Zen and the art of grant application
The grant-writing seminars I took did not fully prepare me for the actual process of applying for a grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). First was the time issue. I applied for a grant to study a protein found in relative abundance in a cell's endoplasmic reticulum. This protein has no known function, and I was determined to find it.
I sent the grant application in June and didn't get summary statements back until December, which meant that, with luck, I could address the issues raised and resubmit by June. I had to take a deep breath and swallow the realization that it would take an entire year just to resubmit my application. For my next submission, I will plan for this long period — while hoping for a faster turn-around.
I also became trapped in a catch-22. It is very difficult to get funding for something, such as my protein, that is not well understood. The thinking, perhaps, is that there are so many things to study that we do understand, why add things we know nothing about? This leaves me scratching my head as to how anyone will ever get funding to study the large number of proteins of 'unknown function' that have been identified by the Human Genome Project.
To overcome this apparent paradox, it seems you need to find something that is understood or that you can flesh out, or you must search the literature for something that seems to explain to some extent what you propose to study. I found a paper showing that my protein could bind and activate tissue plasminogen activator, an important molecule for the regulation of fibrinolysis in the vascular system and something related to human health (which is a plus when seeking funds).
I discovered from reviewers' comments that it pays to be as detailed as possible, and so build their confidence in your ability to carry out the experiment. I learned this the hard way: a reviewer said my description of the techniques and experimental approaches were too brief and superficial — and that I did not have an established track record with the studies. I had no doubt about my ability to do the experiments, and I had included in the initial application information that I had used the technique before. But I realized that writing down exact protocols might provide that added information to boost reviewer confidence in my abilities.
All told, deep breaths and an eye to including even what you may consider obvious should help you to steer your application to success.
NIH Office of Extramural Research, Grants