The Loneliness of Grant Writing
News Article by Steve Dewhurst, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Vice Dean for Research at the UR School of Medicine & Dentistry
Almost all of us, as researchers, spend a good deal of our time thinking about grant proposals. That’s because grant funding gives us the means to explore our ideas, and to do the things we think are important.
We also all recognize that most grant applications will be rejected by the funding agencies to which we submit them. So we become creatures of persistence.
What’s discussed less often, is the actual experience of grant writing.
It’s something we all do: at our desks, in coffee shops, at the kitchen table; wherever we can find a space for our laptop. But we don’t often talk about how it feels.
There’s a strong sense of stepping out of your normal life. For me - and I don’t think I’m unusual in this - it involves withdrawing from many of the other things I would normally do. Not only professionally, but also family obligations and social interactions.
This column, for example, was due a week ago. But I deferred it, because I had a grant deadline yesterday.
Grant writing requires us to focus our thoughts to such an extent that we can sink into them; to become fully immersed. The experience is intense, and it is also both lonely and isolating.
That’s because the process of writing a grant is an exercise in disconnection. An intentional unplugging.
When I’m writing a grant, I often feel very distant from the people around me. It’s as if they’re behind glass - because my mind is somewhere else entirely. And then I’ll find myself alone in a quiet house, in the middle of the night, with nothing but my own thoughts for company. Struggling to find the right words.
What makes this more bearable is remembering why we’re asking for the money - what we plan to do with it - and knowing also that this is a shared experience, common to all academic scientists. It’s a part of the life we choose.
Those late nights, those doubts, those uncertainties - we’ve all been there. It’s one of the things that bond us together.
So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the hundreds of researchers at the medical center who are engaged in grant writing on any given day. It’s their efforts that make the URMC’s research enterprise possible, and that make this a special place where discoveries happen every day.
This news article was originally published @URMC
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