Grants 101 Careers

Develop a Grant Success Mindset

Jan 11, 2022

Happy New Year, colleagues! With Omicron raging, it's hard to feel motivated. If you're just trying to stay afloat this year, I'm with you. Table everything you can. Shorten your meetings. Our lab moved from 60 minute to 30 minute weekly meetings.

But maybe you can't table items right now. You need a job, you're on the tenure clock, or you're trying to move up in your career. In that case, today's post is for you. This is a question from a reader: how do you find motivation after failure in grant writing? 

My advice is: develop a grant success mindset. This means learning how to ride through the lows so you can reach the highs. 

Let’s be honest. The lows are really low in grant writing. You pour your heart into a grant for months. It gets rejected. You can feel worthless. Like you failed. And like there’s no way to find motivation again.

Take time for yourself after a rejection. You are allowed to feel feelings. And you need support from friends and colleagues during these times.

When you’re ready, here’s one way to ride through the lows. Challenge the idea that a rejection means you failed. This type of idea (i.e., “rejection equals failure”) is what we psychologists call a cognitive distortion. It’s “all or none” thinking that doesn’t leave room for possibilities between success or failure. Yet there are MANY other ways to understand rejection. Let’s walk through other interpretations of rejection.  

Ways to Understand Rejection (Challenging the Idea that “Rejection Equals Failure”)

  • You’re one step closer to your next funded grant. The only way to win a grant is to submit. And to keep submitting. National Science Foundation data show that investigators submit about 2.3 proposals for every award they receive. A rejection means you’ve got one of those 2.3 submissions under your belt. Keep going.
  • You’re in the company of very smart people. Rejection is the norm. Dr. Carol Greider says that on the day she won the Nobel Prize, she had a grant under review that was triaged. Triaging means her grant was rejected and not discussed because it was in the lower scoring part of the pool. Dr. Greider won a Nobel Prize and had a rejected grant on the very same day. She bounced back. You can too. 
  • You got top people in your field to engage with your ideas. You put your ideas out into the world for consideration.
  • No grant is wasted work. A grant can be part of your annual reports. Grants can become concept papers. Grants can be broken down into smaller grants. Don’t let an idea die just because one funder said no.
  • You are growing your skills. Every grant you write makes you better at writing your next grant.

I made graphics of ways to understand rejection. Snag them and print them out if you like to have reminders around your office. (I do this!)

Happy grant writing, colleagues. Sending you all best wishes for a restart and recharge to your year. Send me your follow-up questions or comments (email: [email protected]). I’m all ears.

All the best,




P.S. If this newsletter has been helpful to you, would you mind forwarding it to a friend? I want to make sure people get support in this challenging world of grant writing.

P.P.S. Have you tried these mini butter croissants from Trader Joes? They are delicious. We give them 5 stars in my house.