This post is a taste of (not so) slackademia. It shows how much work is involved in preparing the funding application for a NERC Standard Grant. It also includes a LaTeX template for anyone writing their own. It can be used in any document where there is a tight limit on page numbers.
Grant applications are a lot of work
My recent work on the massive Hekla 3 and Hekla 4 eruptions shows that Hekla 4 produced much more extremely fine ash (<64 microns; this is the stuff that can cross the Atlantic and cause trouble in Europe) than Hekla 3. We know that explosive eruptions are driven by gases in magma, so I want to get a post-doc for 2 years to look at the bubbles and the dissolved gases in pumice from the eruptions to see why they are so different.
It turns out that these applications are A LOT of work. The final version required:
- 13,000 carefully chosen, fully-referenced, words, co-written with 5 other authors (=> 5 sets of corrections/edits/comments) on 2.5 continents (Iceland surely isn’t a whole continent).
- Detailed spreadsheets with well-researched and up-to-date costs.
- 2 days of sampling (last summer) and 80 hours of specific analysis (this spring) to get one preliminary dataset; another day including instrument time for another.
- Letters of Support from heads of departments, lab managers, senior government agency scientists, research professors. The application is 23,000 words if you include Letters of Support and CVs.
I reckon that it took around 3 months of full-time equivalent work to prepare. This is time that I could have been analysing data or writing papers. You can also add in another fortnight of other post-docs’ time. Plus a few days of Professor/Senior Scientist time. While working out the costs, I learned that employing a post-doc costs the tax-payer about £100,000 per year (of which about 1/3 is salary). So we are talking about at least £25,000 of effort being put into a grant application. Did I mention that only 1 in 5 get funded?
If it isn’t funded, the time will not have been completely wasted. The data are useful, I’ve made new contacts and had an excuse to get right up-to-date with the latest published papers. I understand the importance of being able to find the best-thought out and most useful projects to give funding from a limited pot, but it should also be recognised that every extra section on the application form has a real cost in terms of scientists’ time.
Grant application LaTeX template
LaTeX is an open source document preparation system. Unlike a word processor, you only have to think about the text and it takes care of the formatting. No more adding a word and seeing all your pictures jump to different pages. If you have to write a complicated document with sections, subsections, references, tables and figures (such as a Masters or PhD thesis), then I highly recommend it.
Click here to download a LaTeX template for grant applications. It is based on the normal article class, using the following extra packages:
- anysize to set 2cm margins
- helvet for Arial-like font
- natbib and multicol with a custom .bst file for a compact reference list
- wrapfig to wrap text around images
- pgfgantt to make a Gantt chart
- titlesec and a number of other tweaks to make things compact
The packages are fairly common and can be installed on Ubuntu-like Linux systems with a single command (sudo apt-get install texlive texlive-latex-extra texlive-humanities texlive-fonts-extra). The content of the template comes from this blog post, and the output looks something like this: