Scientific Writing & Grantsmanship Skills

Mar 07 2012 Published by under Grad School, Grantsmanship

is really freaking lacking in most incoming graduate students and for the most part its because the poor noobs have no experience with it.  Most of these "kids" come out of undergrad having maybe written some lab or field reports and maybe a 5 page paper on some topic.  A few have actually done a senior's thesis and developed some basic modicum of scientific writing skills.  But universally, when it comes to writing any type of scientific proposal we have no clue.

Some universities are proactive and require students to take a class (usually during their first summer) on writing and grantsmanship where they can craft some basic scientific proposal.  This is immensely helpful for those whose qualifying exams are to author some type of grant proposal.  Sadly my institution puts no emphasis on this training and it is left up to the trainee and their mentor.  And judging by some of the St. K3rns that I work with, they are loathe to allow you to participate in anything that takes you away from the lab.

So dear reader, what are your thoughts on formal training in scientific writing and grantsmanship, did you undergo this, and would you think this would be a practical addition to the graduate school curriculum?

8 responses so far

  • Dr. Zeek says:

    Hellz yeah.

    Knowing how to communicate your science to others is one of those fundamental skills that cannot be fluffed aside. And, the only way to get better is to write, write and then write some more. And then have people read and tear apart what your write. It is not a skill you can learn from a book or reading an article, you have to practice! it frustrates me sometimes when I am reading over a friend's thesis and wonder "what in the hell?". Biggest pet peeve, "Since the beginning of time..." (yes I have seen that in a graduate PhD thesis-and they weren't talking about the big bang).

    So, yes graduate students need to learn to write, to "read' (journal articles) and to speak (talking coherently about their research). Adding a writing course to the curriculum as a would be a fantabolus idea as well as maybe integrating writing intensive portions into existing classes. Maybe having a smaller class have to summarize a journal article-it hits both the reading and the writing. It's a skill that graduate students need but have no clue how or where to start. Or at least that is my two cents.

    • Dev says:

      Maybe the issue is more one of economics, more job openings for writers, more time for research, and then a mess unfolds.

      The problem might reside in the inability to handle a basic or more generic language. Too much specialist and tech terminology is built in the modern world, so the basic language is either forgotten or altered, and the mess results in incomunication even in the same official language. Call it generational, or segregation.

  • PSG says:

    Yeah, I both did this and think it should be part of the formal training process.

    I took a course post-quals entitled "grant writing" which taught us about the NIH process, from the idea stage to approval. It was one of the most valuable part of grad school for me, as I learned the study section lingo (pink sheets, A0/A1, ESI, ect) that it is very difficult to pick up anywhere else. That being said, it would have been nice to have had a course the semester before the qual focused in scientific communication, to help with writing specifically, as well as posters, conference presentations, paper assembly…

    How DO grad schools get away with not teaching this thing so central to scientific success is what I really wonder…

  • BeckyPhD says:

    Yes. I consider it the single most valuable tool I took from graduate school.

  • Bashir says:

    Why wouldn't this be a good thing?

    I had no formal training. There was a class in some other department that a few people took. My grad U was not big on explicit professional development. I think the idea was that the individual PIs would handle it as they saw fit. Some did more so than others. Mine was well meaning, but so-so in these manners.

  • DR says:

    It was an expected part of my first year of grad school for all of us to write NSF grant applications. There was both formal and informal support for this in terms of feedback, examples, and general advice. I'm now doing a post-doc in a geographic location that puts essentially zero emphasis on this and it shows. Not only can people not write grants, but they absolutely suck at any form of scientific writing and even presentations (in many ways, the two are related). This sort of training is a win-win all around.

  • TheLabMix says:

    My graduate school has some classes, really more seminars, on writing. These are more directed towards the thesis. But certainly nothing on grantsmithing. I learned everything I know about NIH/NSF funding structure and details from blogs. I don't know if that's sad, or cool.

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