Nature 杂志发表了EmIly Sohn的Comment,总结了多位资深科学家关于成功申请科学基金的经验,我们将其分享给大家。

Secrets to writing a winning grant

Experienced scientists reveal how to avoid application pitfalls to submit successful proposals.

When Kylie Ball begins a grant-writing workshop, she often alludes to the funding successes and failures that she has experienced in her career. “I say, ‘I’ve attracted more than $25 million in grant funding and have had more than 60 competitive grants funded. But I’ve also had probably twice as many rejected.’ A lot of early-career researchers often find those rejections really tough to take. But I actually think you learn so much from the rejected grants.”(我获得过超过2500万美元的基金资助,拿到了超过60个竞争项目。但我被拒绝的次数多于两倍,很多处于职业生涯早期的科研人员经常发现这些拒绝很难让他们接受。但我认为你从被拒绝中学到了很多东西。)

Grant writing is a job requirement for research scientists who need to fund projects year after year. Most proposals end in rejection, but missteps give researchers a chance to learn how to find other opportunities, write better proposals and navigate the system(大多数申请最终都会被否决,但这个过程会让研究人员有机会学习如何寻找其他机会,写出更好的申请书并对资助体系进行探索).

Taking time to learn from the setbacks and successes of others can help to increase the chances of securing funds, says Ball, who runs workshops alongside her role as a behavioural scientist at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

1. Do your research (做好研究)

Competition for grants has never been more intense. The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme is the European Union’s largest-ever research and innovation programme, with nearly €80 billion (US$89 billion) in funding set aside between 2014 and 2020. It reported a 14% success rate for its first 100 calls for proposals, although submissions to some categories had lower success rates. The commission has published its proposal for Horizon Europe, the €100-billion programme that will succeed Horizon 2020. In Australia, since 2017, the National Health and Medical Research Council has been funding less than 20% of proposals it receives. And the US National Science Foundation (NSF) received 49,415 proposals and funded 11,447 of them in 2017 — less than 25%. That’s tens of thousands of rejections in a single year from the NSF alone.有报告称欧盟的地平线2020计划前100个指南申请的成功率为14%。在澳大利亚,自2017年以来,国家卫生和医学研究委员会(National Health and Medical Research Council)资助比例不到20%。美国国家科学基金会(NSF)在2017年收到了49415份申请,资助了11447份,资助率不到25%,仅在一年内就有数万人被NSF拒绝。编者注:2023年中国国家自然科学基金委员会(NSFC)的资助率不到20%)

Being a renowned scientist doesn’t ensure success. On the same day that molecular biologist Carol Greider won a Nobel prize in 2009, she learnt that her recently submitted grant proposal had been rejected. “Even on the day when you win the Nobel prize,” she said in a 2017 graduation speech at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, “sceptics may question whether you really know what you’re doing.”作为一名著名的科学家并不能保证成功。

To increase the likelihood of funding success, scientists suggest doing an extensive search of available grants and noting differences in the types of project financed by various funding bodies
(为了增加申请成功的可能性,科学家们建议对现有的资助进行广泛的研究,并注意到不同基金资助机构资助项目类型的差异). Government agencies such as the NSF tend to be interested in basic science that addresses big, conceptual questions, says Leslie Rissler, programme director at the NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology in Alexandria, Virginia. A private foundation, however, might prioritize projects that inform social change or that have practical implications that fit into one of its specific missions.

2. Pitching a proposal(找好选题)

Before beginning an application, you should read descriptions and directions carefully(在开始申请之前,您应该仔细阅读指南和说明), advises Ball, who recently pored over 200 pages of online material before starting a proposal. That effort can save time in the end, helping researchers to work out which awards are a good fit and which aren’t. “If you’re not absolutely spot on with what they’re looking for, it may not be worth your time in writing that grant,” she says.

Experienced scientists suggest studying successful proposals, which can often be acquired from trusted colleagues and supervisors, university libraries or online databases
(资深科学家建议研读以往成功的申请书,这些申请书通常可以从值得信赖的同事和导师、大学图书馆或在线数据库获得). A website called Open Grants, for example, includes more than 200 grants, both successful and unsuccessful, that are free to peruse.

Grant writers shouldn’t fear e-mailing or calling a grants agency to talk through their potential interest in a project
(申请人不应该害怕通过电子邮件或打电话给基金资助机构来谈论自己对一个项目的潜在兴趣), advises Amanda Stanley, executive director at COMPASS, a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, that supports environmental scientists. For six years, she worked as a programme officer for the Wilburforce Foundation in Seattle, Washington, which supports conservation science. At this and other private foundations, the application process often begins with a ‘soft pitch’ that presents a brief case for the project. Those pitches should cover several main points, Stanley says: “‘Here’s what I’m trying to do. Here’s why it’s important. Here’s a little bit about me and the people I’m collaborating with. Would you like to talk further?’” She notes that a successful proposal must closely align with a foundation’s strategic goals(一个成功的申请书必须与基金会的战略目标相契合).

Each organization has its own process, but next steps typically include a phone conversation, a written summary and, finally, an invitation to submit a formal application. “Once you’ve gotten that invitation to submit a proposal from the programme officer, your chances of getting funded are really, really high,” Stanley says.

3. The write stuff(精心写作)

Applicants should put themselves in the shoes of grant reviewers, who might need to read dozens of applications about complicated subjects that lie outside their own fields of expertise, often while juggling their own research申请人应该设身处地地为评审专家着想,他们可能需要阅读数十份申请书,内容涉及自己专业领域之外的复杂课题).

“Imagine you’re tired, grumpy and hungry. You’ve got 50 applications to get through,” says Cheryl Smythe, international grants manager at the Babraham Institute, a life-sciences research institution in Cambridge, UK. “Think about how you as an applicant can make it as easy as possible for them.”

Formatting is an important consideration, says Aerin Jacob, a conservation scientist at the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in Canmore, Canada. White space and bold headings can make proposals easier to read, as can illustrations(留白、粗体标题以及插图,可以使申请书更容易阅读).  “Students are tempted and sometimes encouraged to squeeze in as much information as possible, so there are all kinds of tricks to fiddle with the margin size, or to make the font a little bit smaller so that you can squeeze in that one last sentence,” Jacob says. “For a reviewer, that’s exhausting to read.”

Ball advises avoiding basic deal-breakers, such as spelling errors, grammatical slips and lengthy proposals that exceed word limits. Those kinds of mistake can cast doubt on how rigorous applicants will be in their research
(避免低级错误,如拼写错误、语法错误和超过字数限制的冗长申请,这些错误可能会让人怀疑申请者在研究中的严谨程度), she says. A list of key words, crucial for indexes and search engines, should be more than an afterthought, Ball adds. On a proposal for a project on promoting physical activity among women, she tagged her proposal with the word ‘women’. The descriptor was too broad, and her application ended up with a reviewer whose expertise appeared to be in sociology and gender studies instead of in exercise or nutrition. The grant didn’t score well in that round of review.(申请书描述太宽泛,且申请内容与自己专业相距甚远)

To prevent a reviewer’s eyes from glazing over, Jacob says, use clear language instead of multisyllabic jargon
(用简洁的语言代替大量晦涩的行话). When technical details are necessary, follow up a complex sentence with one that sums up the big picture. Thinking back to her early proposals, Jacob remembers cramming in words instead of getting to the point. “It was probably something like, ‘I propose to study the heterogeneity of forest landscapes in spatial and temporal recovery after multiple disturbances,’ rather than, ‘I want to see what happens when a forest has been logged, burnt and farmed, and grows back,’” she says.

Grants can be more speculative and more self-promotional than papers are, Rissler adds. “A grant is about convincing a jury that your ideas are worthy and exciting
(要让评审专家相信你的idea是令人兴奋并且值得资助的),” she says. “You can make some pretty sweeping generalizations about what your proposed ideas might do for science and society in the long run. A paper is much more rigid in terms of what you can say and in what you must say.”

Getting some science communication training can be a worthwhile strategy for strengthening grant-writing skills, Stanley says. When she was reviewing pitch letters for a private foundation, she recalls that lots of scientists couldn’t fully explain why their work mattered(许多科学家无法有效解释为什么他们的工作很重要). But when she received pitches that were clear and compelling, she was more willing to help those scientists brainstorm other possible funding agencies if her foundation wasn’t the right fit(当她收到清晰而有说服力但不属于其基金资助机构的资助范畴时,她更愿意帮助那些科学家寻找其他可能的资助机构). Scientists who sent strong — albeit unsuccessful — applications were also more likely to get funding from the foundation for later projects.

4. Science storytelling(讲好故事)

To refine project pitches and proposals, Stanley recommends that scientists use a free communication tool from COMPASS called the Message Box Workbook, which can help to identify key points and answer the crucial question for every audience: ‘So what?’ Scientific conferences often provide symposia or sessions that include funders and offer helpful tips for writing grants. And development officers at institutions can help scientists to connect with funders. “A good development officer is worth their weight in gold,” Stanley says. “Make friends with them.”

Jacob has taken science-communication training through COMPASS, The Story Collider (a science-storytelling organization) and from other such organizations. She has learnt how to talk about her work in the manner of a storyteller(她学会了如何以讲故事的方式谈论她的工作). In proposals and interviews, she now includes personal details, when relevant, that explain the problems she wants to address and why she decided to speak out about conservation — an example of the kind of conflict and resolution that builds a good story. Jacob senses that the approach strikes a chord. “As a reviewer, you remember somebody’s proposal just that little bit more,” she says. “If you have a stack of proposals, you want to find the one that you connect with.”

A clear focus can help to boost a grant to the top of a reviewer’s pile
(一个清晰的焦点有助于申请书获得评审专家的优先关注), Ball adds. In one of the first large grants that she applied for, she proposed collecting information on the key factors that prevent weight gain as well as designing and implementing an obesity-intervention programme. In retrospect, it was too much within the grant’s two-year time frame. She didn’t get the funding, and the feedback she received was that it would have worked better as two separate proposals. “While it’s tempting to want to claim that you can solve these enormous, challenging and complex problems in a single project,” Ball says, “realistically, that’s usually not the case.”

Teaming up with collaborators can also increase the chance of success
(与合作者组队也可以增加成功的机会). Earlier this year, Ball was funded by the Diabetes Australia Research Program for a study that she proposed in collaboration with hospital clinicians, helping disadvantaged people with type 2 diabetes to eat healthy diets. Earlier in her career, she had written grants based on her own ideas, rather than on suggestions from clinicians or other non-academic partners. This time, she says, she focused on a real-world need rather than on her own ideas for a study. Instead of overreaching, she kept the study small and preliminary, allowing her to test the approach before trying to get funding for larger trials.

It is acceptable — even advisable — to admit a study’s limitations instead of trying to meet preconceived expectations, Jacob adds. In 2016, she had a proposal rejected for a study on spatial planning on the west coast of Canada that would, crucially, be informed by knowledge from Indigenous communities. She resubmitted the same proposal the next year to the same reviewers, but with a more confident and transparent approach: she was straightforward about her desire to take a different tack from the type of research that had been tried before. This time, she made it clear that she wanted to listen to Indigenous peoples and use their priorities to guide her work. She got the funding. “I saw that if I tried to change it to meet what I thought funders wanted, I might not be accurately representing what I was doing,” she says. “I just wanted to be really clear with myself and really clear with the interviewers that this is who I am, and this is what I want to do.”

5. What not to do(避免失误)

Writing is hard, and experienced grant writers recommend devoting plenty of time to the task(写作是艰苦的,资深的基金申请人建议花大量的时间来完成这项工作). Smythe recommends setting aside a week for each page of a proposal, noting that some applications require only a few pages while major collaborative proposals for multi-year projects can run to more than 100 pages. “It can take months to get one of these together,” she says.

Scheduling should include time for rewrites, proofreads and secondary reads by friends, colleagues and family members
(申请书写作日程安排应包括重写、校对,朋友、同事和家人二次阅读的时间), experts say. Working right up to the deadline can undo weeks to months of hard work. At the last minute, Jacob once accidentally submitted an earlier draft instead of the final version. It included sections that were bolded and highlighted, with comments such as, “NOTE TO SELF: MAKE THIS PART SOUND BETTER.” She didn’t get that one, and has never made the same mistake again.

Add an extra buffer for technology malfunctions
(为你的申请书留一个备份), adds Smythe, who once got a call from a scientist at another organization who was in a panic because his computer had stopped working while he was trying to submit a grant proposal half an hour before the deadline. She submitted it for him with 23 seconds to spare. “My hand was shaking,” she says. That proposal was not successful, although the scientist sent her a nice bottle of champagne afterwards.

Grant writing doesn’t necessarily end with a proposal’s submission. Applicants might receive requests for rewrites or more information(提交申请书不是基金申请工作的结束。
申请人可能会收到重写或提供更多信息的请求。编者注:NSFC 2020年新设立的“原创探索计划项目”在评审过程中,会增加同行评议专家和申请人交流的机会,请申请者留意). Rejections can also come with feedback, and if they don’t, applicants can request it.

Luiz Nunes de Oliveira, a physicist at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, also works as a programme coordinator at the São Paulo Research Foundation. In this role, he sometimes meets with applicants who want to follow up on rejected proposals. “We sit down and go through their résumé, and then you find out that they had lots of interesting stuff to say about themselves and they missed the opportunity,” he says. “All it takes is to write an e-mail message asking [the funder] for an interview.”

Jacob recommends paying attention to such feedback to strengthen future proposals. To fund her master’s programme, she applied for a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), but didn’t get it on her first try. After requesting feedback by e-mail (to an address she found buried on NSERC’s website), she was able to see her scores by category, which revealed that a few bad grades early in her undergraduate programme were her limiting factor.

There was nothing she could do about her past, but the information pushed her to work harder on other parts of her application. After gaining more research and field experience, co-authoring a paper and establishing relationships with senior colleagues who would vouch for her as referees, she finally secured funding from NSERC on her third try, two years after her first rejection(她无力改变过去,但专家评审意见促使她更加努力地完善自己的研究基础和申请。

Negative feedback can be one of the best learning experiences
(负反馈可能是最好的学习体验之一), Rissler adds. She kept the worst review she ever received, a scathing response to a grant proposal she submitted to the NSF in 2003, when she was a postdoc studying comparative phylogeography. The feedback, she says, was painful to read. It included comments that her application was incomprehensible and filled with platitudes.

After she received that letter, which is now crinkled up in her desk for posterity, Rissler called a programme officer to ask why they let her see such a negative review. She was told that the critical commenter was an outlier and that the panel had gone on to recommend her project for the grant, which she ultimately received. “I learnt that you do need to be tough,” says Rissler, who now helps to make final decisions on funding
 fother scientists. She emphasizes that whereas reviewers’ opinions can vary, all proposals undergo multiple independent expert reviews, followed by panel discussions and additional oversight by programme directors.

Grant writing tends to provoke anxiety among early-career scientists, but opportunities exist for people who are willing to take the time to develop ideas and push past rejections and negative feedback, she says. “

We can’t review proposals that we don’t get


你不提交申请,永远没有机会 !
Author:EmIly Sohn
Nature 577, 133-135.  doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03914-5