Grants of Obligation, Grants of Necessity, Grants of Desire

Sep 27 2010 Published by under Careerism, Grantsmanship, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

Grant applications, that is.....

I was recently thinking back on my primary motivating reason for writing some of the many grant applications I've written. I concluded that one possible way of categorizing is the triumvirate of Obligation, Necessity and Desire.

Grants of Obligation are motivated by the need to satisfy an obligation to others. Perhaps it is a group project to which you contribute. A departmental training grant, a research center with a lot of expensive toys that go "ping!", a collaboration with the Dean of whatnot or perhaps support for a research conference.

Grants of Necessity are motivated by the need to fund your laboratory before something dire occurs. Startup funds are dwindling or perhaps you are down to the last year of your last R01. Maybe you are merely facing losing a key staff member or resource.

Grants of Desire are motivated intrinsically. Perhaps there is a research question that is just eating at you. Maybe it is what you've always wanted to do your entire scientific life and you finally see the chance. Or maybe you are in job situation where you would never even think of writing a grant unless it was something of deep personal interest.

Naturally there is overlap. You never have only one motivating reason for writing a grant applications and in some senses "Necessity" is always part of the picture. If I had private philanthropic funds being showered on my group....well, I don't like writing grants that much, if you know what I mean.

One thing I was also pondering is if the motivating factor is associated with 1) better or worse grant application writing/preparing; 2) better or worse review outcome or 3) better or worse scientific outcome for those grants that get funded.

I have concluded the answer to all three questions is "No". I have for sure written some real clunkers that arose out of my fondest heart's desire, scientifically speaking. And while I'm hesitant to review my own writing, I would be loathe to claim that any of these three factors lead me to prepare my best or worst applications that I've ever submitted. I've had some pretty smoooooth Grants of Obligation...and some ones that looked like an obligation. Outcome? Well, if we're going on the funded/not funded axis I certainly have received funding for grant proposals I've written primarily from all three of these motivators. And you know that means that I've come up short for proposals under all three categories as well.

How about you DearReader? Do you write under these motivations? Check all that apply.

7 responses so far

  • juniorprof says:

    I have yet to get past the grant of necessity... I suppose one day I will put in a grant simply of desire, maybe that will mark from transition from being a juniorprof to a seniorprof.

  • You left out the "Grants of Complete and Utter Desperation" category.

  • Dude, you left our "Grants of Opportunity": Your lab is already well funded, but you have some very marketable preliminary data, and you feel like it is a good opportunity to aggrandize more money and--thus--schwingage to your lab.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Dammit, you are RIGHT. I was actually thinking of that one originally and then managed to forget it...

    As a sub-part of Grants of Opportunity, there is the feeling that something is out there in the field and only one or two of the folks in your area are going to get the grant. Or maybe an RFA has been issues.

    So the getting is good at present time but the prospects look to fall off the cliff if you don't put something in for the next available date.

  • "Grant of Opportunity" for sure. There are dozens of commodity groups which will happily fund a portion of my research if I just ask for the dollars. They're not huge grants (usually around 10K to 25K) but they'll fund summer field help and enough reagents to get the project well enough on.

  • [...] Grants of Obligation, Grants of Necessity, Grants of Desire [...]

  • Show us some data - successful/unsuccessful proposals per category.

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