I am planning to apply for a young research group leader grant. (Specifically: the DFG Emmy Noether program.) This is for a six-year funding period, including funding for myself as a group leader and one or several Ph.D. students. The key part of the application is, of course, the research proposal, which is limited to 17 pages in length including background, objective, research plan and methods, and references.
Which brings me to my question: how on earth do you write a research plan for six years in a rapidly evolving theoretical field that is both interestingly ambitious and sufficiently concrete and grounded in reality?
Some more (possibly unnecessary) details:
I work in (a subfield of) machine learning, which may be a little bit of a special case due to the current speed of developments. I am quite certain that nobody could have usefully predicted what would be the topics and methods of current research interest six years ago. Heck, I'd like to claim that nobody could have predicted reliably what would be useful for a grad student to work on right now even 2 years ago.
Now, of course, I have some ideas for what would be useful and interesting to work on over maybe the next 2 years. With some stretch, I could probably work out an attractive, concrete, and reasonably grounded-in-reality proposal for the next three years and 2-3 full-time researchers. But six years? How do people deal with this? Are there useful strategies to follow? I could easily write down a long list of problems of interest that I'd like to work on, but there is no way I can foresee what will turn out to be the most useful methods to use for solving those? I assume reviewers will want to see a bit more than "this is an important problem that I plan to spend the last three years of the grant working on"... and of course, for a grant that covers more than a dozen full-time researcher-years, you also have to promise quite a lot.