A first-timer’s experience in grant writing: Part 1

How did I spend the recent, beautiful Australian summer, you ask? Writing a grant application, of course! In fact, I was writing an Early Career Fellowship for our National Health and Medical Research Council. In this blog, I want to share with you what I learned through the process of writing this application. This is the first of two posts.

Let me first set the context.

This fellowship is designed to fund researchers who are less than 2 years out of their PhD. The selection criteria is weighted according to research output (50%), research proposal and environment (30%) and professional contribution (20%).

My fellowship is about smoking in the home. I’m interested in how we can support families to recognize that second-hand smoke is a problem and to take steps to reduce exposure.

No smoking image

Here’s two lessons that relate to my own ‘internal battles’:

Lesson #1: Follow your interests

Writing for a medical/health research council, and reading through examples of successful applications through my university, I became increasingly aware of the lack of qualitative research. Qual methods were often used in the preliminary stages of the research or to feed into a quantitative project. Here’s the catch, I was only going to write this application if I could do qual. So, I had to find a way to convince the reviewers that this project needed to be primarily qual. After discussing my ideas with colleagues, I decided on four studies – three qual and one quant. I am glad I did this, it changed my whole approach towards writing the application. In short, it allowed me to be passionately engaged till the end.

Lesson #2: Don’t Google your ‘competitors’

A month out from the deadline, I found out who else was applying for the fellowship within my School. Well that was a mistake. Immediately I went into doubting myself. These other applicants had double the publications I had and had won grant money. I felt I was punching above my weight. With the help of my supportive friends/colleagues, I snapped out of it within a day or so but I cannot stress enough how pointless and unhelpful comparisons can be.

Comparison image

There’s always the success stories of people who don’t fit the regular mould who get funded. I know a few of these people, so thankfully I know it’s possible J That’s what I needed to remind myself – success is complicated and it’s not only about publishing and winning money.

Stay tuned for part 2…

Britta Wigginton completed her PhD in critical health psychology in 2015 at The University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane Australia. Currently Britta works in a teaching role in the School of Public Health at UQ.

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