That is one of my favorite mixed metaphors of all time, courtesy of Ted Case, who taught a pretty awesome Ecology class that I took as a grad student at UCSD a long time ago. He was discussing something about parent-offspring conflict and how the bird that makes the most noise gets the most benefit when parents come to stuff their nestlings’ mouths with fresh caught worms. Ergo, the squeaky wheel gets the worm!
I was reminded of that last Monday, within the first hour of a grant writing workshop I’m attending all this week, sponsored by CSU Fresno’s RIMI project and NIH. In webinar (from NIH Program Officers) after seminar (from our Dean and RIMI faculty here) we were told that one of the key things we should do early in the grant writing cycle is to get in touch with a relevant NIH (or NSF) Program Officer, to run initial grant proposal ideas by them (best in the form of a short concept paper), and then to stay in regular contact with them while developing the proposal, and through the review process after submission. As one NIH officer put it: “remember what they say in Chicago: do it early, and do it often” (the it being, of course, getting in touch with the relevant Program Officer). Its not as easy as it seems for a beginning (or unsuccessful) grant writer, nervous as one is about putting one’s ideas on the line to begin with. But I think we often don’t realize that Program Officers at these granting agencies are not gate-keepers trying to keep us out of the exclusive club, but guides who can help us find the right way in – if we work with them and let them help us! Get them on your side so they may even advocate for you!
Be the squeaky wheel, if you really want that worm…
While listening to this sage advice from several speakers, I worked up the courage to nag my Program Officer at NSF. You see, I (insanely at the head of a team of 18 collaborators) had submitted a grant proposal for a multidisciplinary urban socioecology project a year ago, under the new Urban Long Term Research Area Exploratory Award competition. Last August, we got good reviews, and were put in the encouraging “fund-if-possible” category, just behind 17 other projects that got funded right off the bat! For us (and four others) it turned out not be immediately possible to fund – but we were told to wait. And waited we did. I nudged the Program Officer in charge of our grant in November, and was told to wait a while longer. And wait we did. Amid the madness of the spring semester I didn’t get around to asking again, and grew increasingly apprehensive.
Along come these grant gurus this week, exhorting us to “stay on the radar screen of the Program Officers“! So, on Monday afternoon, I sent another email to mine, asking for an update on the status of our proposal, and updating him on some of the interesting (unfunded) progress we had made on the project in the meantime. And waited.
Today (Thursday), while in another session of the workshop, I got an email from my NSF Program Officer, apologizing for the delay in the decision, and telling me they had now found enough money to fund our project! In full!! Thank you very much, o friendly guide (not gatekeeper) for helping find a way to get us into that exclusive club of NSF funded researchers! And thank you, grant gurus of the RIMI, for making me get back up on that radar screen.
So there you go… this squeaky wheel did get the worm, after all!
Now if you want to know how that worm turns out, keep an eye on this blog for I will be sharing some details of our grant proposal here soon, and continue to keep posting results from our project as it develops.