When Writing a Grant Makes you Feel like Pinocchio

A great colleague of mine suggested a blog post on this subject which is very timely in the Fall as academic grant due dates are rife through the calendar.

How do you deal with the feeling that you are overselling yourself and your abilities in a grant proposal? Pinocchio

It is very common for academics to have feelings of inadequacy and “imposture syndrome,” and of course, when you’re stressed (like when you are writing a grant) it is more common for those feelings to come to the forefront. So let’s talk about some strategies to deal with the thoughts in the first place.

  1. Change those negative thoughts and pathways. On a positive day, think of a time you did something you’re proud of, personally or academically. Make a little sign or picture that reminds you of this experience and put it up near where you work. This could be things like “finished my thesis,” “learned to knit,” “traveled by myself to Greece,” or “gave birth.” The point is, you’re a resilient person and you’ve done some things worth celebrating.
  2. Make a timeline for grant writing. Most often, negative thoughts creep in when we are rushed, stressed and over committed. Planning ahead and doing a little at a time should make the whole prospect less overwhelming.
  3. Use counselling if you have access to it. Most universities have employee assistance programs that you can use over the phone, or via email, even!
  4. Work on the aspects of the grant that are less personal. Rather than being overwhelmed and possibly even avoiding the grant, do the impersonal portions like the budget, fill in drop down menus, and so on.
  5. Have someone read your work. Whether this is an editor, friend, research officer, or other person doesn’t matter, but it should be someone you can share your concern with.
  6. Realise that you are not alone. This is an issue I have coached and edited for many times. Writing a grant can be stressful and the prospect of being judged by others, especially when most of our work is to autonomous, is something that no one likes.

If nothing else, at the end of your writing, go through and change all the “might,” “could,” “should,” and “would” to “will” or other more concrete terms. This alone will make the application infinitely stronger. You don’t want to be your own worst enemy. After all, this is a grant competition and other academics will be saying why they are the best to undertake a project and what they will get done.

This weaker language is one of the larger problems that I see, and we come by it honestly because as academics we are taught to justify and prove everything, and not to project. But grant writing is a different beast, and so we should feel comfortable putting our best foot forward.

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