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Career Advice

How to make research grants facilitation and editing your career

Why six former academics decided to launch themselves into the world of research grants support.


When I received my first “thank you” gift at my desk – a potted plant arrangement with an African violet, a small palm, and a tumbling nerve plant – I knew I’d chosen the right career path. After burning out at the end of my PhD, I wanted a role in which my contributions would be recognized and valued. I also wanted a stable job that would allow me to work closely with words while aligning with my personal and political values. I found that job, and then a career, in editing academic research grants.

Success rates for most of the Tri-Council competitions, as the Canadian Association for Neuroscience reports, have not yet returned to the 20+ per cent range that they held before Stephen Harper’s government cut funding for basic research more than a decade ago. When research funding is as hard to win as it is at present, many researchers and institutions hire in-house grants facilitators or bring in external grant editors like myself for support. We do enjoyable yet stressful and intense work.

To support new master’s and doctoral grads and former academics interested in learning more about this rewarding career option, I delivered the free webinar “Getting Into In-House Research Grants Editing” last year for Editors Canada, and created the self-paced online course “Editing Academic Research Grants in Canada.” But those resources come from my own perspective. To hear from former academics who transitioned into both in-house and freelance roles in research grants support, I spoke with established current and former grants facilitators, officers, managers and editors from across the country. Here’s what they told me, in their own words:

Tessa Cheng, PhD in health sciences

My passion for research, evidence-based policy, and engagement led me to pursue a career in grant development and knowledge translation. During my PhD, I knew that I did not want to pursue an academic career, but also did not want to leave academia. Luckily, there was a job opening at a large nearby postsecondary institution. I was able to finish my PhD and work in their centralized office providing grant support to all interested faculty members. Grant development allowed me to stay close to research, researchers, and the pursuit of evidence-based change. My degrees in philosophy, public policy, and public health were a great foundation for supporting a wide range of health and social research proposals.

Juzer Kakal, MSc in microbiology and immunology

I’ve worked in various wet and dry research labs in fields ranging from HIV immunology, behavioural medicine, cancer immunotherapy, otolaryngology, structural biology, and clinical pharmacy. I’m therefore able to bring a generalist perspective to grant proposals, which is an asset for specialized researchers not accustomed to writing for the broader fields of peer review committees. I got into grant facilitation off the side of my bench, when I was working in the various research labs I was in. I’ve always loved research, storytelling and entrepreneurship, so those skills seem to align quite well with grant facilitation. I’m proud to have supported researchers who were able to bring in over $50,000,000 from federal and philanthropic sources.

Rhonda Kronyk, MA in history

After life circumstances forced me to pull out of the PhD program at McGill University, I had to quickly pivot to a new career. Because of my natural affinity with language and the experience I gained as a research assistant and student, I chose academic editing – and I decided to pursue it as a freelancer. Soon after I began my business, I began working with applicants on polishing their grants. In the intervening 10 years, I’ve worked on dozens of successful grants in the humanities and social sciences and supplemented that work with many successful not-for-profit grants. My strength is in helping applicants find the stories within their research or project, combining story and data, and adding the finishing details to their applications.

Tara McDonald, PhD in English literature

After finishing my PhD, I knew that I wouldn’t be pursuing an academic career – but I was struggling to position myself in a new field. A former grad school colleague who had made the jump to research administration sent me a posting for a grant development specialist position in a hospital research office; this job felt exciting for someone who loved research, but was burnt out as an academic researcher. I was soon overseeing a team of in-house grants specialists who support scientists and trainees in obtaining research funding (CIHR, CFI, CRC, etc.). My career in research admin has broadened the writing and teaching skills I had honed in grad school – in addition to providing grant-writing support, I’ve gained experience in team management, process improvement, funding program coordination, resource development, and policy design. The research funding landscape in Canada can be opaque, and my roles have positioned me to understand the value of working collaboratively to reduce barriers.

Annie Moore, PhD in comparative literature

I did my PhD on contemporary poetry in English and lyric theory at University of California Irvine, followed by a SSHRC postdoc in English at the University of Victoria. I learned about research grants facilitation as I began to search for alt-ac positions, and quickly landed a job in the field in 2013; I could tell in the interview that it was going to be a good fit. In my current work at Island Health – supporting full-time clinicians who don’t have protected time for research – my focus is on small-to-medium health research grants and proposals ($20,000-$100,000), and I have also supported larger personnel awards ($250,000+). In my freelance work, I edit music fellowship and grant applications, and have also supported award nominations. I enjoy this work because I love to find and tell the story of potential impact behind the proposed research or practice: what it could mean for people, whether study participants or music listeners.

Ronnie Morris, PhD in history

In my past life as an artist and a musician, I was fortunate enough to make a number of contributions to Canadian culture – but I was only able to do so because of the availability of public arts funding through bodies like the Ontario Arts Council and FACTOR. When I returned to graduate school, again, I depended on grants to help to fund my own research. I suffered a stroke in 2015, which left me with some (largely temporary, thankfully) physical and cognitive impairments, but I was able to return to full-time employment in 2022. In that time, I have been able to complete a certificate in publishing, take courses in research administration, finish writing my PhD dissertation, and earn a black belt in karate. I now work full-time as a grants facilitator at Brock University, where my experience with the social sciences and humanities lead to a specialization in the SSHRC portfolio of grants. This year, I was involved in my first successful Partnership Grant application, which was awarded $2.5 million.

Looking for help? Tessa, Juzer, Rhonda, Tara, Annie and Ronnie will be available to provide feedback on assignments submitted to “Editing Academic Research Grants in Canada.”

Letitia Henville is a freelance academic editor at

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