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The Last Word on Grant Writing Credentials: Awards Are Only as Good as the Organization Giving Them

On a software blog, I found this post concerning an author who’d given himself an award:

‘You know, there were two strange things about that award, …Firstly, after I awarded it to myself, I felt oddly elated, as if some august academic body had suddenly realised my true worth as an author and had strained every sinew to ensure that my talent was acknowledged.’


‘… and what was the other strange thing?’

‘You are the first person ever to have asked me precisely what award it was that I’d won. Everybody else has just taken it for granted.’

‘I work in IT. It makes one cautious of trusting qualifications and awards.’

Consider this in light of Credentials for Grant Writers—If I Only Had A Brain and its follow-up, both of which discuss how certifications, credentials, and the like are only as good as the knowledge they represent and the organization issuing them. With many credentials, bogus language cloaks what’s really happening—for another example of the same phenomenon, check out this post from Joel Spolsky.

Anyway, the point Isaac made regarding the degrees that matter is a good one: the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. matter, but even then only to a limited extent. People of varying talents earn those degrees, which are in turn only as rigorous as the classes taken. Not so long ago I was an undergrad, and almost all of us had mental hierarchies of teachers and classes, and anyone who wanted to avoid harder teachers/classes could. It’s simply not very difficult to get a degree in many majors, especially in the liberal arts. Of course, there are many good people who graduate with liberal arts degrees, but many is not the same at as all. We’ve all probably met incompetent college graduates, and I’ve met head-in-the-clouds Ph.D.s. There is no alphabet soup behind a person’s name that really guarantees that person’s skill.

You only have what Mr. Spolsky would call “weak indicators.” Given how imperfect college degrees are as indicators of skill, and how much effort goes into them, you shouldn’t be surprised that so many other “credentials” are even worse. Tautologically, only skill can show skill, and the best indication of a person’s skill is that person’s track record. Want to discover if you or someone you know can write a proposal? Give them an RFP, a deadline, a computer, Internet access, as much coffee as they want and see if they produce a proposal. If so, they’re a grant writer, and you can give them another. If not, use your best Donald Trump voice to say “You’re fired!”, send them to the Department of Education (as Isaac suggested), and go on to the next resume or consultant in your pile. Eventually you’ll probably find a grant writer.