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The success of a research-active professor is related to his successful proposals for securing research funds. For this purpose, he should spend something like half of his time for writing proposals, but still he misses several possible calls for proposals due to the lack of time while the current proposals are not idea.

To resolve this problem, many people have this idea to hire a grant writer to perfectly and quickly write/re-write proposals. I personally heard this from many junior and senior professors, but in practice I have not seen any example.

This plan seems reasonable (the salary of a grant writer should be less than a postdoc), but why it is not common?

Researchers pay much more money to patent attorneys to have legally ideal text, then, why not investing on the text of proposals, which can directly enhance the chance of winning?

  • This is a good question. However, given the technical nature of the grant, perhaps even a postdoc couldn't do it well? – David Hill Sep 19 '14 at 0:29
  • Writing a proposal needs subtle technics more than scientific content. So, an inexperienced person is unlikely to write a winner proposal. – user13854 Sep 19 '14 at 0:50
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    In central europe, we have professional grant writers. We call them postdocs. – xLeitix Sep 19 '14 at 7:40
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    "[A] research-active professor [...] should spend something like half of his time for writing proposals" [Citation needed]. – David Richerby Sep 19 '14 at 9:11
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    @user13854 "a proposal needs subtle technics more than scientific content" I really hope we have not fallen that far. – StrongBad Sep 19 '14 at 10:18
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Most research staff and many students are paid by grants, but most grant terms do not allow for you to pay for administrative staff or proposal writing time. So the funding has to come from the universities or departments. Most of them don't have the funds to hire a grant writer, though some do. I think most departments would rather have half the funding for another professor than a grant writer. I also think your estimate of the salary of a good grant writer in the sciences is off by large margin. The good ones, employed by institutes with large enough institutional budgets make as much as full-time researchers or professors.

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To expand a bit on my comment:

  • In central europe, proposal writing is one of the core jobs of postdocs. In that sense, we do have "professional grant writers". Postdocs write proposals sometimes in their own name, but more often they actually do it in the name of their professor, so they actually come pretty close to what you envision above.

That being said, I have never heard somebody talk in honesty about hiring an actual, dedicated full-time non-scientific employee for writing down grant proposals in the name of the professor. I would see the following problems with this model:

  • Funding. How do you pay for this guy? The university will likely not be overly happy if you hire somebody from their budget to basically do your job, and funding agencies certainly don't cover these posts.
  • Qualifications. Writing grant proposals is damn hard. Even assuming that all the ideas come from the professor, you still need to be an experienced writer. You need to know the content field to write down things technically correctly. You need to stay up to date with funding agency policies and politics. You need to have connections in the field. And asking for all of that for, as you say, a salary less than a postdoc seems very ambitious, especially if combined with the next point.
  • Perspectives. What is the career outlook of a professional grant writer? What can you offer her/him in compensation for a relatively meager salary? This is a general problem with these kinds of "non-academic" positions at universities - there is usually no career track at all for such people.
  • Incentives. Junior professors or postdocs are very motivated to write successful grant proposals, as quite literally their own professional well-being depends on them. This would be much less, or at least much less directly, the case for a professional grant writer. If you disconnect the process of writing the proposal from actually benefitting from an accepted proposal, I would assume the quality of the proposals to drop significantly.

That being said, none of these problems are unsolvable. Indeed, the big industrial players in the european funding circuit (FP7, now H2020) actually employ staff that are basically full-time proposal writers, similar to patent lawyers. However, those people are certainly not cheap clerks.

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I know of a few instances of people who have been hired to handle and facilitate the grant writing process but they are hired with the title and salary of postdocs. Despite their postdoctural role, they have very few laboratory roles but serve as super lab managers who handle the finances and long-term strategy of the lab. As mentioned, the sources of funding to pay for these non-laboratory staff are limited but for larger and wealthy labs, they can typically siphon enough funds to pay for these positions.

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