Texas Tech University

Narrative, Trust, and Teaching: A Case Study


Is the job of a grant proposal to teach? Hold in one's mind the image of a respected, scientifically literate figure, and imagine that they are on a flight to Washington D.C. for a review panel, flipping through a stack of proposals with not enough sleep and no space for their elbows. To what extent are you supposed to go about teaching to this person the technical vagaries of your niche? Very little, on the assumption that review panels are proposed of prickly experts who do not like to be condescended to? A little more, on the assumption that your audience will be generally scientifically literate, but come from a variety of backgrounds that might be significantly removed from your particular niche? A little more, based on an awareness of all the above, plus the fact that they will be skimming on an airplane? Or a great deal, just to be safe?

In this module, the above questions are raised and then largely sidestepped in favor of a convenient loophole. While there is value in debating just how much teaching is too much, this module argues that a better question is as follows: does this section achieve anything beyond pedagogy? In addition to being somewhat explanatory, does this paragraph also advance claims about the significance of your research, or the merit of your field, or the utility of some foundational concept? If one is not advancing such arguments, is any amount of pedagogy acceptable? On the other hand, if one is not communicating the core significance of their project, is even a bit of dallying needed? In short, don't begin with the question of how much should I explain? Begin with the question of how much does this matter?

The following pages draw a series of pedagogical passages from a particular NSF proposal whose authors I do not know, and who likewise do not know that it is being analyzed here. As part of a movement towards open science a great number of scientific proposals are freely posted online (Hormiga et. al). I hope the brief analysis here is of use not just to Texas Tech faculty but to whomever stumbles across it.

A Particularly Pedagogical Passage Within a Successful NSF Proposal

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Nural Akchurin, Associate Dean for Research
College of Arts & Sciences

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