Let’s see if I can remember how to do this blogging thing….
Proposal 1: We started out doing it by the book. Picked a good research topic, and then found the appropriate RFP, with a deadline comfortably in the future. We had weekly brainstorming meetings to refine our research objectives and were just beginning to write some text, when something shook us. Suddenly our experimental design didn’t seem quite so clever or practical anymore. We spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out new ways to approach the problem, and debating whether we were really going to go after the RFP after all. Lots of drafts of new objectives were written, revised, reorganized, and mostly dismissed. Now it’s ~2 weeks before the deadline and we’re at the same place we were a month ago – with a set of objectives and not much more – except now we’ve only got 2 weeks to write the grant instead of 6, and we’re going to have to do it on top of teaching. Inspiration or desperation?
Proposal 2: We saw the RFP six weeks before the deadline. The grant was daunting in size and the agency unfamiliar, but maybe it writing it could serve as a first draft for some other submission. Our plates weren’t overflowing; it was summer; we could do it. We spent about an hour working through research ideas before a colleague stopped by and said “Well, if you are submitting to Agency X, shouldn’t it have something to do with Y?” That’s little reality check was all we needed; we were off and running. Other things came up (an out-of-town trip, the start of classes), so most of the text got written in the two weeks preceding the deadline. A few days before the deadline, one objective got scrapped and replaced by another, much more fun, one. Lots of caffeine was consumed and swear words said as we raced against the clock and the page limit. In the end, we turned it in with a few hours to spare, feeling pretty good about a kick-ass proposal, that even if not funded by Agency X, certainly met our goal of a good first draft for some other submission. Inspiration or desperation?
Maybe it all depends on perspective. In proposal one, there were certainly inspired moments near the beginning, but now it just feels desperate and uninspired. In proposal two, the very conception of the proposal was desperate, the writing process was certainly so, but by the end the whole thing felt kind of inspired. Is the sense of inspiration or desperation merely a by-product of whether the project is finished or not?