Grants 101 Resources

The Inside Track

Nov 03, 2022

My son beats me every time we use his hot wheels racetrack (pictured below). It’s puzzling. It seems like we should have the same chance for success. But my cars never make it past the terrifying jump in the middle. His cars always make the jump.

[A hot wheels racetrack.]

I finally thought to ask him what I’m doing wrong. He giggled and explained, “Momma, I’ve tested all the cars. I know which cars run best, and what angle to start them at.”

This racetrack is like grant writing. It seems like everyone should have the same chance for success. Application instructions are the same for everyone. But some people (like my son) are on an inside track. They have inside knowledge about how the system works. It’s easier for them to get their grants funded. 

Let’s level the playing field. There shouldn’t be insiders and outsiders in grant writing. We’re not supposed to fund the most privileged ideas. We’re supposed to fund the best and most important ideas.

One of the fastest ways for you to learn how funding systems work is for you to serve as a reviewer. When you review grants, you understand what reviewers are looking for, factors that make grants more exciting to reviewers, and how grants are evaluated.

But how do you actually become a reviewer? Here are some concrete steps:

  • Look for opportunities. Many funders have ways for you to sign up to volunteer to be a reviewer. Here are some examples: HRSA, NIH, NSF, NEH, and SAMHSA
  • Ask for opportunities. Let people in your networks know that you are interested in serving as a grant reviewer. This can be as easy as sending an email to a colleague. This helps colleagues know to keep an eye out for opportunities for you, and prompts them to put your name forward for opportunities.
  • If you are a graduate student, you may not be able to serve as a reviewer yet for certain types of funders. Sometimes funders only accept reviewers who have terminal degrees. But you can ask about opportunities to review at your institution or for professional organizations. These opportunities might look like reviewing award applications. This type of reviewing is very helpful. You see how reviewers interpret instructions for reviewing, and you see what helps applications stand out in a pool.

If you know someone who could benefit from today's newsletter, would you mind forwarding it? Sharing knowledge is one way we level the playing field. Thank you for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas.


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

P.S. If you ever play hot wheels with my son and I, choose the purple car.

P.P.S. If you are affiliated with Georgia State University, I’m giving a grant writing workshop on November 10. You can register for free here!