The anxieties of sharing grant applications

Adam MicolichAdam Micolich is an Associate Professor in the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales. He has a long-­standing interest in issues affecting early and mid­-career researchers, some of which he has written about on his blog “Fear and Loathing in Academia“. He can be found on Twitter at @ad_mico.

In the first of two articles, Adam sheds some light on why people do, and do not, share their grant applications, and some of the issues with libraries of successful applications.


One of the toughest skills to master as a young researcher is writing successful grant applications. These are the unicorn in the zoo of documents that one must write in research. Mired in myth, with great controversy about their true nature and appearance, they sometimes turn out to be little more than a donkey wearing a party hat, that was mistaken for a unicorn because it was being ridden by a silverback gorilla.

A big impediment for young researchers is that successful grant applications are rarely openly shared. This can make it hard to see enough of them to truly know what it is that makes the good ones good. Being on a grant agency panel is about the only way to see a very large number of proposals – sadly, that role only comes once you’ve had a lot of successful grant applications.

An ape dressed as a cardinal, followed by an ape reading from a hymnal, process into a church

Apes parodying the Church. Psalter. Ghent (Flanders). ca. 1320-1330. Oxford, the Bodleian Library, Ms. Douce 6, fol. 17v, detail.

My institution tries to addresses this void by providing a library of successful applications. However, these are only made available internally by people volunteering to do so in the initial administration of their grant. This means that only a small number are available. The library is selective towards authors willing to share and therefore probably somewhat deceptive. I’ve sunk solid days into mining this resource, taking careful notes and looking for patterns. Truth is, there are few gold nuggets to be found.

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