Careers Resources

When to Pursue a New Grant

Nov 03, 2022

Dear Research Strategists:

New grant opportunities usually appear when you’re stretched thin. That’s research life. How do you decide if it’s worth pursuing a new grant in the midst of chaos?

Remember that grants are one way to decrease chaos. Grants can take responsibilities off your plate. Grants “buy out” time you would spend on a course or a clinic. Grants can cover your summer salary so you have time to focus on research (summer salary applies if you are in a 9- or 10-month position and if the funder allows this cost). Grants acknowledge that your time is precious. You need to be paid and have fewer responsibilities to do the work of a grant. 

However, writing a fundable grant takes a long time and success rates are low. For example, I recently submitted an R03 grant to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. My grant took me 68 hours and 11 minutes to write. This was less time than normal because I had a few advantages: prior research in the area, experienced collaborators, and a pilot grant for the work. Success rates for this specific type of grant are 22.6%. (If you’re writing a National Institutes of Health grant, find success rates for your type of grant here). 

Bottom line, I can’t tell you whether you should pursue a new grant. It depends on your values, goals, and bandwidth. That’s the beauty of grant writing. You call the shots. Here’s one way to make your decision. Look closely at the grant funding announcement (i.e., the call for the grant you are considering). Run through the questions below to decide if you want to pursue the opportunity in more depth. I recommend spending one hour max on this activity. Your time is precious. 

Pursuing A New Funding Announcement: Is it Worth Your Time?

  • Am I eligible? Check eligibility criteria first. It’s not worth going any further unless you know you could qualify for the grant. For example, are there citizenship requirements? Do you have to be within X years of graduation? Do you need to have proposed your dissertation? Do you need to be at a certain type of institution? For example, for R15 grants at the National Institutes of Health, your institution cannot have received more than $6 million per year from the National Institutes of Health for 4 of the last 7 fiscal years. 
  • Do I do the kind of work they’re looking to support? Funders try to be very clear in their announcements about who and what they want to support. Are you aligned with what they want, or is it a stretch? Stretch cases are long-shots. Are you ok with investing time in a long-shot outcome? For example, if you look at the American Educational Research Association Call for Research Grant Proposals, they want to fund “rigorous quantitative methods to examine large-scale, education-related data.” Is that the work you do? If you’re a qualitative researcher, you could try to make the case that your work fits the call for quantitative methods, but it will be an uphill battle. Is that worth your time?
  • How much work will this require? How long is the submission? A one-page submission will be less work than a 50-page submission. This may seem obvious. But sometimes people are dazzled into submitting “less competitive” grants. But when they sit down to write the grant, they find out that the application takes more work than prestigious, highly competitive grants. Check requirements first. If you need to, log into the portal to see actual submission requirements (which are not always in the announcement). 
  • How competitive will this be? How many awards are given? Will there be more than one chance to compete? Has the funder published submission rates? Can you see who was already funded? Do you know anyone who’s received the funding? What do your networks say about competitiveness? Don’t hesitate to ask your colleagues and mentors about competitiveness. This is a key way in which we can help each other navigate the grant writing world. 
  • Does this announcement fit my values? Put your values first in grant writing. Grant writing is only fun if you foreground your values. Foregrounding values could mean getting to work on certain ideas. It could mean finding funding for your position, funding trainees, or reaching the next career stage. Choose where to invest your effort. 
  • Does this budget match what I’m interested in doing? Is this enough money to do the level of work you want to do? More on budgets in a future newsletter, because budgets are one of the hardest parts of grant writing.
  • Will this be a learning experience, even if I’m not funded? Will you get something out of writing this grant? Does the program give feedback? Would the proposal turn into a concept paper or conference proposal if it doesn’t get funded? 

Here’s a worksheet to help you decide whether you want to pursue a funding opportunity. Once you’ve found an opportunity you want to pursue, don’t forget to talk to a program officer

Happy writing, research strategists!




P.S. If this newsletter was helpful to you, would you mind forwarding it to a colleague? I believe sharing tips and strategies is one way we make academia a kinder and more fulfilling space.

P.P.S. What are your tricks for making your work fun? I got this really cute tape measurer for my craft projects. The tape is hidden inside Hello Kitty’s head. You stretch the body to measure, and touch the nose to bring the tape back in. It makes measuring fun. My kids love it!