Des conseils de carrière
Money in your hands
Research offices simplify the
grant application process
by Barry Ries
very university has a research office, by
one name or another. Often it’s the Office
of Research Services. Maybe it’s the Office
of Sponsored Research, or Research Grant
and Contract Services as at Memorial University. Maybe it’s Research (insert name here)
or Recherche et création, as at Université Laval.
Whatever the name, if you are a faculty member
(full-time, contract, part-time, tenured or tenure-track) and you have research on your mind, the
research office is one of the most useful departments at your institution.
The research office exists for one primary
reason: To get money into your hands from one
of the three major sources of funding, be it
SSHRC, NSERC or CIHR, so you can do research.
Together, they (known as the Tri-Council) distribute grants, scholarships and fellowships
worth over a billion dollars to tens of thousands
of researchers annually. They also fund infrastructure, like equipment and expenses related
to potential partnerships.
Getting your hands on some of that money
requires more than demonstrating your brilliance, financial need and ability to grovel, which
is where the research office can help. Post-award,
the office will also help you manage your funds,
prepare reports for funders, ensure your research
is ethical and facilitate the transfer of funds to
A typical research office has grants officers,
tech transfer officers or intellectual property offi-
cers (making sure you and the university get what’s
coming to you when you invent the Next Big
Thing), legal staff (tirelessly checking contracts
and agreements, making sure perfectly good
English is translated into legalese), ethics admin-
istrators (ethics is a complex and dangerous field
these days), partnerships officers (helping you
connect with other organizations, businesses and
agencies) and finance officers, who will do the
accounting for your grant and cheerfully tell you
that no, you may not use your research funds to
buy yourself a new Buick.
Possibly the greatest strength of the research
office staff is that you don’t live with them and
you don’t work with them. This means they can
be honest with you. If you ask your colleagues
to review your grant application, odds are they
will not give you what you need, which is honest
Grants officers (or research facilitators, or
whatever your institution calls them) are expe-
rienced in dealing with researchers (they often
work in specific faculties) and have likely had
their hands on hundreds of grant applications.
This means you can discuss your research propo-
sal with them even before you put pen to paper.
They can ask you probing questions. They prob-
ably don’t have any expertise in your area of
research, but they can talk to you, look at your
CV, find out if this is a new area of research for
you, ask who else is doing it, and push you for
details on what you need to proceed with your
work. All this may seem a little beside the point,
but it can help you focus.
A good grants officer will not just give you
advice but will also give you solid answers to
Equestions like: How much should you pay stu- dents? What do they mean by knowledge mobi- lization? Do you need a co-applicant? Does it matter if you don’t want to use student assistants? Do you need ethics approval, and if so, when?
They also know the mechanics of the funding
process, where applicants tend to mess up, and
the latest rules and regulations – from page sizes
and fonts to how to include co-applicants.
While the people who staff the research
office can be of significant help in your quest for
funding, they aren't performing miracles. For
example, no grants officer can fix your CV. If you
haven’t published much, or haven’t published
recently, that’s a problem. In that case, a good
grants officer might advise you to get a co-appli-
cant or collaborator with a stronger CV. This will
give the funder more confidence in your ability
to do the research, even though you may still do
most of the work if the grant is awarded.
And don't forget, there are deadlines. Almost
every funding opportunity has a deadline.
Research offices try, with greater or lesser success,
to impose their own deadlines. But university
faculty are amazingly similar to the students they
teach: there are the keeners, the ditherers, the
procrastinators, the lost and confused, the ones
who ask for help and those who think they
don’t need it.
One thing I learned after several years in the
research office is that the applications that arrive
out of the blue just before the deadline do not tend
to get funded. That’s just one takeaway.
Barry Ries is a former research
awards officer at Wilfrid Laurier
University and former grants
officer at the University of Ontario
Institute of Technology. He is
currently a freelance grant writer
based in Waterloo, Ont.
“ There are the keeners,
the ditherers, the ones who
ask for your help and those
who think they don't need it.”