Grant writing from abundance

Around this time 8 years ago, my institution sponsored a talk about grantsmanship for the ARC discovery project scheme. Regrettably, I’ve forgotten the speaker’s name and all the details other than, that based on what she said, I ditched my application that year. She was excellent, and there were probably lots of gems in her talk, but the bit that got me was that she said an assessor knows (consciously or unconsciously) how the author felt in the writing. When you’re filled with excitement and abundance as you write, the reader picks up on it. Whereas, when you feel anxious, scared or in scarcity, the assessor feels that too, and scores accordingly. Not by any specific words, but by the feel of it.

That was a bit too woo-woo for the seriously minded BioMed audience, but it resonated with me and I withdrew my draft application. I was deep in anxiety that year. I’d run my lab for 2 years with zero grant success, and that third year was do-or-die. But if what the speaker said was true, I was wasting my time. I don’t know if there’s truth in any of this. Maybe it’s true for some and not others. But I’ve only ever been successful when I felt awesome in the writing; the less attached to the outcome, the more likely the grant got funded. Maybe, when I feel desperate, there’s a weird and graspy energy to the grant? Or, there’s more procrasta-working and the grant simply isn’t that good? There’s a formal possibility I’m deluded, and that it all just seems this way with the rose-coloured glasses of hindsight. Whatever it is, I now firmly believe that my state of mind during the grant writing influences its outcome.

In the year I ditched the ARC grant, I worked hard to shift my mindset and went on to win NHMRC funding. So, ever since, I’ve tried to bring my best energy (curiosity and joy) to the ARC/NHMRC grant writing season. It doesn’t always work, and like everyone else, I fail often. I have a chronic habit of stuffing too many ideas into the grants, missing glaringly obvious typos, and leaving the triangulation of aims/timeline/budget justification too late and too loose. Also, some assessors probably just don’t like my style, ideas, research, track-record, formatting and whatever else it is that makes diversity so complicated… But even if you too think it’s all woo-woo, a compelling reason to focus on mindset during grant writing is simply to make yourself feel better in what might otherwise be a gruelling process.

A friend and former colleague recently posted on Twitter the advice passed down to her, along the lines of ‘only ever put your second-best ideas in grants’. This is a terrible idea and comes for a scarcity mindset.

A scarcity mindset is fearful, closed-off, and glass-half-empty. Don’t write grants from scarcity, it brings icky energy. You want to write from abundance, an energy that’s open optimistic and glass-half-full (1). There are lots of ways to make sure you’re in the right mindset, and for sure there will be some that are unique to who you are. But here are my top three for creating that abundant feeling that can drive an exciting writing experience that hopefully influences the assessor by its transference.

· A disciplined gratitude practice. That means writing down 5 things you’re grateful for each morning. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant the thing (eg morning sun-on-face is a recurring thing I’m grateful for). While you write it you need to purposefully recreate and feel the delight and wellbeing the warm sun gives you.

· Spend time in nature each day. If that’s not possible, then take a walk outside, ideally chatting (and better still laughing) with a friend.

· Write out a want-list from abundance.

The want-list brings perspective to any scarcity we might feel. Simply write a list of 24 things you want. The only caveat is that the first 12 things need to be things you want and already have. This is mine:

Things I want and already have:

1) Freedom (physical, emotional and financial)

2) A life partner to love and respect

3) A glorious daughter who is the light of my life

4) A home where I feel safe

5) A strong healthy body

6) Family and friends to whom I feel connected

7) A job that I love

8) A supportive network of peers/mentors

9) An ARC Future Fellowship (this was huge for me)

10) A reliable car

11) A dog

12) Easy access to nature

Things I want and don’t yet have:

13) More Australian experiences (outback WA/NT/SA)

14) Significant action on climate change (eg., better solar on my roof)

15) More fun and laughter

16) To lose 10kg (to protect my hips & knee joints in old age)

17) A De-cluttered home and office

18) A capsular wardrobe

19) A proper home office (I fantasise about a spacious light-filled blond-wood attic)

20) A job that doesn’t depend on fellowships

21) A promotion to full Professor

22) A minimum $250kpa grant income (THIS IS THE MOST PRESSING WANT!)

23) A senior author paper IF >15

24) More influence within my community

The reason to do this list is that by the time you write down all the things you want and already have, what you want and don’t have yet feels like icing on the cake. Sometimes, when we’re deep in scarcity mode, we’re overwhelmed by what we don’t have, but then when you try to think of 12, its seriously quite difficult to come up with enough -which is why some quite trivial things end up on the list. Clearly, mine now reflects the fact that I’m a middle-aged white woman with significant privilege. But I think I could have come up with a list to feel abundance from even when I was a 20-year-old Uni-dropout waiting tables at the RACV club; clueless as to what to do with my life...

The benefit of abundance versus scarcity mindsets (related to Carol Dweck’s research into growth versus fixed mindsets) is a common theme in psychology. But none of us is always in growth and abundance. Sometimes we can get there easily in one area of our lives but not in another. For example, many of us fall into the trap of a scarcity/fixed mindset about smarts/talent even though we work in academia where it’s literally all about growth. Whereas, it’s easy to have an abundant/growth mindset around exercise because it’s so easy to see that if you train regularly, your fitness improves.

I try to cultivate abundance as often possible. It leads to personal growth, more fulfilment, better health and a longer more productive life. As we head into the 2021 grant season, I wish everyone luck, growth and abundance in the grant writing, assessment, and outcomes. And, that even if it doesn’t work this time, you will have felt better for the practice.


(1) You can find more about abundance versus scarcity in a simple google search or start here (

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