When Gillespie assumed oversight of the research enterprise in January 2017, many faculty researchers were afraid to fail when it came to grant applications, he says. Often, faculty would submit applications for funding without soliciting prior feedback and, if they received negatives reviews, they would scrap their ideas.
Gillespie explains it metaphorically: “You’re driving to work and the road is closed. What do you do? Do you go home, or do you find another way to work? I’d encourage you to find another way to work. That’s how you get funded. If one path doesn’t work, you revise and resubmit.”
To support faculty in the process, Gillespie and Tamilyn Bakas, professor and Jane E. Procter Endowed Chair for the college, set up a grant writing workshop, whereby faculty have a collaborative online workspace, meet bi-monthly (in person or via WebEx), and receive feedback through sessions that include mock grant review, scientific feedback on research strategy, or critique of specific aims, depending on the stage of each application process.
Brittany Punches, assistant professor, who graduated from the PhD program in 2017, says the workshops have helped her stay on track and receive quality feedback.
“It provides a deadline so, even if you procrastinate, you know you need to submit something in order to get feedback,” she says. “With the workshops, you know you’re getting quality feedback from peers and senior researchers, and you get to see different people’s styles and get tips.”
As a final step, before grant applications are submitted, they receive a final review from either Gillespie or Anne Murphy, grant administrator. For federal research grant applications, Gillespie seeks expert peers outside the college for additional feedback.
“One-hundred percent of grants are reviewed for quality, and if they don’t meet a certain threshold, they don’t get submitted,” Gillespie says. “Once you submit a grant, you may wait nine months (for an answer), so it’s better to take another three months to work on it and then submit it, rather than submit it and wait nine months to find out it needs work.”