Written by: Richelle Weihe
Let’s face it, grant writing can be stressful. Because it can be so stressful, wouldn’t you want to make the most of the proposals you put together? T & C von Hippel wanted to know what the best balance was between proposal writing and the benefits the process provided. Here is what they found:
A survey of 113 astronomers and 82 psychologists who applied for US federal funding between January 2009 and November 2012 found that applications took on average 116 hours to prepare for principal investigators and 55 hours for co-investigators. The survey found that more submissions increased the chances of receiving funding, but time spent writing a proposal had little correlation with success. (T. von Hippel and C. von Hippel. PLoS ONE 10, e0118494;2015)
The von Hippel’s went on to say:
“Winning research grants from federal funding agencies in the United States is highly competitive and will likely become increasingly so . For instance, agency-wide funding rates at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) since 2010 were 18–21%  and 22–24% , respectively. Yet evidence suggests that the fraction of meritorious proposals is likely to be much higher. For example, 68% of proposals at NSF were rated as meritorious  and evidence suggests a similar rate at NIH .”
There is an enormous amount of commendable science not being funded and researchers are consistently being told to “try again.” As noted in a 2008 AAAS report , “One-half of [NSF] new investigators never again receive NSF funding after their initial award.” Some of von Hippel’s survey respondents remarked on this explicitly, writing “I applied for grants from the NSF in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. … Most of the reasons given for not funding were that funds were too tight that particular year and that I should reapply the next year since the proposal had merit… I finally just gave up.”
Their research concludes that because of a low (20% on average) funding rate, half of all proposers will stop submitting after they have made multiple proposals to federally funded research. Based on that information, the authors of the survey T. von Hippel and C. von Hippel recommend that investigators avoid programs with low funding rates unless they are prepared to write two or more proposals a year or have an exceptional application.
BUT WAIT! Don't be discouraged! Your Proposal Development Unit at MCIRCC can help you get an even greater return on your investment! Your PDU has recommendations for better organization of the proposal preparation process, ideas for better grantsmanship, and can even help to identify research themes to plan for submitting a proposal! All of these will help you produce the best proposal possible. The Proposal Development Unit Manager, Meagan Ramsey, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org