As indicated in the course outline, the purpose of this course is to prepare pre-doctoral students for post-doctoral grant writing activities which you will most surely have to undertake if you accept a position in an academic institution following your
graduation. As part of this preparation for post-doctoral grant writing activities it is useful (although perhaps painful) for you to go through the exercise of having to write a proposal. By writing a proposal (and having it reviewed and critiqued by your peers) you will be much better prepared to efficiently develop a competitive proposal at a later date in your career. There is no better way to learn than from experience, and from your mistakes. It is preferable for you to make these mistakes as part of a course (such as this) rather than in your first proposal to a competitive grant program, where acceptance/rejection of the proposal could have a major impact on your research program at a very critical stage in your career. [For graduate students in Horticulture, this course can serve as a vehicle for preparing a proposal suitable for development as the written component of the Preliminary Examination].
Part of this course will involve giving you some tips on how to write a competitive proposal, in order to increase your chances of funding. The most important tip I can give you is that you have to have a clear idea about what research you want to perform, and what this research will do to solve a well defined problem. Without a clear rationale for your proposed research, without clearly defined research goals, and without feasible research strategies to accomplish the stated objectives, the proposal is doomed. In proposal writing there is no substitute for having a clearly defined research problem.
Once you have defined the research problem that you want to attack, you must then find the grant agency (and the specific grant program within that agency) that will best fit your particular research problem, and which would be most likely to fund the particular proposal that you plan to submit. Your immediate task, until this class meets again, is for you to think of a suitable research problem that will be the subject of the research proposal that you will write as part of this course. You will be graded in large part (180/300 points) on the quality of your proposal. The proposal can be on any subject, including your own thesis topic. There are no restrictions. You should, of course, try to write a proposal on a topic that you are very familiar with, and for which you have a good reference collection.
I want the students in this class not only to get experience in writing a proposal, but also to get experience in the grant review process. Each of you will be asked to prepare written reviews of several of the proposals prepared by your peers, and each student will be expected to participate in a grant review Panel Meeting where proposals are ranked in terms of priority for funding. In part you will also be graded on the quality of your written reviews (90/300 points) and the contributions that you make to the Panel Meeting (30/300 points). The Panel Meeting will take place at the end of the 15 week course. Later in this course we will discuss the typical review process, including how the Panel Meetings are organized, and the responsibilities of the reviewers and panel members.
For your proposals I would like you to follow USDA-NRICGP guidelines using the =NRI - Program Description and Guidelines for Proposal Preparation>. Part of your task for the next few days will be to think not only about the research problem that you would like to focus your proposal on, but also the particular grant program within the USDA-NRICGP to which you want to target your proposal (see: NRI - Program Description and Guidelines for Proposal Preparation). If you do not find a suitable program area within the NRICGP, please let me know and we will find an alternative agency and set of guidelines for you to follow.
In this course you will have 13 weeks to prepare your proposal. You may wonder at this point, is this going to be too much work for me to handle .... can I possibly write a proposal within 13 weeks? My answer to this question is that each of you must eventually acquire the skills to write a proposal within a month if you are to survive as a newly appointed Assistant Professor. In order to compete in the competitive grant arena and at the same time meet the other commitments of research and teaching that will be expected of you, you must learn how to appropriately manage your time.
Consider the fact that only 27% - 30% of the grant applications to the USDA are funded; 70 - 73% are declined. If you simply "play the odds" and figure that only 1 in 4 of your proposals will be funded, and you typically spend 5 weeks in preparing a proposal, you will have to spend literally 20 weeks per year (40% of your time) to get one proposal funded per year. This will place severe strains on your ability to perform the research and teaching functions (etc) that will also be demanded of you.
You should aim to "beat the odds" by making sure that your proposal has a better than average chance of funding, and in this way you can maybe submit only one or two proposals per year in order to get one proposal funded per year. Part of this course will obviously entail trying to provide you with tips for "beating the odds".
In my opinion, you should not spend more than 20% of your time on proposal writing. If you are to spend no more than 20% of your time on grant proposal writing, with say two proposals per year, you must eventually confine yourself to a window of about 4 to 5 weeks per proposal.
Generally, before you submit a proposal to any agency you should:
a) Obtain the most recent guidelines.
NSF is currently moving towards an electronic proposal submission and review process via "Fastlane". It is likely that other agencies will adopt similar electronic proposal submission mechanisms within the next few years. Therefore, we will use an electronic proposal submission and evaluation process to better prepare you for the future. Each participating student will be assigned a proposal folder on the WebCT server. As various parts of the proposal are completed and submitted to the Instructor, the completed sections of the proposal will be deposited in the appropriate folder. As each section of the proposal is completed the Instructor will provide feedback/comments on these individual sections. There will be opportunities to edit the various proposal sections during the course. Submission of a first draft of the important Project Description section is very strongly encouraged.
b) Have a clearly defined research problem, and a good idea about to which program you are going to submit your proposal.
c) Have a knowledge of proposal deadlines for the program you are going to submit (see Program Description), and plan to start your proposal writing at least 4 to 5 weeks in advance of that deadline.
d) You should discuss your proposed project on the telephone with the appropriate Division or Program Director (see telephone lists and e-mail addresses associated with Program Description), to ensure that it is being directed to the correct program.
The deadline for proposal completion is the end of the 13th week of the course. At this time all proposal sections must be completed and submitted to the Instructor; this can only be accomplished by frequent communication with the Instructor during the preceding weeks. Points will be deducted for failure to meet course deadlines.