Barriers to, and Benefits of, Grant Writing

Written by Michael Williams, PhD and Renee Cloutier, MS

grant writingGrant writing may be daunting at first, but it is always rewarding!

There are many reasons students are ambivalent about writing grant and fellowship applications. I’ll identify a few and maybe some will resonate with you or someone close to you.

A couple of popular barriers:

It is EXTRA work! As a graduate student, time is a distant luxury we often crave. Many graduate students are entrenched in heavy coursework, teaching or other work (gotta pay the bills!), and our beloved research with whom there is often a love/hate relationship. Some students have additional clinical training and responsibilities, specialized educational experiences, community service activities, or leadership roles in service to their professional identity. Isn’t this enough?!

NO! Grants actually compliment and support your goals. A grant can help pay for a research project, provide the support to increase the reach of your program, and more, which is only to your benefit. Some people use grants to hire consultants with expertise to help train them and assist with completing an aspect of their project/program (for example, a statistics consultant).

I won’t win any way! “You can’t win if you don’t play.” The only time you can be 100% certain that you will not win is if you do not apply. Of course we all want to win every time but that is not realistic. By putting yourself out there and going outside of your comfort zone you are building up more experience. You may get rejected but that only tells you that you have an area to work on (e.g., communicating ideas concisely; selling your topic as an area of interest) and can help you build a stronger application for next time.

A couple of common benefits:

You get to critically think about your ideas. Most often we discuss our research with other like-minded individuals, labmates, and research mentors. Writing for a broader audience encourages us to address alternative perspectives and abandon basic assumptions of common knowledge. First, you have to sell the impact of our project or program of research. Of course you know what makes your idea great and outstanding, but exciting others to support your idea is crucial. Second, we learn to consider the costs of a research project. If you desire a research career, it’s very important that you are able to articulate the costs of a project with the anticipated benefits. Third, we are required to detail the steps to complete the project, which offers us an opportunity to re-consider potential weaknesses in our study design that was overlooked. Lastly, those annoying word-limits really force us to distill our work to the main points. Developing a concise research plan or program proposal is helpful in general. It can be useful for creating an abstract, conference submissions, future grants, etc.

Grantsmanship is a great topic of discussion with your mentor(s). They are there to support you and your goals. They have likely succeeded in grant writing, and can provide you with important feedback on your project’s significance and weaknesses. You can also ask for opportunities to help them on their grant applications to see what their process is like (e.g., proofreading). In having these discussions, you demonstrate initiative.

Importantly, if your primary advisor is not a resource for grantsmanship there are many other places you can receive mentorship in this area. For example, you can try talking to other faculty or advanced graduate students in your program. While at APA convention, attend grant writing talks/workshops or talk to other graduate students in your field to see what their experiences with funding have been like. Lastly, you can join the APAGS Science Committee and serve as a grant reviewer for the Psychological Research Grant and Junior Scientist Fellowship awards.

Overall, the grant writing process enhances your training and increases your research experience and skills. You make an impact on society and not just your CV. That project you are writing the grant for is likely to make an impact. Explore the unknown, shed light on the cracks of scientific evidence, and follow your passion.

Keep applying, and seek feedback and guidance each time. You will win eventually!

About the authors:

Michael Williams, PhD is past chair of the APAGS Science Committee. He completed is doctoral studies in clinical psychology at Wayne State University, and is currently completing his postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins University.

Renee Cloutier, MS is the incoming chair of the APAGS Science Committee. She is working on her PhD in Experimental Psychology/Behavioral Science at the University of North Texas and is currently funded by the National Institute of Health (F31DA041105).