A plea for putting grant applications online

A few years ago, I decided as a public service to post my old job application materials online.  Hopefully they were helpful to a person or two out there in the world.  I also tried to make that blog post a bit of a hint to people that they could do the same; I know Noah did, and at least one other person said in comments to that post that they would as well.

The problem with such things is that they aren’t that easy to find even when people put them up.  Being an old fogey who (God I hope) won’t be applying for jobs any time too soon, I’m more interested in NSF grant applications (which while lower stakes than job applications are more mystifying), but I don’t see any need to make a distinction.  I think the world as a whole would be a better place if more people put these documents online.  In that vein, I have a two-part proposal.

  1. You (the internet) make your old job application materials and grant applications available online.  You, of course, should use your judgement about how recent to go and what to include.
  2. I will make a webpage collating these; if you put them on your own website, I will link to them.  If you want I can host the documents myself.  Obviously, if you’d prefer I didn’t link, that’s fine too.

I’ve put a “proof of concept” webpage up with a few examples I already know. I may look a little bit for more for examples people have posted, but mostly I’m hoping people will come to me (after all, I don’t want to give people publicity they don’t want).

15 thoughts on “A plea for putting grant applications online

  1. Thanks for the internet donation! To me, the research statements looked longer than I previously had imagined was typical… but you think 10-15 pages worked well? Can any secret blogger on the receiving end of applications comment on what is typical/good? I previously thought to keep it less than half as long as this, in order to make it more realistic that people could actually read it.

  2. I’m curious about the plagiarism dangers of posting teaching statements online. I recall something in the Notices some time ago about a teaching statement briefly posted online turning into a plagiarized teaching statement years later. Certainly keeping the original teaching statement online indefinitely reduces the risk since Google will turn up the original, but I don’t think search committees want to google the teaching statements of all their top choices. There’s not the same risk for research statements for fairly obvious reasons. So — will putting teaching statements online make plagiarism problems increase or decrease? What to people on search committees at schools that care about teaching think?

    I also think that if you are applying to a variety of schools that it may be worthwhile to have a variety of research statements (and cover letters and teaching statements). If you post all these materials before you have the job you are letting it be known that you are not solely devoted to one sort of career and this may hurt you while you are actually on the market. It’s probably not a good idea to post anything except a CV until you actually have a job! (at least if you have multiple versions of your materials).

  3. Dave- I suspect 10 pages is suboptimally long (I’ve been told as much by an older colleague). It has a certain popularity in the US, since that is roughly the length of a somewhat edited NSF proposal. On the other hand, the impression I’ve gotten from people is that length is not the important factor here. Expecting many people to read a 5 page proposal is also fairly unreasonable. The important thing is write a proposal that works if you stop reading after the first section/page/paragraph/sentence, since that’s what will usually happen.

  4. My most recent research statement was also long (almost 12 pages without the bibliography) which I justified in two ways. First, as Ben says most people will only read the introduction anyway, so length doesn’t really matter. Second, immediately after the introduction I had a table of contents (with links in the pdf) which let you jump to any of the individual projects. My theory was that people who will read more than the introduction would probably only read about one of the projects anyway, and they’d rather have a good description of the project that interests them rather than a terse description in order to save space. I’m not really sure whether this logic was justified though.

    My postdoc research statement was much shorter (a little over 5 pages).

  5. @2: Isn’t the solution here to write teaching statements that aren’t vague and so can’t just be stolen? Much of my teaching statement is describing my teaching experience and my scores on evaluations, plagiarizing that doesn’t make any sense. The rest of it is discussing my educational interests (curriculum design, graduate seminars, etc.), which again wouldn’t make sense outside of my teaching history and experience.

    I suppose my teaching statement is somewhat unusual, but I think it’s a lot more useful for the rare person who cares to read it than writing some college-application-style essay would be.

  6. @2&5: I’m sure there is some danger of plagiarism, but this is true for any document you put on line. Mostly, I just think it’s incredibly stupid to plagiarize a teaching statement; the damage that could be done to you by plagiarizing application materials is *so* such worse than writing even a really wretched teaching statement would be that I just don’t see the cost-benefit calculation lining up. (Of course, I think that about cheating in courses, which happens all the time, so what do I know).

  7. I don’t think it would do much good to copy someone’s application. Also methods of determining funding are very different in the US as opposed to Canada.

    Here are some ideas that might help.

    1. Make sure you are submitting your application to the correct area. Ask friends who do similar work,(and who have been successfully funded) who they submit their applications to. If it gets reviewed by the wrong people, it doesn’t make any difference what you wrote. Also, did you cover all your bases? If there is an algebraic thread to your work you can also apply to NSA in addition to NSF.
    If you are young you can also apply for a Career award, and sometimes those are easier to get.

    2. Figure out who your audience is, and write a compelling story. Generally, if you send an application to NSF it will be reviewed in a panel.
    Often a particular panel will review proposals in several close but competing fields. You need to know what those fields are so that you can write a proposal that is appealing to a broad spectrum of people who might serve on the panel where your proposal is to be reviewed. It also helps if you fit the problems you want to work on into a narrative, so that somebody who is not exactly interested in the things you are, can get drawn in and support it.

    3. Reveal the right amount of detail. Don’t do a scattershot proposal with lots of tiny problems that you haven’t thought about enough to have them well developed. Don’t just propose to work on one thing either. Have the problems fit together as a package, explain why they are interesting, and give enough detail to make it plausible that you can solve the problem, but not make it seem like you already have. Also you want to be taking big steps. The problems that you propose to solve should be ambitious, but not so ambitious that you couldn’t solve them. The third rail is if you say something that is false. If someone on the panel can propose a counterexample off the cuff, you are cooked. If someone else has already solved the problem you are proposing, it will also kill your proposal.

    Be sure to address broader impact, and don’t act snide or irritated about having to do so.

    Finally, if you chose the panel correctly you will be reviewed by your peers. Make sure you are always professional in your dealings with peers, and give other people credit even when they don’t deserve it.:)

  8. Of course there is much good in posting one’s applications / statements online, more than just in enabling others to copy / use / learn.

    A research statement is a statement about one’s research. My peers and my students, whom I hold at high esteem, deserve to know what I’m up to! By putting everything online I am promoting myself and my agenda, and if anybody can take / gain anything from it for any purpose / in any way whatsoever, so much for the better!

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