Frustrations with Grant Application Processes are Not New

Two days ago I posted an essay describing my opinion of why we need more money for cancer research in this country. This was prompted in large measure by an article I cited there entitled More Money Won’t Win the War on Cancer. I don’t wish to rehash the arguments (pro or con) here.

But one area where we had agreement was that the system for applying for grants and getting money was getting to be more protracted, more cumbersome and more time-consuming for researchers, both in the writing of grant applications and in the reviewing of them. And in many cases, researchers rightly complain, for diminishing returns.

For a bit of a “lighter look” at this issue, I wanted to share with you a letter from 41 years ago that shows that this lament has been with us forever (or at least for 41 years!).

This is a copy of a real letter sent by an MD who had obviously applied to the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) for research funding. It is addressed to Dr. Peter G. Scholefield, a good friend and mentor of mine, who was then the Executive Director of the NCIC, a position I was privileged to occupy some years later.   I am sure the letter writer was frustrated by the process at the time, just as are many today.

Just the same I can’t help but smile every time I read this letter. The last paragraph makes my day each time I read it. Perhaps you will get a smile from it as well (even if it is at the expense of the letter writer, whom I do not know and never met, and whose name I have left off to protect his privacy). Indeed he was not a very good speller or typist… 😉

Below the snapshot of the letter I have transcribed it verbatim, for legibility only.

Scholefield letter 1972 cropped (Large)19 September, 1972

Dr. P.G. Scholefield,

25 Adelaide Street East, Toronto 210,Ontario.

Dear Dr. Scholefield;

Congratulations for maintaining one of the most unimaginative bureauocracies to be found outside of the legislative chambers. As you correctly surmised in the last paragraph of your final (I hope) letter I am no longer interested in the Canadian Cancer Society. The documents you so officiously request are a matter of public record and may be obtained on request to the bureauocracies concerned. You could establish a sort of bureauocracy to bureauocracy communication whirling about in an ever increasing spiral of notes, memoes, and communiques until at last upon vanishing into the vortex of your paper tornado you are replaced by a computer. A glimmer of hope on the muddy horizon of the independent man who is daily frustrated by the paper storms raging around him.

As you must by now see I have the strong feeling of a square peg in your round hole and cannot see any point in submitting further documents to support a request which was clearly stated in the seven copies of the official application form. If you think that request has merit and are prepared to fund it then is the time to request supporting documents. If you do not wish to offer any support then say so and save us both a lot of bother.

If you have read this far I thank you for your attention and wish you luck in preserving the sanctity of your fund.

I really wouldn’t have bothered to write you except I’m taking typing lessons and need the practice. Incidently your letters are very well typed and if your secretary has any suggestions on improving my typing I should be delighted to hear from her.

Yours sincerely,


Vancouver, B.C.

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