Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The application system

Posted by Jean Adams

I knew it was going to be bad so I ignored it.  But you can’t ignore important things forever.  Yesterday, I finally plucked up the courage to take a good, hard look at the form.  It was every bit as bad as predicted.

I am preparing a grant application for a national health research funding body.  It is endless.  There is the on-line form (34 pages).  Then there is the detailed project description (20 pages).  Then there is the one page project timetable appendix.  Finally, there’s the summary flow diagram appendix.  You can understand the need for this last appendix.  It must be hard for the committee to get their heads around all the detail that they receive for each application.  What they need is a simple, graphical summary of the project.

It is possible that research grant giving bodies feel that only researchers who can negotiate complex application systems deserve funding.  It has also crossed my mind that research grant giving bodies are holding a secret competition to see who can devise the most fiendish system.

Our response?  Our response is to protest that we are scientists:  it is not our job to fill in difficult forms.  We must have support.

Ignoring the boxes that really only I can fill in, I start to make the rounds of the people who might be able to help with my form.

First stop, my secretary.  That sounds a bit grandiose.  Really, she is the secretary that I have a 20% share of.  Could she maybe input all the CV information for me and the other grant applicants?  Of course, but when you say put in details of everyone’s current grants, do you really mean all of the 21 grants that Prof. Important from London has running?  Sorry.  Yes.

Next, the finance officer.  Who is also doing a part-time PhD in Medical Ethics.  Sure, she can make a start on the numbers.  This says draft finance at the top, are there likely to be some changes?  Sorry.  Yes.

Then, right at the end, after the scientific summary and the lay summary, after the CVs of all applicants, and after the endless breakdown of exactly how much money we are asking for, there are the tick boxes.  Oooh.  My favourite bit – just tick a few boxes to indicate your ethnic group and your scientific discipline.  It’s so easy!

I print out the form to get a handle on what’s left to be done.

Right at the end there is a page for signatures.  They need signatures?  This didn’t show on screen.  How am I supposed to get signatures from colleagues all across the country just before Christmas?  

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