As a science writer, I'm well aware that scientists, and I'll be gentle here, aren't always the world's best communicators. Of course there are truly outstanding ones (think only of Stanford's own Abraham Verghese, MD, or the late Paul Kalanithi, MD,) but for many researchers, science -- not writing -- is their focus.
That may not be entirely the scientists' fault, as graduate programs nationwide have traditionally ignored communication skills, even for something as critical as a grant application. In 2014, Stanford Biosciences recognized the need to teach these skills and created a Grant Writing Academy, which offers training and coaching to graduate students and postdocs.
In its short existence the academy has already boosted the number of grant submissions and successfully funded grants, its director Crystal Botham, PhD, told me. It has also taken home a national prize from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
I had a nice chat with grant writing mentor Lamia Wahba, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in pathology, pictured in the photo above, which I relayed in my story:
[Wahba] said the academy has helped her refine her own grants, but it has also taught her a lot about teaching. Teaching writing is quite different from teaching genetics, she said. It requires trainees to examine their research critically, she said.
And some of the most common mistakes the inexperienced grant writers make? Many make assumptions about what the reviewers know, Wahba said. Even experts in the field may not be familiar with new or unusual techniques, she said. In addition, beginning grant writers often struggle to keep their writing concise and to resist the temptation to include every detail, she said.
'The big take-home lesson is we weren’t taught enough about writing about science,' Wahba said. Oftentimes, trainees think they need to write grants in the evenings or weekends, and think of it as not part of their actual job, she said. 'I really learned the importance of having it be a part of your job. This is actually work as well, and it needs to be done really well,' she added.
If you're a Stanford grad student or postdoc in need of grant writing help, this is a good time to reach out. The academy's annual proposal boot camp kicks off this week.
Previously: After clicking 'submit' on a grant proposal, the laundry and A call to fix the "crisis of communication" in science
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben