There are many opportunities in industry for life scientists with grant writing skills.
As a Medical Writer, you may choose to include grant proposal writing as one of the services you offer. I was recently asked to write a technology grant proposal for launching an iOS App. Although I did not write technology grants during my academic career, the skills I acquired in academia are transferable.
To prepare for a grant writing career in industry, start early. In the present blog post, I’ll share three ways to do that.
Identify the problem. Grants are an important factor for success in academia. Yet, from my experience, and according to one report by EMBO Science and Society, most PhD students and postdocs lack skills in writing proposals and grant applications. In fact, most of the senior scientists who ought to be teaching these skills, did not view these skills as important. Yet, 54% of senior scientists surveyed stated they would have liked to receive training in proposal writing and grant applications, earlier in their career.
This is the reality. Acknowledging this reality will help you to work harder so as to acquire the needed skills, with or without the help of your mentors.
Take the initiative. As shown in the EMBO survey, your mentors are less likely to take the initiative in teaching you how to write grant proposals. Some mentors are supportive, but since they are overloaded with scientific and administrative work, they may not be able to help you acquire these skills.
Ask to read their grant proposals, including those that were not awarded. A non-award as you likely know, does not mean a poorly written proposal. Reading grant proposals written by senior scientists will improve your grantsmanship skills. My mentors readily gave me their grant proposals to read. It is a challenge to write a successful grant proposal if you have not seen what one looks like. So do not hesitate to ask your mentors and other senior scientists for their grant proposals. Let them know why you want to read their proposals.
Become familiar with funding agencies. Who do they fund? Students, postdoctoral fellows, or tenured faculty? Is your good idea a good fit? Look beyond government and federal grants. There are foundations and private sources that give grants for research and educational help. Read their Requests for Proposals.
What projects do they support? Talk to a program officer to confirm your eligibility. This will save you time and frustration. When I decided to write an R21 grant proposal that funds innovative ideas, I spoke directly to the program director. She explained to me how to make my proposal stronger and more competitive since I was still a postdoc without an established track record.
Learn how to sell your ideas. Not every life scientist will get the opportunity to write a grant proposal. However, there are many opportunities for life scientists to sell their ideas.
When you present your work to your peers and mentors during the weekly lab meetings, when you present your research during annual events, when you write a manuscript (and even abstracts), you can seize the opportunity to sell yourself and your ideas.
No, this will not turn you into a salesman, but wherever your career takes you, knowing how to sell will contribute to your success. More and more life scientists are becoming entrepreneurs.
As the owner of the service-based business, Consult to Aspire, some of the services I offer include Grant Writing, CV, Resume and Professional Statement Writing. To attract customers, investors, and others who offer contract work, I not only make myself marketable, I must also sell my services.
What can I tell you now that I wish someone had told me then (while in academia)? Credentials and skills alone will not get you where you want to be. Learn how to sell yourself, your ideas and your services. Writing your first grant is a milestone. It may be the first step to a career in industry. What other skills do you need to become a successful grant writer? In future posts, I’ll re-visit this topic.
Until then,“Happy Reading”
Christiana W. Davis, MD
Owner, Consult To Aspire