Bìguān is a term used in various eastern philosophies and traditions to describe a quiet retreat. Although its origins are sometimes the subject of debate, most scholars agree that bìguān is about eliminating outside distractions to allow for hushed, dedicated focus.
During his tenure at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, current SPH-B Dean David Allison suggested a series of days dedicated to proposal development—with as few distractions as possible. A colleague responded that this sounded like bìguān, and although Dean Allison had never heard this term, he was intrigued.
Since 2018, SPH-B has hosted 3–5 annual workshops, reverently referred to as bìguāns, to support faculty and graduate students as they write, revise, and submit proposals for project funding. While submitting these proposals is common and expected of many SPH-B faculty and graduate students, it's difficult to find ideal conditions to produce them. An SPH-B bìguān provides all-day dedicated space, silence, and continuous access to a variety of experts for five consecutive weekdays. Experts include grant writing consultants, statisticians, graphic designers, business and budget specialists, and fellow scientists—all of whom offer unrivaled support during the intensive process.
An SPH-B bìguān provides all-day dedicated space, silence, and continuous access to a variety of experts for at least five consecutive weekdays.
In addition to the valuable protected time and space, as well as the expert consultation, participants sharpen their grant-writing skills and enjoy the opportunity to network with other researchers in pre- and post-bìguān initiatives. As outlined in a pledge that all participants sign, those with teaching or other obligations may leave the bìguān to attend to their responsibilities, but the dedicated space, colleagues, and experts remain available to them for the entirety of the bìguān. The pledge also specifies important and measurable responsibilities before, during, and after the weeklong session.
As with any meaningful event, there is opportunity to both plan for and reflect on the experience. Researchers participate in preparatory meetings to discuss expectations, goals, and objectives. Upon conclusion, follow-up meetings provide an opportunity to reflect on what worked, what could be improved, and how to continue to keep their efforts on track.
To date, the school has hosted more than a dozen bìguāns—some in person, some virtually. Successful proposals drafted during bìguāns include submissions by SPH-B faculty Molly Rosenberg, Patrick Quinn, and Dean Allison himself.