Scholar Voices Grants 101 Writing Skills

Part II: Top Grant Writing Tips from Dr. Caitlin Martin-Wagar

Aug 31, 2023

Welcome back to Part II of my interview with Dr. Caitlin Martin-Wagar, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Montana. As I mentioned in part I of this series, Dr. Martin-Wagar studies eating disorders and weight stigma, and has also worked in the areas of trauma and PTSD.

Dr. Martin-Wagar has a grant through the Center for Population Health Research. This grant supports help with data collection and support for learning new skills. And she notes, “It's giving me a community of people that have been successful at grants. Getting the pilot from them is a really helpful step to get future grants. I’ve also received a couple of university grants. One funded an upcoming randomized controlled trial, and another funded pilot data. It feels good to be able to support my graduate students and have them involved in research. And to be able to do really cool studies.”

Here are Dr. Martin-Wagar’s top tips for scholars who are new to grant writing:

  1. It's normal for grant writing to feel daunting and overwhelming. It's normal to feel like you know nothing. I understand hesitancy and embarrassment about asking others for help, but it's truly the only way. Don’t let those feelings get in your way.
  2. Dive in and do it. The more grants I write, the more I realize I’m keeping up. Some of these are landing. I'm getting good feedback. I'm learning how to talk about my work. And once you get in with your first grant, it's a lot easier to understand the organization and what they want.
  3. Don’t be scared of the rejections. Betty talked on Twitter about how you really should be getting rejections. That means you're submitting enough. I had to shift my mindset on rejections. Now our lab has a spreadsheet where we track everyone's rejections. We try to get to a certain amount of rejections, and then we reward ourselves when we hit our goal. That’s helped a lot because now we see rejection as its own accomplishment. And the students have noticed too that when they get a rejection, instead of being devastated, there's a tiny part of them that's excited because they get to add it to the rejection tracking. That feels good. Accepting rejection as a part of this work has helped me move forward and feel comfortable. And now when I see things, I want to submit.
  4. If you have an office of sponsored programs at your organization, reach out. Ask, can I meet with you to talk about my research? Could you give me some suggestions of some initial grants that would be a good fit for me? That’s what happened at my university. My university just became an R1 my first year here. They have this huge push right now to have people pursue grants. So the office of sponsored programs met with me the first month I was faculty. It was wonderful because they asked, what do you research? What do you do? And then they talked among themselves and figured out which ones might be a good fit for me. They put together this beautiful PDF afterwards with suggested grant mechanisms.
  5. See if you have access to specialized regional or local options for grants. For example, colleagues from all the universities in the mountain west region have access to this funding source: As another example, see if your university has an NIH-funded center that can support pilot funding. These are great bridges between small internal grants and huge, external grants. They help give experience with NIH-funded grants, without having to try to go for the huge ones right away. That’s really helpful for pilot data and learning the process.

Thank you so much to Dr. Martin-Wagar for sharing her wisdom and encouragement! If you know someone who might benefit from reading this newsletter, would you mind forwarding it to them? As always, thanks for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas.


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

P.S. Looking for a good salad dressing? This one is my favorite. My best friend in graduate school loved this dressing so much she’d drink the “dregs” from her salad containers.

Makoto Ginger Dressing Bottle

P.P.S. Best of luck to those of you starting a new semester right now. Transitions are hard. I’m proud of you for surfing the highs and lows of our profession.