A day in the life: Proposal writing grad

It’s crunch time in National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Proposal writing land, and I’ve been spending almost all my free time (and office time) the past few weeks drafting my application. In fact, the very reason I didn’t throw down some serious blogosphere knowledge last week is because I was all drafted out. But here I am (still editing my draft), realizing that this topic is the perfect opportunity to let all you non-graduate students/scientists know a bit what it’s like to have your life turned upside down by a very important grant/fellowship/plead your case for money application. So boom, here’s this weeks knowledge: a day in the life of a proposal writing grad.

  1. Think one draft iteration is enough? Think again. Be prepared to write one draft. And then another. And then another when your advisor or peers tell you your topic is too specific… or not enough. And then another when you find a new critical knowledge gap in your research field. And then yet another after you get a whole new sets of eyes on your proposal. This process will go on until minutes before your deadline, but I think you get the picture.
  2. Page limits will become your arch nemesis. Try fitting your plan for five years of research into two pages without banging your head on. Spoiler: it’s impossible–your head will be sore.


    Source: Daily Dilbert’s, United Feature Syndicate (2002)

  3. Free time? What free time? All your free time is dedicated to either (1) working on your proposal or (2) worrying about your proposal. You’ll probably spend more time worrying than doing, but you’ll also probably spend more time on your proposal than your did actually applying to graduate school. #truth
  4. Don’t like constructive criticism? Too bad. If you want a good proposal, you need to put it in front of as many eyes as you can (or maybe not if you’re a super star advisor like mine). Even if you don’t get others to review your proposal before submitting it, you will get reviews back whether you get funded or not. Sometimes those reviews are harsh, but they are there to help you. So, it’s probably best you get used to criticism now (that is part of the game)


    Source: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com

  5. Oh, you forgot about class and hw and TAing responsibilities and all your other assignments? No one feels sorry for you. Find a way to get those done too.

By the way, all of this is in no way comparable to a little thing called comps (comprehensive exam–usually including the submission of your research proposal to your committee) that PhD students have to suffer through during the beginning(ish) of their third year. So, I guess I have lots to look forward to… right?

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