April 13, 2017

Proposal Development Services Logo
The PDS Narrative
a newsletter from
Proposal Development Services
Office of the Vice Provost for Research

This issue of the PDS Narrative considers the benefits of establishing a timeline when working on a funding proposal and how to approach creating this tool.  We also feature Jamie Kirkley, Research Development Specialist, the first of our team members to be introduced over the next few issues.

Building a timeline for developing your funding proposals

Many of us know the terrible, stress-inducing panic that sets in when we realize just how much remains to be completed before a looming grant submission deadline. An invaluable first step to avoid this anxiety is to create a timeline: an easy-to-digest, visual map of what tasks need to be completed, information collected, and materials formatted, by whom and when. 

Not only does a timeline help you ensure that the many components of your grant proposal are completed on time, but ideally the increased organization and proactive planning entailed in using a timeline gives you the mental space to concentrate on constructing a clear, credible, convincing, and hence more competitive, proposal.

Many customizable resources for building and sharing timelines can be found online (Smartsheet®, Google Calendar, and Evernote are some examples), but you can also manually create a timeline in Excel.  

Here’s a bare-bones list of milestones to plan into a timeline.  IU’s required deadlines for sponsored research proposals that are handled by the Office of Research Administration (ORA) are marked with an asterisk; all others are recommendations. Above all, we encourage you to give yourself as much time as you can for planning, consulting with mentors and colleagues, writing, editing, reworking, etc.

  • As soon as you start: Block out your aims/goals and an outline for the project description. Assess how your aims fit together, fit with agency’s program priorities, etc.  
  • Ideally at least 6-8 weeks ahead of the agency deadline: Before you start writing the rest of the proposal, get feedback on your specific aims from your program officer or colleagues who know the field and will give you frank, constructive feedback. Perfecting your aims first gives you the leeway to make revisions to your project without having to rework large sections of the proposal.
  • At least a month ahead: Start working on the budget with your school’s fiscal officer or other budgeting support personnel.
  • At least 3-4 weeks ahead: Seek feedback from colleagues on the substantive content of the full proposal.
  • At least 2 weeks ahead: Seek feedback on the persuasive style of the full proposal, including rhetoric, organization, flow, language, etc.
  • At least 2 weeks ahead: Offer any letter writers a drafted letter of support for them to modify and sign.
  • At least 2 weeks ahead: Contact ORA at resdev@indiana.edu to have a grant specialist assigned. The grant specialist will review and submit the proposal.
  • 2 weeks ahead or so: Target this time to finalize administrative pieces such as the budget, biosketch, facilities, and current & pending funding information.
  • 8 business days ahead or so:  Have administrative pieces ready for final polishing. Aim to have any letters of agreement/support in hand.
  • *4 business days ahead, 9AM: This is the ORA review deadline for administrative pieces.
  • 4 business days ahead: PDS recommends that your remaining documents (technical pieces – abstract, project description, references) are also ready for final polishing by this time so that you can focus on dotting the final i’s and crossing all the t’s.
  • *2 business days ahead, 9AM: This is the ORA deadline for the full proposal. All remaining pieces are due, especially the technical pieces if they have not already been submitted.
  • Day 0 (agency deadline):  Submit your proposal. If you are working with ORA, they will submit the approved proposal. We recommend that you submit early enough to allow time for any submission system errors to be resolved. 

From our most recent faculty workshop, faculty shared that the most valuable tip was the discussion of how to plan backward from the proposal deadline. We hope the milestones above will be equally useful to you in constructing a timeline for your next proposal.

Introducing: Jamie Kirkley, Research Development Specialist

The next few issues of the PDS Narrative will feature Q&A with our PDS team members. 

What do you enjoy most about working in PDS? What I enjoy most is consulting with diverse IU faculty and teams to craft successful grant proposals – to see the seed of an idea go from a half-page draft to a full grant proposal, and then to fully funded research project. That our work can be part of something that leads to discoveries and innovations that change the world -- that is exciting.

Where were you prior to joining PDS? Prior to joining PDS in January 2016, I was a senior learning scientist with WisdomTools, Inc., where my research focused on how to use digital media to advance learning, primarily in STEM. I have over a decade of research experience in the learning and social sciences.

Among the experiences you bring to your work at PDS, which are the most valuable? As a former PI on federally-funded grants (NSF, NIH, DoD), I have faced my fair share of challenges with proposal writing, which helps me understand how to support faculty at different stages of the proposal development process. In addition, I have served on review panels for the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. This experience has informed the feedback that I provide to faculty, particularly with responding specifically to a solicitation or the review criteria. 

What are your favorite agency or grant programs to work on? My favorite agency is the National Science Foundation. From my first conversation with a program officer many years ago, I've continued to have positive experiences with the NSF. 

What is your favorite proposal component to work on? Why? The project summary is my favorite part of a proposal because it’s both important and challenging. It is important because it is the primary mechanism for engaging reviewers in a proposal, convincing them to review the full proposal. It’s challenging because it has to be written to meet specific requirements and be clear, concise and persuasive. Writing a good project summary requires balancing brevity with eloquence. 

What is your favorite tip to share with P.I.s that they seem to find most helpful?  Before you write a proposal, do your research. Research the agency and program to find out what has been funded. Find out what they plan to fund in the future. Inquire whether they are interested in funding your idea. To do this, you need to talk with the program officer. 

What are your two favorite spare time activities? When not at PDS, I can often be found writing poetry and facilitating writing circles with Women Writing for (a) Change, a non-profit focused on creating conscious community and outreach around creative writing.

Proposal Development Services offers grantsmanship and proposal management support to IU Bloomington faculty applying for external research funding. Learn more about our services on the OVPR website, or request to work with a PDS specialist at ovprhelp@indiana.edu.