The A Team: Aiming High

This is a guest post by members of the A Team – Aesha, Kyle, Nikol and Sadia – check out the CaB Challenge page, here.

In the simplest terms, proposal writing is really just Dragon’s Den for scientists. A proposal provides the reader with the general framework of a scientist’s idea, with the goal of acquiring funding for a specific project. The grant proposal is a tool used by humanities and natural sciences scholars alike. The stronger the proposal, the more funding you’re likely to get. Essentially, proposals are the medium by which a scientist sells their idea with the hopes that a funding body will invest in their work, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), one of two federal scientific funding agencies in Canada. Writing a killer proposal is a critical skill for any researcher, this is what allows Canadian scientists to conduct innovative and ground-breaking research.
The CaB Challenge has provided us with a unique opportunity to take a stab at high stakes proposal writing (the stakes, if you remember, are a trip to Boston next fall and $1000 bucks). In our previous post, we revealed we planned to focus our proposal on the use of microalgae to remove excess carbon dioxide and other smog-related air pollutants from the air. Recall that microalgae are small organisms capable of using sunlight and carbon dioxide pulled from the air to produce sugar, which is then consumed by their own system as energy. Our proposal detailed the pressing issue of climate change and the need for remedial technologies, and how it is possible to use synthetic biology to shape a small, common organism into a powerful bioremediator. Ultimately, the use of BioBricks – those biological components that are used to make synthetic systems – will alter the metabolic pathways in our cyanobacterium to promote the conversion of air pollutants into useful biofuels.
The detail required for our proposal to be acceptable required a load of research, and therefore a ton of our time. We had to clearly identify which pathways in the bacterium we plan to modify using which BioBricks, and how this change would affect the organism from the level of DNA all the way up to the resultant protein products. We were also responsible for describing the procedures we would have to execute in a laboratory to execute our plan. Ensuring accuracy of the information we chose to include was time consuming, as we were all learning a great deal about a topic we were all relatively unfamiliar with before this project. When you’re composing a scientific proposal, the majority of your sentences have to be supported by credible sources, which usually take the form of articles published in peer-reviewed journals. These articles are much more dense than your average science text book, and take a bit of time for non-experts to pick through. Using primary literature is essential for providing credibility to scientific work.

As is true for most writing projects, the writing process itself was tough. How do you put something together that captivates the reader, and convinces them that your idea is worth dedicating a considerable amount of money to? In our process there was a lot of editing and a lot of cross referencing to make sure that everything was correctly cited. The content had to make sense while still allowing flow within the writing, from background information to methodology to the implications of our project. Working as a team allowed us to bounce ideas off one another and find better ways to say certain things.
This process demonstrated for us how much time and effort is involved in proposal writing. As we did with our proposal, scientists applying for multimillion dollar grants also tackle the proposal writing process in teams; the ability to bounce ideas of one another and keep eachother accountable to effective time management is so important to the development of a proposal for a large scale project.

We’re hoping the efforts shows in our submission and we find ourselves in the Top 5 next week! Stay posted, Ryerson.

– The A Team


If you’d like to learn more about the members of the A Team – Aesha, Kyle, Nikol and Sadia – check out the CaB Challenge page, here.