try multiple times to get funded. No matter your career stage.

I credit this success to two factors: I had an internal grant at my first institution that bought me out of teaching. I was able to dedicate 50% of my time to working on the grant for a full semester. That’s a huge investment of time, and I know that’s an extremely privileged position to be in. Second, I was part of a fellowship program. I had critiques on our grant from leading experts. Being able to secure this kind of feedback fast-tracked my success. You can get this kind of feedback too (see Chapter 15 of The Grant Writing Guide for strategies). Also, this is just one experience. Your experience will likely be different. Talk to more people to hear about their experiences. We can all help each other get oriented to the grants writing landscape. 

Thank you for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas.


Stay in touch: The Newsletter, Twitter, and The Grant Writing Guide book.

P.S. If today’s newsletter was helpful to you, would you mind forwarding it to a friend? I believe everyone should have access to grant writing strategies. Also, here’s a post and worksheet to help you plan your timeline. If you want to see more timeline experiences, see pp. 18, 79-80 of The Grant Writing Guide.

P.P.S. Any tips for pickling onions? I’ve been trying out recipes. My attempts look beautiful, but they’re not as tasty as the ones in restaurants. 

Caption: Pickled onions in a jar.