Proposal writing

April not only marks the beginning of spring, with finally warmer temperatures, sunshine and the first small flowers, it is also the month of research proposal writing. Several research councils have their annual deadlines, which means days and nights of work to write competitive research applications. The outcome, i.e. if one gets money or not, is however highly uncertain and won’t be known until November or December, just in time for the darkness to return.

This year I am writing two research proposals, and am participating in two others. As opposed to earlier years, I have had hardly any time to sit down and write, and now two or three days before the deadline, I am only almost ready with one proposal, while the second one is still in progress … I can just hope that I will have loads of good ideas and a real flow in writing tomorrow.

Because of the proposal deadlines, April is also the month when most of us are really stressed. And November is the month when most of us are really depressed or extremely happy. Depressed because we did not get any money, and happy of course because we did get money. The reasons for why one gets money and the other does not get any money are however not clear at all. None of the research councils lets the applicants know what was wrong or what was good with the proposal, or what could be made better next time, or what was missing. The only response one gets is a rating from 1 (not good) to 5 (outstanding) and short text that does not say anything at all. I mean it does not give any clues why the proposal was rejected. How can people learn to write better proposals if they do not get any feedback? And how should applicants know how the 1 to 5 rating is done and what it is based on? On my CV, my publication list? What do I have to do to be rated 4 or 5? How should my CV look like or my publication list to rank high?

A few years ago I submitted a proposal to the research council Formas. The project idea was to work with lake sediments in Thailand. The statement I got back mentioned that I was applying for money to do a research project in Taiwan … well Thailand and Taiwan are both in Asia, but they are not the same countries! Moreover I was told that the project did not include any modelling and was thus more or less worthless. One just wonders what kind of reviewers Formas employs?! In the next round, I made a project proposal again for Thailand (and stated it very clearly that I mean Thailand and not Taiwan), and included the much-wanted modelling component. But in the dark month of December I received the answer: no money! Now I am growing somewhat tired of writing and sending proposals to Formas, and I just think that it is a waste of my time to write really good proposals (this is at least what I think) and not getting them funded.

Keep fingers crossed that this year’s proposals (not to Formas) will be more successful.

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