Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Funding woes & grant reviews

I don't know yet how I'm funding my next field season(s). I've had some big writing priorities to tackle before figuring that out, but now that I've submitted a report, a permit renewal, and a publication I've got to think about funding. Gah.

What I really need to do it get a big grant. My first attempt at a big grant was unsuccessful (not surprisingly). I used the proposal I developed for my prelims, but the methods were untested and I had essentially no preliminary data. It was worth a shot, but I'm not surprised it wasn't funded. Also, once I actually went and tried the methods (just after submitting the grant), I realized there was no way it was going to work well enough to justify the cost. Even if I had gotten it, I'd have modified the methods & objectives considerably. I received the bad news shortly before I left for Ukenzagapia in February, and I couldn't bring myself to read the reviews just before going into the field. Then I kind of forgot about them. See, I know that if I submit again, it will have to be with a new proposal because this first one just isn't going to fly, so the specific criticisms on this proposal won't help me turn it around and resubmit. I'd nearly be starting from scratch again.

Today I finally opened up the reviews to read them. The ratings ranged from Fair to Very Good. Most of the reviewers were concerned about the feasibility of the proposed methods, in which they were 100% justified since I myself decided it wasn't feasible. Some of the comments made me laugh out loud, such as, "I got the sense that this proposal was written quickly and from the perspective of someone not familiar with critters or the study site." Quickly? I wish! At the point that I wrote it, I hadn't spent very much time at Nyota yet so that is fair I suppose but then again I had Sam's advice on it. This particular reviewer went into great depth with their concerns about the lack of excruciating detail in some areas, comments which would be extremely helpful if I were resubmitting this same proposal.

It is interesting to look at the perspectives of different reviewers about the broader impacts of the proposed research. One reviewer said the proposal didn't emphasize the impacts for the scientific community enough and only emphasized things like training students. Most of the reviewers thought the broader impacts were good and some of them think Herb is a real rockstar in that respect (they basically said so). Another said that one outreach project seemed like a weak add-on, in part because they "didn't the costs of a pamphlet included in the budget." A pamphlet. We're talking about the cost of printing a pamphlet. C'mon. Still... lesson learned. If you're going to mention it, put it in the budget, even if it's just to say you're going to seek other funds to cover it (I did that for several things, as the project cost exceeded the amount requested).

Even though some of the specific criticisms won't be applicable to the next proposal, reading the reviews helps me see what the reviewers generally liked and didn't like. It certainly wasn't a wasted effort. Now back to strategizing for the next trip...


African Fieldworker said...

oh, and good luck!

African Fieldworker said...

The best thing you can do is have a reasonable idea of what you're planning on doing and why. Describe it, describe any preliminary work that makes you think it will work.

When you get to the field, be ready for it to change. Something will happen. It always does. you will have to change things in your data collection protocol and failing to realize that can make you waste time trying to stick to what you wrote. So, don't worry about making it perfect, just make it done (well done, but done); you just need to show the granting agency you have an idea and are capable of testing it (and therefore modifying data collection when soemthing comes up).

oh, and the same thing applies to your budget; the goal is to get the money and have a general idea of what you'll need, but it will change. a fee will be added, you'll have to add an employee, etc. No one cares, as long as the general categories are there and it's not major.

Karina said...

Thanks, fellow African Fieldworker! I appreciate the tips.

African Fieldworker said...

You're welcome!

I came to the field and got pretty stressed by things not working and nothing in my budget being right. Oh, and you know this year is an El Nino (I drive to my field site; except when I can't). I had to change a lot since my timeframe was messed up (and I have a project that requires being in the field for several straight days, lose 1, you lose the rest too). Anyhow, I changed some things in my protocol and it's helped. And accepting that certainly helped my stress level!