Friday, October 08, 2010

Big grant, small grant application

Applying for a grant is nothing new, but this one is big, at least by the standards of the grants have applied for previously. The Max Planck Society sponsors Independent Research Groups, headed by a promising young scientist to explore some innovative and important niche. My task is to convince them I am promising and young, and that my work is innovative and important. They don't actually say young, they say "early career," for which I qualify, as I just got my PhD last year. I'm also fairly confident that my work is innovative, as everyone I tell about my work tells me that nobody else has thought about the question. The problem is, "nobody else has thought about the question," can be taken to mean, "who could possibly be interested in that?" So I am young and innovative, and my challenge is to seem promising and important.

Assuming I can convince them of these things, more so than the many other applicants, it will be a pretty sweet deal. They will not only give me a significantly increased salary for five years and enough funding to get my experiments going, they will pay for me to hire a couple of graduate students and a postdoc or two. Frankly, this is more of a career advance than I think I am likely to receive at this point.

The nice part, other than the generosity of the award should I get it, is how little work they ask of me for the application. They want only a one-page statement of my Scientific Accomplishments (I'm not sure what these are yet) plus 2 pages of Research Plans. I could give them 20 pages of research plans with little difficulty if my hands worked well, but under the circumstances I'm much happier to give them 2.

How my health issues will work into this whole application is an interesting question. There is no doubt that I would have been more productive this year and in grad school had been healthy, but I doubt that they can or should take this into consideration. The best I can hope for is that one of my letter writers will mention something about dedication to science or gumption or the fact that I just keep coming back, like a bad case of poison ivy.

On a more philosophical level, I can ask this question: if someone has a disability which interferes with their productivity, and is likely to continue interfering with their productivity, should an employer consider how productive the worker would be without the disability, or should they simply asked of each candidate, "how productive is he/she likely to be?" I would like to say the former, but from the employer's point of view, it's hard to make the case against the latter.

On the other hand, my joint problems potentially make me better qualified to think of the questions and tell other people to gather the necessary data to answer them than I am for actual data gathering and analysis. The higher they promote me, the more qualified I may be.

1 comment:

jte said...

Your final point is both clever and bulletproof. In the aggregate, productivity is best served by having people in managerial positions who can manage the productivity of others, but who would not be highly productive outside of those managerial positions. But as with so many other things, that's not the kind of argument that helps on a grant application.