Van Halen cleverly inserted a clause in his contract, known as a “rider” in the rock tour business. Like other fussy famous musicians, he insisted on specialty items be procured for the band. Oddly, the rider called for a bowl of M&M candies with all the brown candies removed under penalty of concert forfeiture. Silly, I thought. Until I learned that the appearance of these little chocolates could mean life or death. Van Halen knew if the candies were there, the contract was not read and they did not comply. Why it mattered is that if the venue could not accommodate their oversized equipment, stages – especially in the pre-arena days – could fail, and the collapse of flooring or lighting structures could be devastating.

This really garnered my respect for his business sense, knowing that small details can matter. Grants are exactly like that. Big, great, wonderful science needs the structures to support it. People who know what funders need and want know that it is a package: the idea needs to be conveyed in a way that not only complies but communicates.

And yes, conforming to a grant application can be confounding and frustrating, but there is usually a reason for the many components. Following the detailed instructions can make it right, and when the grant is funded, it can be sweeter than, well, a whole bowl full of colorful chocolate.

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