Applying for academic grants can feel totally overwhelming. As I sit down to explore funding options for my research on utilizing AI for oceanic conservation efforts (a niche topic if I ever heard one!), the sheer scope of databases, requirements, and eligibility criteria has me questioning my life choices more intensely than that time I thought setting off fireworks indoors would be “fun”. But the potential payoff makes it essential for cash-strapped academics like myself. So I chug my fourth coffee of the day and dive in.
My university’s grant office proves an essential starting point, connecting me with several specialized internal grants earmarked for AI and conservation projects. But cold-emailing the heads of each one left me with inboxes full of rejections noting my “lack of hard science credentials” and suggestions to “leave it to the marine biologists”. Never mind my double doctorate in computer science and environmental policy! Academic elitism clearly remains alive and well.
Taking matters into my own hands, I turn my focus to large federal granting agencies. Scouring databases, I uncover two potential NIH funding streams for computational biology innovations as well as an NSF grant for cross-disciplinary environmental technology. The NSF one in particular catches my eye given its broader scope. As I dig into the application, however, I quickly feel that panic rising as I confront a 55-page document asking for what seems like my entire life’s story.
So I take a step back, go for a long walk outside for some fresh air, and reboot. Breaking this Leviathan of an application down into bite-sized chunks makes it much less intimidating. I start by thoroughly reviewing the specific project requirements and eligibility criteria so I don’t waste time barking up the wrong tree. Knowing myself, I then setup calendar reminders for the different application components and deadlines; my executive functioning skills need all the outside support they can get.
In tackling the more complex sections, I lean on my collaborators from the marine biology and environmental science departments, rather than assuming I can expertly handle the cross-disciplinary aspects on my own. We have a few long debates about optimizing my sometimes jargon-heavy computer science terminology for reviewers without that specialty background. But avoiding field-specific shorthand ultimately strengthens the proposal. I also carve out blocks of time for the tedious formatting elements, trying not to lose steam.
And finally, before submitting, I request feedback from past grant recipients, incorporate their suggestions, and ensure someone else thoroughly copyedits while I step away. I may know the intricacies of conversational AI and ecosystem mapping, but no one should have to suffer through my grammar, never exactly an academic strong suit.
While the process demanded a huge time investment, I walk away with a much stronger proposal and some hard-won lessons: Leverage campus resources, don’t be a stubborn lone wolf, break big goals into manageable milestones, and know when to get another set of eyes. Now to celebrate finally getting this funding application marathon crossed off my to-do list! Maybe some more indoor fireworks are in order after all. Wish me luck on joining the ranks of successfully funded academics…I’ll let you know what the review panel decides!