"Grant Writing Season" By Dr. Jasmine Marcelin

I hate grant writing season. I always knew I hated it. I remember realizing this when I interviewed at various academic institutions for fellowship. I saw multiple stressed assistant professors sitting behind mountains of paperwork, too distracted to really engage with me during our interviews. One physician even apologized to me and admitted that with all of the upcoming grant deadlines, she had not read my file, and until I showed up at her office she had completely forgotten she was supposed to interview me. 

In these moments, I knew two things immediately: (1) I did NOT want to go there for fellowship and (2) I was NEVER going to write a grant. 

How is it then, I find myself four years later in a state of stress and sleep deprivation for the past 3 months, oscillating between inpatient hospital service and writing, missing multiple dinners and bedtime stories? 

Write a grant, they said…it will be great, they said. Sure, I said, why not? Write another one, it will be good for your career! Of course, I said, I want to be on track for advancement to associate professor. Write another one, your research idea is great! Yes, I said, I write well –how hard can it be? 

So here I am, after 3 months of grant writing with in between multiple weeks of hospital service, sitting at my computer on yet another week of hospital service, trying to submit a grant pre-submission proposal. As I sat doing last minute formatting changes, I received an email informing me that my second grant application was not funded.  

I was crushed. 

I worked really hard on this one with a very good fellow and we had a great idea. 

I can’t dwell on it now, as I need to submit this other application. 

It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to failure or rejection; I’ve had my share of disappointments and manuscript rejection emails. As I am submitting though, I’m plagued with thoughts of inadequacy. 

Maybe I’m not cut out for this. My first grant idea was rejected this past Spring. I thought it was a great idea. 

Now this.  

The new one will probably be rejected too, and what am I doing accepting a suggestion to move on to a fourth, due at the end of the month?  

Meanwhile, to achieve these failures, I’ve sacrificed sleep and time with my family. To what end? What is the point of continuing to submit ideas only to have them rejected with no explanation or feedback? As a junior investigator, is lack of experience hindering me from getting that first break? 

I decided to seek out counsel from a mid-career colleague who has been successful but very open about prior failures. Reflecting on the whirlwind of failed grant writing over the past several weeks, I realize I need to be more intentional with my yes’s and request more help with writing a successful grant application for future attempts. The fourth application I was considering will have to wait. I am tired.

So now, I have to somehow break out of my funk, get it together and break the news to my fellow.  

But guess what? 

Here’s the thing: I have learned these rejections are not failures

As Thomas Edison says “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

We will still do our work, unfunded. It is still a good idea. It will be great. We will publish it and present it. Until then, here I go, submitting yet another proposal, steeling myself in preparation for yet another rejection. 

Thank you grant writing season, for a lesson in resilience.


Jasmine Marcelin, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Associate Medical Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE. A native of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Dr. Marcelin recently moved to Omaha after completing residency and fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  Dr. Marcelin co-directs the social media initiatives of the UNMC ID Division. She is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in medicine and the value of social media in academic medicine. Follow her on twitter @DrJRMarcelin.