Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

The insanity of research grant proposals

Most people will never have to write a research grant. That is a good thing.

How do you write a successful grant application?

  • Your work should follow established methodologies. It should follow closely prior work. Departures from either your own work or other people’s work will sink your proposal.

Your results have to be predictable. Years ahead of time.

  • Also… Your work should lead to major breakthroughs.

It does not compute.

I do not care what kind of research you do: a predictable breakthrough is no breakthrough at all.

The good scientists always have speculative ideas. Sometimes these ideas come out of nowhere, in the moment. Most of these ideas are very bad… but a few represent the real breakthroughs. And that is what research is really about. Trial and error on a massive scale. You try things until it sticks. If you knew what you were doing, it would not be research. But that is not what you will find in research grant proposals.

What you find in grant proposals are soviet-like 5-year plans… any scientist that follows such plans is doomed to mediocrity. So, what do good scientists do? They lie about what they will do. To each other. All the time.