Grant Shopping

Guest post from Danielle Ferndale who completed her PhD through the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland recently. Her work focuses on the area of critical health psychology and her main interests are deafness and hearing loss, qualitative methods and privilege (and oppression). Contact her at @deafresearchau  Email:

Recently I was in a meeting talking about grants, and needing to find grant money to fund a follow-up project to the one we were currently working on. Except that’s not really how the discussion played out. Essentially, it became about identifying where the money’s at – e.g. breast cancer, diabetes etc. and how we can make the follow-up project suit the agenda of these funding bodies. This discussion went so far as to say, that while less prevalent diseases (or lesser known) or certain minority groups of people were fascinating, that’s not where the money is at.  This is not the first time I’ve had this experience.

Logically, I understand that in order for any research to get done it needs money. And the people with the money want certain topics (or certain answers) or types of research to be explored. So naturally, we make compromises on the population we’re interested in, the methodology, little parts of our soul etc. to accommodate the focus of particular grants. I also understand, on a human level, researchers need an income in order to purchase food, afford healthcare, etc.

However, on a principle level, I find it problematic that funding bodies dictate what topics/types of research are interesting, valuable and fund worthy. Less attractive areas of research, projects with “difficult” interventions or projects with “not-readily-quantifiable” outcomes (e.g., mental health), fall by the wayside. The funding system as I understand it, and I’m a relatively new player in the game of academia, privileges certain types of knowledge over others.


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As a newby in the game of academia and grants, I’m figuring out how to forge a career within which I can do “good” research, that doesn’t compromise the values of my population of interest, my principles (which I hold dear) but will also still be fundable and publishable. And I see a few options:

  1. Quit academia and pick one of the many back-up careers I have identified (e.g. driving instructor, movie critic)
  2. Suck it up and play the game by the current rules (pick ‘sexy’ research and adapt it to the trends, agenda of others) AKA, sell my soul
  3. Learn how to sell my research or mask it so that it is appealing to funding bodies – only selling part of my soul, the part that was evil anyway.
  4. Start a cult whereby, with likeminded individuals, we adopt the ideals of ‘the slow scholarship movement’ (Mountz et al., 2015)
  5. Change the system from within, also implementing the ideals of ‘the slow scholarship movement’

However, I am yet to figure out, how does one change the system – what does this look like? Where do I need to go to see this in action? Who can I look up to and learn from? Is it possible for an early career researcher to survive within the system while at the same time changing it? I think it is imperative that discussions on this topic continue, not just within the ‘critical bubble’ but in mainstream contexts.


A first-timer’s experience in grant writing: Part 2

Recently, I wrote a blog about my experience writing an Early Career Fellowship for the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia. In the first blog, I told you about some lessons from this experience: follow your interests and don’t Google your ‘competitors’.

In this blog, I want to tell you about my final three lessons:

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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.

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