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Submitting my first ever research grant application

Submitting my first ever research grant application

This week was the deadline of my first ever real grant application. It’s been pretty hard work, but in a strange way I’ve kind of enjoyed it – I love writing, so being able to use lots of fancy words has been nice! I get the impression from my senior colleagues that by the time you’ve written a whole bunch of grant proposals (and found that most of them don’t get funded) it gets less fun, but I’m still naive and optimistic! (Well, I’m also a skeptic so I don’t actually expect it to be funded, but I’m hopeful enough to keep the process positive!)

My PhD is about the evolution of bird sperm, but for the grant proposal I wanted to go in a different direction, so I’m going back to what I used to work on previously, which is bird behaviour and ecology. I’ve really enjoyed my PhD work (it’s coming to an end! eek!) but I think I’m an ecologist at heart! Combining evolution and ecology is an ideal scenario for me so I sat down with a paper called “Identification of 100 fundamental ecological questions,” and thought of what kind of questions I would really like to answer. I found that I was most interested in the topics that involved the responses of animals to environmental change, especially behavioural responses. Ok cool, then I just needed someone to work with. For the mobility grant I’m applying for, you need to spend two years at an institution abroad, and since I was going away from the core topic of my PhD I didn’t have a lot of relevant contacts.  

So I thought, why not aim high? I put my brave face on and approached one of the most accomplished ecologists in the UK (which is the place I’d prefer to be if  I’m going abroad) at one of the most prestigious universities and asked if he wanted to collaborate for the proposal. Nothing to lose, right? To my delight he was really enthusiastic and even got his partner into the project (she works on bird evolution). Together we worked out some ideas for hypotheses that we could test and an appropriate study system and eventually it shaped up to look something like a doable 3-year project. Then I sat down and wrote it all down, with very frequent use of the Thesaurus (“very much?” Nooo, try “considerably”) and drawing on all the fluff they taught me in those tacky CV-writing courses during my UK degree. This application was very much about my own skills and experiences, and it seems like Norwegians are much more unwilling (or unused to) writing good stuff about themselves than English people, and so I think it’s an advantage for me that I’ve been through the UK system. However I think I got rather carried away, as my Norwegian supervisor did tell me to tone it down a little bit! Ha, whoops! The highlight however was getting feedback from both the Oxford profs who were both “really impressed” with my proposal draft! Going to live on that for a while!

Now it’s all submitted and so I can only cross fingers and hope for the best. We don’t get responses until November/December so I’ll just have to plan as if I don’t get the money and then it’ll be a pleasant surprise if I do. In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to business – apparently I’ve got this PhD thingy that I need to finish!? To be honest it’s really rather anticlimactic after such a clear deadline to be back to the day-to-day PhD work, but luckily my contract deadline is coming up in not too long… Best get back to work! Actually, I’ve got some really good work to do since my main PhD article got major (but not impossible) revisions in a big journal, so that’s very exciting! Hopefully you’ll see it published soon!

Also, I’m lucky enough to have several awesome animals in my life, couldn’t do without that! Especially my young horse Topper who requires all my attention when I’m there and always takes my mind off everything else. I’m 100% sure I do much better science (and avoid mental health problems!) when I get to refuel out in nature with them in between work sessions! Bring on summer and long sunny evenings!

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Feel free to follow me on Instagram @hannastostad for regular updates that are sometimes sciencey but mostly involves my horse!

Hanna Nyborg Støstad (@hannastostad) is a Freelance Science Writer, and is also affiliated with the University of Oslo as a guest researcher. This story was published on April 26, 2018, on Hanna's blog (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.  

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