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July 22, 2010 Volume 31, No. 4

MU grant-writing team helps build a campus ‘grants culture’

Grassroots grantsmanship

Other universities following Mizzou’s example

Working out of two small rooms in Jesse Hall, Mary Licklider and her team of grant writers have stumbled upon what seems to be an ideal grant-writing approach for the 21st century.

 Nationally recognized by the Advisory Board Company’s University Leadership Council, an independent consulting firm, Licklider’s Grant Writer Network began in 1999. Her idea, to insert grant writers as they were needed, into the various colleges and research centers across campus was an original concept that quickly caught on.

 Deans were offered the option of sponsoring a grant writer by picking up 95 percent of the writer’s salary; Licklider’s office would pay the other 5 percent. The writer would train with experienced grant writers for up to a year and then be placed in the sponsoring unit. The Grant Writer Network has grown from the original two writers to 16, helping to build what Licklider refers to as “a grants culture.”

In theory, it was an idea that made sense to Licklider. In practice, the idea has helped MU investigators landed $251 million in grant money for MU in the

10 years since it began. With more than $34 million in grant approval, 2008-2009 was the biggest year yet.

  Bob Glidewell, grant writer for the Trulaske College of Business says, “As writers, we become experts in different areas, using each others’ strengths, making more efficient use of the talent and resources of the university’s faculty and staff.”

 MU’s Grant Writer Network has not gone unnoticed, and other universities are following MU’s example. “We have seen our system replicated at Utah State,” Licklider says.

When asked why the network is so successful, Licklider says, “All the easy questions have been answered. Where the gaps are in scholarly knowledge now is in the complex places, at cross sections of the disciplines.”

Research done in one specific field is becoming less common. Today’s funded research tends to be at the bridge between various fields, derived from the synergy of two or more disciplines. Network grant writers help with the project management work of keeping track of researchers from multiple fields and the many pieces of large, interdisciplinary proposals.

Which is why having writers surrounded by the researchers they support is so important, Licklider says, “Our writers are able to have the ‘hallway conversations’ that are so crucial to writing a sound proposal. A grant proposal is an argument, and we want that argument to be bulletproof.”

 MU’s Grant Writer Network embodies the interdisciplinary spirit of the Bond Life Sciences Center, she says. Network grant writers include a nurse, an MBA, a math major, a nutrition scientist and a social psychologist, and they bring their varied perspectives together for weekly staff meetings.  As a group, they collectively know a great deal about the research expertise on campus and can help to identify and facilitate potential collaborations.

One can’t argue with success and, as the questions get bigger, so do the grants and the amounts they request. An average grant in the

$1 million range requires 400 to 700 pages of application material and 18 months to see through to final approval. Projects that size require one full-time lead writer and a shadow writer, one familiar with the work who can be called in to assist as needed.

“What we have done here at MU,” Licklider says, “is so cool. We got ridiculously, incredibly lucky and attracted really bright people, who fit well with the units they are in.” Then she smiles, as if she’s giving up a secret: “We get to work at the stage where all things are still possible.”