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How to Become an Expert at Getting Funded

Posted in: Astound Research

Content sponsored by Astound Research

Various money themed cartoons that represent getting funded

Gain funding expertise by embracing confidence, independent thinking, and consistent reading and writing. On work days, read for one hour at a time that works for you to turn reading into a habit. Develop your writing skills, seek feedback, and consider writing review papers. View criticism as a chance for growth, and network with experts in your field. Bold moves, such as organizing conferences, can solidify your expert status and increase your chances of getting funded.

I’m Joel Berry, Founder and Chief Scientist at Astound Research. I spent 30 years as a biomedical engineering researcher at two different academic medical centers in the US. I’ve written more proposals than I got funded, graduated multiple PhD students, and served on multiple PhD committees. 

What follows are some key insights I’ve garnered about the grant seeking process through that experience. These are very high-level observations on what it takes to be an expert at getting funded. 

Have Confidence In Yourself—You Are Ready

A doctoral dissertation defense is just that. In the oral part of your defense, you are required to—quite literally—defend your years of graduate work against an onslaught of unforgiving inquiry, challenges, and criticism from your dissertation committee. 

It is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences you could ever have as a young graduate student. 

Passing the defense is a joy only a small percentage of the population will ever know. It means you’ve been granted entry into the global club of scientists and you’re ready to go out and further contribute to the body of knowledge. You’re also ready to start writing grant proposals.

Keep Being an Independent Thinker

Your dissertation committee probed for your expertise during your defense. They wanted to know if you were an independent thinker. They wanted to know if you could explain the physical mechanisms behind your results. 

Could you explain why things went right? And more importantly, could you explain why things went wrong? 

This is the spirit of scientific inquiry, and successful grant writers embody this spirit. 

Read 

Reading is the foundation of writing a fundable grant proposal idea. You were an expert the moment you graduated. You read all of the relevant papers, you knew the paradigms in your field, and you knew the controversies. 

Keep doing it. Keep being the expert. 

How to Turn Reading into a Habit

It requires discipline. Staying on top of the literature is a continuous activity because science marches on at an accelerating pace. 

Use the time of day when your mind is most open to receiving input and spend exactly one hour reading journal articles. Summarize what you read in a spreadsheet. My best time is early morning, and I use it. You should also check out these helpful tips for staying on top of the scientific literature.

Those hours will start to add up, and you will suddenly realize you aren’t as behind as you thought you were.

Write 

Every sentence you write for grant proposals or journal publications is like money in the bank. The better writer you become, the more likely grant reviewers will recognize your expertise and reward you for it. 

Productivity is key. Take every chance you can to develop your writing skills. Your university likely has many writing resources available for you. Bitesize Bio also has an excellent webinar on consistent, error-free writing.  

Read other successful proposals and be aware of the things about them that you like and even the things you don’t like. Emulate the good things in your grant proposal writing. Have your grant proposals reviewed by a willing mentor before they go out. Many universities have peer groups that will act as a roundtable of experts to make your proposals better. You’re not alone in your grant writing journey. 

Consider Writing a Review Paper

Writing a review paper is a fabulous way to plant your flag in any discipline, and it is a great way to stay relevant and known to your peers. You can cite your review papers in your grant submissions. 

The thought of all the scientific reading and writing that must be done is like a crushing weight. It is better approached in baby steps taken every day. It doesn’t need to be overwhelming. If you are disciplined to take those small steps daily, you realize in a matter of weeks or months, your status as an expert is assured.

Criticism Is a Growth Opportunity

Academic science is defined by many things. Criticism and rejection are among them. It is extremely difficult not to take these personally. 

Don’t. 

These same people were also criticized and rejected, just as you will do to others. It is all part of the process of upholding scientific integrity. It is not a perfect system, but it works. Interestingly, much of the criticism you receive is offered up by people genuinely wanting to help make you a better scientist. You can explore how to receive and apply constructive feedback here.

Angry man looking at his phone representing negative feedback when he tried getting funded.

There is a small percentage of reviewers who have an axe to grind. Most of the time, they are upset because you didn’t reference their work in the grant proposal. These people can be dealt with in a variety of ways: 

  1. Paying deference to them in the “response to reviewers” can disarm them. 
  2. You can argue logic with them since you are the true expert. Sometimes, they will relent, and sometimes they won’t. 
  3. Or you can just ignore them and hope they go away. It may take several more tries to get your grant proposal pushed through, but it will likely be a better proposal.

Don’t Be Shy. Network and Seek Feedback

The value of networking cannot be underestimated. Get to know other experts and leaders in the field. They are people too, and they got where they are, in part, by networking. 

Reviewers of grant proposals and potential funders are considered experts in their field, and most funding agencies look for them to act as reviewers. Find out who these people are in your field because they will likely be the gatekeepers to your success in grant funding. 

You already read their papers, so you might as well get to know them as people and build relationships with funders. A great place to start is by attending your specialty conferences, walking up to them, and introducing yourself.

Invite them to your talk if you are presenting a paper at the conference. They will remember you if you do that. Ask their opinion about some aspects of your work. 

Scientists love to talk, and they have no shortage of opinions. Other places these people hang out are with the organizing committees for the conferences. Get on one or more of those committees, and you will invariably get on their radar. 

Once you are known as a mover and a shaker in your field, your grant proposals are often reviewed more favorably. This is no substitute for delivering high-quality science but networking gives your peers a way to attach a face to a name.

Consider Organizing a Conference

A really bold move toward getting on the radar of the experts in your field is to organize a scientific conference at your own university. 

This requires about 18 months of planning, including identifying how the conference will be paid for, but a successful scientific conference will secure your name in the minds of your peers, and they will remember you when they start reviewing your grant proposals.

Conference grants are available through the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as some professional societies. Sometimes, your university will contribute money and facilities. Get advice from someone who has already organized such a conference. 

If you’re interested but unsure where to start, read the Bitesize Bio guide to organizing your first academic event

Getting Funded in Summary

All of the above advice on getting funded requires discipline to make it happen. Even though there are no guarantees, preparation, and persistence are essential parts of the grant application process. 

Reading and writing are essential skills you must hone to get funded, but consistency will make these habitual. Taking bold moves such as organizing conferences and writing a review paper puts these skills into action while cementing your status as an expert. You’ll face criticism and rejection on your funding journey, but try to see these as growth opportunities.  

For more advice on getting funded, check out top tips for getting science research grants and get insider advice from a grant reviewer.  

Match Your Skills to the Perfect Funding Opportunity

The task of identifying viable funding opportunities at the right time depends heavily on the time you invest in combing the landscape and looking for them. Removing that burden is why I founded Astound Research. Astound Research has collected and curated over 1,000 funding opportunities across a vast array of life sciences disciplines. 

You provide the platform with your CV or biosketch and we go to work on your behalf. We use AI to extract the scientific keywords representing your expertise, and we match them to relevant funding opportunities—in seconds. 
Your task is to decide which opportunities are right for you. Sign up today at www.astoundresearch.com.

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