söndag 2 september 2012

Writing research grants applications = wasted time?

I spent a lot of time during this past spring writing up research grant applications. I started work on no less than five different applications, but only four made it all the way and were handed in (to three different research grant agencies). The applications covered two quite different ideas, and I worked in two different constellations (two different two- or three-person "teams"). I will use this blog post to summarize what I did during the spring, and will later follow it up with reflections, analysis and some potentially radical conclusions of this "marathon process" of writing applications galore.

I have already written more extensively about this topic in no less than three (long) Swedish-language blog posts on another blog of mine. I have spent large amounts of time at that other blog writing longish analyses for three years before I started this blog (and 28 of the 143 Swedish texts/essays have also been translated into English and can be found on this, yet-another (dormant) blog of mine).

The three recently-published Swedish-language blogs posts summarize my activities during the spring 2012 (busy writing research grant applications and explaining my absence from that blog), the (almost) verbatim text (in Swedish) of one of my applications, "Beyond ecological modernization: Crisis-proofed lifestyles for a sustainable society" and finally an analysis of the costs of the "research grant application circus".

My big "extra-curricular" activity during the spring was thus writing research grant applications. The step from rudimentary idea to finished application is long. Especially if the idea your application revolves around is genuinely new to you and thus represents something that you need to read up on and explore - just in order to write an application and ask for money to do research into the topic in question. The step from finished application to a follow-up, derivate application is much shorter. Two of my four applications were brand new and the other two were derivate applications.

I estimate that the work to develop a brand new idea into a finished application (something I did twice), took between 80-160 hours for each application. More for the application I was responsible for and less for the application where I was co-applicant. Do note that this is the time I spent and you should thus add the time my co-applicant(s) spent to get an estimate of how much time it took to write these applications.  All in all, I estimate that I personally spent between 200 and 300 hours writing these four (or five) applications during the spring. Well, the discussions and the early brainstorming work actually started already half a year earlier, during the autumn a year ago. The time I spent represents hundreds of hours of time that I don't officially have. I can't very well tell my employer that I spent 20 or 30 percent of my workings hours for half a year writing applications. Writing applications is basically something I (and other wanna-be researchers) have to do in my free time. The conclusion is thus that writing research grant applications was my hobby during the spring.

So, was it worth the effort? That depends. On the one hand, the work of developing an idea into a finished application is definitely worth something as you have to think through (several times) what it really is you want to do, how you want to do it, why you want to do it, what you want to get out it if, how it relates to what has already been done by others etc. The process of writing an application forces you to think deeper and it matures your initial rough idea.

So, was it worth the effort? That depends. The literally hundreds of hours spent could have been put to use in many other ways. I could have spent that time reading novels and eating popcorn, or played with my kids, or upped the quality of my work (courses etc.), or watched TV, or taken long walks with my wife, or...

So, was it worth the effort? That depends. Three of the four applications were turned down and the last one is still pending. In straight utilitarian terms, it seems like the time spent (this far) was indeed a bad "investment" (low ROI - Return On Investment).

This was just a sum-up, next I'l dig deeper into the costs - both monetary and others. To be followed...

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