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I am a Ph.D. student who will be graduating sometime in May 2018. I am hoping to apply to the academic job market in Fall 2017. My goal is to obtain a tenure-track assistant professorship position at an R1 university in a field within computer science and/or statistics.

I recently looked at job descriptions, and found that evidence of grant-writing abilities is highly-valued, especially at R1 universities. I took a short course in preparing future faculty, and the instructor recommended that we ask faculty members in our department if we can help them write a grant. He said that most professors would be happy to have a student help write the grant.

I do feel that I am not a particularly competitive candidate, but that having grant-writing experience would give my CV an edge. However, I do not know what to make of this advice. I do not know if it is acceptable to ask faculty members about this. I do not want to offend anyone, and do not know how to approach it with etiquette and respect. I also do not know if faculty members would even find that advantageous to them - especially if the student is not familiar with their work or writing grants in general.

Would it be wise of me to ask faculty members in my department, as the instructor advised? If so, are there things I should avoid? Things I should be sure to do? Ways to ensure I would receive "credit", "authorship", or at least ways to place it meaningfully on my CV?

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On the one hand, bid writing is a laborious and unforgiving activity, so any offer of help, one would hope, would be gratefully accepted; on the other hand, bid proposals do need to be written correctly and a lot rides on their success, so you are likely to encounter colleagues who are very possessive over them.

Offer to assist would likely be taken more positively than offering to write - and this could involve all sorts of things, attending and minuting meetings with stakeholders, working with administrators to develop costings, doing legwork around gathering information needed for the bid as well as drafting an argument and a case.

How to offer your services?

This will depend upon the culture within your department, however if a research coordinator or other kind of support officer is employed, perhaps they would be someone to approach first. They would be immersed in the network in your dept and will know what's coming up.

I'd dissuade you from sending a round-robin email as this would just be annoying; an informal/social offer of help might work better - perhaps your supervisor could point you in the direction of someone currently or about to work on a bid?

  • Thank you for your comments. I do not know much about grants and distribution of credit, but I wonder what types/amounts of input in the grant development would receive what types of credit, like authorship of some sort that one could put on their CV. I don't know how effective it would be for me to list that I "helped" with a grant if my name is not officially creditable. Do you happen to have any suggestions about how to ensure some type of credit (if such a thing would even be feasible)? – PhDToBe Oct 20 '16 at 0:20
  • I wouldn't think about credit in such a concrete sense. Imagine that this is a professional CV, if you have supported/assisted in a type of task then you would put that on your CV and briefly outline what you have achieved - there's no need to worry about being an 'officially creditable' author of a bid, experience is experience. Remember also that you are just starting your career, no-one should expect you to have the experience of a seasoned academic when you're starting your post-doc. – Deleuze Oct 20 '16 at 8:17
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Getting grant writing experience is important for an academic career. However, as you point out if you are not familiar with their work you will not be much use (at least in the initial drafting process). So it's important to find the right people. Ask staff who work in your area, most probably people who you have already collaborated with, and so you are at least somewhat, familiar with their work. Don't worry about the lack of experience in grant writing, we know that everyone has to start somewhere. Start by asking about the grants they are currently writing, explain you want to get experience and discuss with them where they might need help. It could be useful, for example, for you to draft an introduction section, or a layman's explanation of the grant.

The other opportunity to develop your grant writing skills is to offer your proof-reading abilities. When you hear someone is coming up to a grant deadline, offer to read it through for them, help them find typos and mistakes and/or give them feedback on content. This will help you gain familiarity with the style and content of grants, hopefully successful ones. People are generally grateful to get as much proof-reading feedback on grants as possible, but we're often reluctant to ask people as we know everyone's busy. Offers of help with this stages are generally well received, and even if you don't know the field intimately you can still be a lot of help.

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One of my summer job employers (a professor) told me that grant-writing abilities were rare, and therefore appreciated.

There was one caveat, however: In offering your services to a professor in a particular field or topic, you should have reasonable (not perfect) knowledge of that field or topic. In other words, don't go offering services "blindly" based on your grant-writing skills. That's because the value of those skills would be cancelled by someone's having to educate you "from scratch" in his/her field.

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