Young scientists are often in a dilemma when applying for funding. Should they submit grant proposals under their own name with the risk of not getting the money or should they submit under their supervisor’s name with the risk to be scientifically dependent?

Raising grant money is an essential skill which makes you ATTRACTIVE for positions IN industry and academiA

The best predictors for a successful scientific career are your publication list and the ability to raise grant money. This is particularly true when you want to become a professor. Read more here: How to become a professor?  When you apply successfully for personal grants as a PhD student this will be considered as a label of excellence and make you more attractive for industry and academic positions.

 This is also the case for postdocs – in addition you may raise project grants to pay for expensive consumables, invest in better instruments and technologies and you may even hire technicians or PhD students who will generate a lot of data for you. Raising industry money makes you an attractive candidate for the industry partner because they get to know you and you can build trust. It also shows other companies that you understand how research is handled in the industry sector.

Should I apply under my own name or my supervisors name?

Briefly, if your publication list is already excellent you should apply under your own name. If you are still in the beginning you may consider applying for personal grants and small project grants under your own name and bigger project grants under your supervisor’s name.

Apply for personal grants

If your performance and especially your publication list is good to excellent you should apply for multiple personal grants. These grants pay your salary and often have only a limited amount of funding for consumables. Such a grant will make you more attractive as a candidate for selection committees no matter whether they are selecting proposals for funding or candidates for academic positions (PhD, postdoc, academic staff, professor). Your supervisor may be happy to use your current salary which comes free for a new staff member or for consumables.

Apply for starting grants at the beginning of your career

If you have a fantastic publication list there is a good chance that you may receive a bigger grant. You may be particularly successful when you are going for those funding schemes which are intentionally created to support early career scientists and “rising stars”. All funding bodies I know have some kind of “starting grants” to help young scientists start their careers, start their own lab or become independent researchers (depending on their career stage).

Apply for small project grants under your own name

Applying for multiple small grants is a clever strategy when you are at the beginning of your career because often the success rate is much higher. The big stars in the field may avoid the smaller grants because the return of investment is smaller, thus, the time invested is not worth the funding they get at the end. For a young scientist this is good news because they do not compete with the “big guys” who have a fantastic publication list. As a rule of thumb: Every little grant you get will be seen as a label of excellence, even if you only get a few thousand Euro or Dollars.

Apply for big project grants under your supervisor’s name

If your publication list is good but not excellent or if your publication list is still very short it may be a clever strategy to write bigger project grant proposals and submit them under the name of your supervisor. The advantages are clear: your supervisor has probably a much longer and hopefully much better publication list, demonstrates a lot of technical and organisational expertise and has a broad international network. This increases your chance to get the funding dramatically. The disadvantages are also obvious: your supervisor may use the money for his/her own projects, hire persons who work for him/her and improve their output and career instead of yours. If your supervisor is paying your salary he/she may consider everything you do as his/her output. 

However, if your supervisor is fair you may negotiate in the beginning that the funding is used for your projects because you have written (most of) the proposal. Probably your supervisor will agree because he/she will be a co-author or the senior author of all resulting publications anyway.

Discuss your grant writing strategy carefully with your supervisor

If you have a good relationship with your supervisor you should openly discuss your ambitions and explicitly ask for support to learn grant writing by getting a lot of feedback. You should agree on a healthy balance between experimental research, writing papers and writing grant proposals. Since I have the tendency to forget details of discussions (like many supervisors J) I always write down the agreements at least in an email. So should you.

To improve your grant writing you should participate in any grant writing workshop you can find in your university,  online or during scientific meetings. You may also ask your university administration whether they are willing to organize such a workshop. Since this again may cost some of your working time (which you could spend in the lab) you should get approval from your supervisor or do it in your free time.

Summary

Apply for as many grants as possible because getting even a small grant is a label of excellence. Carefully discuss your grant writing strategy with your supervisor to get support and avoid conflicts.