I’ve just spent pretty much the whole of the last two months writing applications. One for a fellowship and one for funding to conduct a study. For those of you that haven’t written these sorts of things, it is a somewhat surreal experience, which becomes a grind after a few weeks, and grows into a bit of a nightmare after a few months.
Setting out on a path as a researcher, I don’t think many of us would have had in mind how important it is to be able to sell yourself and achievements. But the fact is that careers and advancement often hang on the ability to attract funding. And how wonderful the person submitting the application is (or appears to be) has a big influence on whether the money flows.
The upshot of this is that researchers spend a significant chunk of their time applying for money, and a big part of that involves writing about how fabulous you are, and how amazing your achievements so far have been. It all smells vaguely narcissistic and can certainly feel uncomfortable, particularly when starting out. In many of the cultures we live in, modesty is a valued attribute and detailed and exhaustive broadcasting of achievements seems a bit shameless.
But, as far as I can tell anyway, there is no way around it. It is just one of those things that you need to do, and not only do you need to do it, you need to get good at it. Given the low success rates of most major funding schemes, if the person reading your application isn’t blown away by how fantastic you are, chances are you won’t be funded. Obviously the science and idea need to be right too, but undersell yourself and you won’t get the cash regardless of how good the idea is.
I don’t know whether or not my current applications are going to be successful, but I am sure I looked like a far more impressive researcher in the final versions than in the earlier drafts. So I thought I’d pass on a few things that I learned along the way.
Telling others how great we are doesn’t come naturally to most people, and there is often a sense of insecurity among research students and ECRs. But the ability and skills to sell yourself are fundamental to successful funding applications and probably as important to a career in research as scientific publications. In this way, you might think of it as just another form of academic writing!
If you’ve tips or ideas that you have found useful, please pass them on. Feel free to use the comments below.
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