Researchers learn grantwriting tips in latest ORS workshop

Robert Porter shares with researchers strategies on how to create winning research proposals.The research grant system is competitive, and always has been, but you actually have more control and chance for success than you think, according to grant-writing expert Robert Porter.Porter explained to researchers attending a recent grant-writing workshop that, overall, funding proposals have roughly a 20 to 30 per cent chance of being funded.But when you look closely at the numbers, he says, some 60 per cent of applications are rejected on first reading because the proposal did not match the program’s goals and objectives or the person applying did not follow application instructions.“It’s easy to be discouraged, but when you think about this particular data set, are you less discouraged?” he asked the crowd. “These things are easy to avoid.”Porter, who is director of Research Development at the University of Tennessee, conducted a workshop at Brock last month focusing on strategies on how to create winning research proposals.He began by contrasting academic writing – the “world of ideas” – with grant writing, which places a high emphasis on language that is easily understood by non-experts, talks about future actions, and uses persuasive, personal prose to “sell” ideas and convey excitement.“The writing style and habits that make you successful as an academic are not quite the same set of writing skills that will make you successful as a grant writer,” he told workshop participants. “We have to break our writing habits and adopt a new set of writing skills.”Using examples of comments made by actual reviewers and samples of past grant applications, Porter outlined a “12-step program” for researchers to follow when apply for grants.Highlights of Porter’s presentation include:• Before starting the process, flesh out the “problem” – an important need or issue that should be addressed, a gap between where we are now and where we could be, a limitation of current knowledge – and why the problem is important• Make sure your proposal matches the funding agency’s priorities. “You want the reviewer to see right away that what you want to do is exactly what that sponsor wants to pay for.”• Use clear, direct language in an “active” voice, avoiding jargon and acronyms. “If reviewers don’t understand what you’ve written, they don’t blame themselves – they get annoyed at you.”• Allocate more time than you think you need to put your application together, so that you can consult with Brock’s research officers and get others to proofread your work.Throughout the workshop, Porter stressed the need for a can-do attitude.“Even the best grant writers are turned down more often than they’re successful,” he said. “When you’re turned down, you will be disappointed. But you can choose not to be discouraged.“You have to develop a tough, competitive attitude. You have to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to stay in this game until I’m successful’.”June’s workshop is part of a series of events that the Office of Research Services (ORS) hosts to support researchers with funding applications and other tasks.In May, ORS held “Research Leadership Day” that opened with an overview of TriCouncil and other external grant application support. Following that, a panel – representing each agency and consisting of Jeffrey Atkinson (NSERC), Wendy Ward (CIHR) and Diane Dupont (SSHRC) – addressed the question “What happens to applications in the committee room?”Break-out groups then discussed such issues as: how to diplomatically respond to feedback; how to write a winning Impact section; how to write a winning Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) section; how to write a winning summary; how to write a winning budget and questions and answers about the Common CV (CCV) and Brock Peer Support.“We have an incredibly talented pool of researchers and faculty,” Associate Vice-President Research Kevin Kee says. “The Office of Research Services and the Office of the Vice-President, Research are committed to easing the administrative burden placed on our faculty so that they can have the time to concentrate on what they do best: pursue cutting-edge research that makes a difference to the world around us.”ORS also holds a yearly Research Celebration in February that includes posters and presentations highlighting the broad array of Brock University research. read more

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New coop learning model looks at longterm career development

Brock’s Co-op Education team has been revamping some key courses so they focus beyond helping students get a job, and also strengthen their longer-term career development.The Co-op Education Professional Preparation Courses, which are compulsory for all undergraduate and graduate co-op students, have undergone major makeovers this past year.The courses previously aimed to prepare students exclusively for their co-op job searches and work terms, but they now include hands-on exercises like occupational research and informational interviews with industry professionals that focus on long-term career success.“We’ve taken feedback from student focus groups and have completely overhauled the course to enhance their experience and learning,” said Brock’s Associate Director of Co-op Education, Julia Zhu. “We want to ensure they feel like they are getting tangible results from a course that helps them succeed in achieving their objective of discipline-related employment.“All of the things they are learning can be quickly applied, but also used long-term,” she said. “They are able to mobilize that knowledge and use it on their own for the entirety of their career.”The University has long had a deep commitment to co-op education. Each year, its 40 programs put 15 per cent of Brock’s students into a wide range of experiential opportunities often resulting in employment upon graduation.The new career development model used in the course builds on this foundation and encourages students to be flexible, stay organized, ask for help and take manageable risks.To learn these lessons, students spend classes exploring traditional topics such as interview skills, as well as newer topics, including self-marketing strategies, transferable and essential skills identification, and networking and relationship building.Using the in-class instruction to take chances on new opportunities and unforeseen interactions is key to career development and of particular importance to the new model, said Marisa Brown, Brock’s Career Curriculum Specialist.“It’s exciting to get our students comfortable with chance and how to manage it,” she said. “Initially, chance can be intimidating, and can lead to students fearing the unknown situations they face. But when they learn to harness these situations, they discover ways to effectively manage their careers, both now and in the future.”Brown also emphasized the change in instruction that comes along with the new learning model.“The instructional techniques are now more of a facilitated style, with hands-on activities and online modules,” she said, “rather than the lecture-focused approach that we used in the past.”With the new model set to roll out this fall, both Zhu and Brown hope it will begin to expand beyond co-op to further the employability of all Brock students, who, at 98 per cent, already enjoy one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country.“The course serves as a launch pad for the career development model to begin to seep into much of the University and to work with different campus partners and Faculties,” said Zhu. “We hope that as students complete the course and reflect on the experiences they have had at Brock, they will begin to think about their studies and careers in a more holistic way to better prepare them for the transition to the workplace that lies ahead.” read more

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