This week, various ideas for future proposals have been circling around in my brain. Despite the fact that the issue of proposals and grants can be stressful, and despite the fact that there are some aspects of proposal assembly that I truly loathe (budgets), and despite the fact that I am not always successful at forgetting some of the more obnoxious comments that I received in past proposal reviews as I write new proposals, I really like writing proposals.
One of my grad students asked me recently "Why are you thinking about proposals again already?". So I explained some of the basics of what is involved in terms of timing of proposal submission, decisions, and (if necessary) resubmissions, and typical grant durations and so on. I think it's good for graduate students to have an understanding and appreciation for where their funding comes from, especially if they are going to participate in proposal-writing at some point.
I have a few ideas for proposals I want to write in the next year or so, and although my ideas may change over the course of the year, I like to have a general plan. For me, the construction of a proposal commonly involves various stages:
1 - Some possibly interesting (and of course transformative) ideas buzz around my brain until they settle into distinct ideas that can be packaged into focused and compelling proposal-units.
2 - The beginning of proposal writing is not a linear process. I don't start at the beginning and work my way through to the end. I write various pieces of it as best suits my mood, move bits of text around, create or assemble figures, talk to colleagues, edit what I've written, write new sections, and so on. This is my favorite part, and it can be exhilarating.
3 - The reality of having to fill out forms starts to reach the outer fringes of my consciousness, and I start to think about budget items, obtaining support letters, and other technical matters. I acquire budget numbers from various sources and I put files in a folder, but I don't yet feel like dealing with them. I still feel like writing, and so I focus on that.
4 - I force myself to do the forms. I check the boxes that say I will not be experimenting on humans or animals (other than students). I do the budget. I come up with some synergistic activities to list on my CV. The Chair and the Dean and some other people give me permission to submit the proposal even though they haven't read it. The deadline looms and the exhilaration has faded, though even the Oppression o' the Forms cannot ruin my overall fondness for writing proposals.
5 - Everything is assembled. The forms are uploaded. The text is uploaded. I hope that the grants office won't submit the proposal until the last minute in case I want to change something. And then.. someone in the grants office pushes a button and the proposal is gone. I get an automated email. I am relieved, but there is also a melancholy feeling of emptiness at the departure of the proposal out of my intellectual grasp. What will I do next? I contemplate cleaning my office, but I don't actually do it.
8 months ago