One of the hardest tasks as a teacher of grant writers comes down to making my students believe one essential idea:

A grant proposal is not about promoting or pursuing your own interests, it is about promoting and pursuing your funders and reviewers’ interests.

Some of us are lucky enough to be in the sweet spot: that place where your interests and reviewer/funder interests collide. However, most people aren’t quite there.

I’ve worked with plenty of people on their grants. I’ve had some amazing experiences and wins while helping folks – in the last month alone I’ve heard from three people (at least) who cite me and my concepts as helping them to achieve excellent scores on giant NIH proposals.

Despite these successes, I’ve seen far too many great proposals fail. Though these grants are written well and planned well, they fail to grab reviewer interest and excitement.

You may have heard that the best ideas always come when you’re in the shower, or driving the car. It was in one of these moments that a great idea hit me: too many of us treat science as a hobby rather than as a career.

If you want to have grant-supported science, you must treat your work—and your grant proposals—like the career that it is. You can’t just propose whatever-you-happen-to-be-interested-in.  Instead, think about what-the reviewers-are-interested-in, and think about that very intensely.

If, in doing that reflective exercise, you discover something that creates an intersection between your interests and their interests, count yourself among the lucky few.  But even if you can’t, don’t be misled: if you treat your work as a hobby (for example: attempting to “sell” a proposal from a place of self-interest rather than a place of reviewer-interest), you won’t get very far.

Luckily, we’re here to help. If you want to learn more about figuring out what they (your funders, reviewers) want, check out some of many resources, including written information, free online training, books, and courses at our blog