You’ve seen a job opportunity in grants editing, you have the appropriate education or experience—but is this work really for you? I asked my trusty experts in grants editing to speak to the challenges and the rewards of their work: Tara McDonald, Annie Moore, Nandini Maharaj, and Brianna Wells.
What challenges might a new person in this field face? What advice do you have for someone entering the profession?
Tara: A common challenge for our team is quick turnaround times and high volumes. Every grant is different, and the guidelines for grants can change from cycle to cycle, so we are adept at quickly interpreting guidelines to ensure compliance. Funders may also implement initiatives that affect our eligibility for funding or demand new internal processes (e.g., Canada Research Chair’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Plan), which require responsiveness and adaptability (sometimes with very few resources to do so). Finally, institutional strategic research directions are dynamic, so we also need to create new resources to help our researchers align their work with both a funder’s priorities and our organizational focus.
I like that I can still be involved in research, without the other pressures that attend academic researchers. The precarity of graduate academic life was wearing me out, so I appreciated the stability of a research admin role, with the opportunity to continuously learn.
Recommendation: As PhD candidates, we may have a very narrow focus of expertise, leading us to feel unqualified in anything beyond that niche. Resist this feeling! You are very skilled and qualified! Remember that grant crafting requires writers to convince a specialist reviewer while also making sense to a non-specialist audience. As an academic, you provide a valuable non-expert eye to the wide world of research beyond your field!
Annie: The health research funding landscape changes, but not especially quickly. Usually changes are broadcasted in advance and there’s time to prepare—for example, to meet recent federal requirements for institutions to develop and publish equity, diversity, and inclusion, or research data management strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic probably spurred the fastest change in available funding opportunities, which on the whole has been positive (although it kept us pretty busy, too). Twitter has lots of relevant threads and communities to follow, and many funding agencies send out regular e-newsletters and updates.
I learn something new with every grant application, and I get to work with a wide range of professionals and projects—from physiatrists to hospital pharmacists, from clinical research in stroke rehabilitation to qualitative research on cultural safety and humility. When an application is successful, it’s gratifying to feel like I’ve contributed in some small way to improving health and care for the people we serve. And I love editing a grant application to ensure that it meets the word limits, flows well, and tells a compelling story. Lay summaries are my favourite!
Recommendation: Consider the size of the organization and what that means for you and for it; working at a university or health authority is very different than working for a non-profit that needs grants to survive.
Nandini: One particular challenge is the lack of diversity among staff in parallel roles. There tends to be more discussion about equity, diversity, and inclusion among faculty members and less so when it comes to hiring staff.
My canine coworkers are the best part of my job, of course! I love having a hybrid work arrangement that allows me to spend time with my dogs. My human colleagues never get tired of seeing them on Zoom. It’s lovely to see them bringing joy to others.
Recommendation: It’s important to be flexible and well-organized. This job requires being able to multitask, adapt to changing priorities, and meet deadlines.
Brianna: I have some very busy periods. I know when my busy periods are going to be: they’re going to be the times when I’m working on Insight Grants in September, Insight Development Grants in December and January, and, if I have someone applying for a Partnership Grant, that’s November to February. But it means that, during these months, I can have 20 people who want a lot of my attention in the same period of time, and there’s only one of me.
I’m really good at puzzling out the different pieces of a project and how they relate to one another. So I love the conversations with faculty and I’m really fortunate that this particular role at this university has a lot of space for that. Also, I’m the one who communicates results. When a researcher I support wins, especially if it’s been a challenge or they had to re-apply or something like that—I get to be the voice at the end of that pre-award journey to say, “Hey, we’re successful!”
Recommendation: I would say, in any relationship-based job, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and having them feel like you understand where they’re coming from is really important. If you can, seek out experiences that are part of the research life cycle, as these can help you appreciate what it’s like to be that person trying to meet a deadline, or trying to get a partnership agreement in place, or trying to get an article published, or trying to figure out what the timeline is for planning their conferencing.
Read the previous post in this series: What Prepared You for In-House Grants Editing?