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Budget Isn't an Afterthought

Posted on July 16, 2008

Take budget into consideration at the start of proposal development, recommends Hermi R. Woodward (bio).

 

What's very common I think for young investigators to not know is that you need to make your administrative contact early. So, for example, proceeding to develop a project totally devoid of what the institutional realities are, or budget. And it may be the best idea, but by the time you are done writing your proposal, if you budget as an afterthought and then find out that you cannot afford possibly to do this dream project within your budget cap — because most of these early mechanisms have a cap — then at the last minute they slash scope. And what results is a proposal that's not cohesive and therefore not competitive because it reads like bits and pieces of something that doesn't hang together well.

So my advice to young investigators is that you need to take budget realities into consideration from the moment you start writing your proposal. You kind of do it in parallel. You keep a running tally. You cut scope early. But you don't give up on your dream project. You just operationalize it in a different way. You say, "What I'm dreaming about is a program of research, and I'm now slicing off a piece of that," and propose it, for example, as a K award.

But if you do it that way, it also helps you then tell your story and sell your story in a K application because you lay out where you're coming from, where you want to go, and you have a cohesive rationale for the smaller piece that you are proposing for this K award period. It shows you that in addition to skills that you have, why you need the skills that you are proposing to acquire in the course of the K award, what the research is, and what your ultimate research vision is at this point in your life, because, of course, it can evolve. As you do one project, you get additional ideas.

But what is very discouraging is when somebody carries this project idea in their head and then now they're going for a grant application. And when they're done, it's like, "No, I can't do this. This is way too expensive." And then so what do you reasonably slice off? Thinking about it from the beginning as pieces of a puzzle that you want to put together is helpful, and you need the administrative connection because the budgeting and knowing about budget caps, the limitations of certain mechanisms.

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Excerpted from an interview with researcher at the 2008 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.
For more Quick Tips by Ms. Woodward, visit her 4Researchers bio page.

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