7.2- Grants I
So, compelling projects also often combine two unseemingly unrelated threads of work to challenge or shift the current field of clinical practice paradigm. Of course, since you're applying to a grant, a fellowship, or a career development award, make sure that your research that is being proposed is relevant and appropriate for the mission of the funding opportunity announcement. Team science is a collaborative effort to address a scientific challenge that leverages the strengths and expertise of personnel trained in different fields.
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The next three modules cover grant writing. I’m thrilled to have two guest speakers. Crystal Botham is the director of the award-winning Grant Writing Academy at Stanford. And Sky Brubaker is a grant coach and postdoc at Stanford. They’re going to give you some wonderful tips on grant writing. » Hi, my name is Crystal Botham and I’m the director of the Standford Biosciences Grant Writing Academy. And I’m going to discuss ten tips for getting started writing grants. Okay, so why submit a research proposal? There’s a number of reasons why. So, one is that writing rigorously clarifies and deepens your thinking. Also, articulating research priorities will increase your productivity and impact. And of course, developing and communicating your ideas is critical in all career paths. Plus, securing funding is an accomplishment and has positive career benefits. So during the next couple of slides, I’m going to give you tips for how to get started writing your grant now that you know that it’s important that you do it at all career stages. Okay, so first, start early and gather critical information. You want to compile a comprehensive list of all the funding opportunities that you can apply for. Ask what your colleagues and peers are applying to. Ask your mentors for ideas as well. Some institutions also compile lists of grants including fellowships and career development awards. So find out if yours does. Once you have a comprehensive list of funding opportunities you can apply for, gather critical information about those funding opportunities. This includes the instructions, as well as funded and unfunded examples. Let’s just look at an example of the NIH NRSA Fellowship, and an example of what type of information you might want to gather. So first, you want to read the funding announcement in its entirety. Here’s just a screenshot of the funding announcement for the NIH NRSA. And this is just the first page of the funding announcement. It’s several pages long, and you want to read the entire document and understand what it’s telling you. And sometimes you have to follow website attachments and or find other documents. So, in short, you want to have all the information available to you. Then identify what are the review criteria for the funding agency that you’re applying to and the application you’re applying to. So for the NIH NRSA, there are five main review criteria. Those include you, the applicant, and their reviewers are looking at your record of research productivity, the candidates potential for independent research in the future. The mentor, co-mentor and collaborators, the reviewers are asking, is there a strong track record of mentorship. And they’re evaluating if there’s an adequate mentoring plan. The research training plan, is the research significant, appropriate, and feasible? These are the types of question your reviewers are looking at when they’re considering the Research Training Plan. Then the training potential, is their training plan appropriate? And will the plan contribute to the applicant’s success? And then the environment institutional commitment, what is their commitment to the candidate’s development into a scientist? And is there adequate resources available? So you want to identify the review criteria. So that when you’re writing your application, you can make sure that you’re making the points that the reviewers are looking for in terms of the review criteria. Okay, you also want to understand the review process. NIH has a really nice video about the NIH peer review process. And it’s called NIH Peer Review Revealed. You can find it on YouTube, and it provides a front row seat to the NIH peer review meeting. A lot of other funding agencies base their peer review process on the NIH’s, so it’s a nice video to understand what a peer review process will look like. You also want to learn about the internal policies and processes that your specific institution may have. Sometimes, applications need to be submitted internally before the sponsor’s deadline. And there’s extra paperwork involved. So make sure you find out about this, these policies and processes, early. Okay, number 2, create a game plan and write regularly. Writing a compelling grant takes time, a lot of time, which is challenging to balance with a hectic laboratory schedule and other responsibilities. To reduce stress, divide the grant requirement into smaller task by creating a detailed timeline with goals or milestones. Having a game plan with daily or weekly goals will also help you avoid procrastination. Make sure you’re writing regularly, daily or every other day, to establish an effective writing practice. This will increase your productivity and reduce your anxiety because writing will become a habit. It’s also important to make your writing time non-negotiable, so other obligations or distractions don’t impede your progress. Okay, tip number 3 is to find your research niche. So you need to have a deep awareness of your field. And you really want this ability to understand your field and to be able to identify critical knowledge gaps or needs. These ideas are bottlenecks in the field, that if you are able to fill in or address the need, then you could significantly move your field forward. So, compelling projects also often combine two unseemingly unrelated threads of work to challenge or shift the current field of clinical practice paradigm. So it’s important to have a broad familiarity with the wider scientific community as well. You want to contemplate how the concepts and approaches in the wider scientific community could be extended to address the critical knowledge gap in your field. So keep a list of questions or problems inherent to your field and update this list after reading peer-reviewed papers, review articles, or attending seminars and conferences. Narrow down and focus your list through discussions with your colleagues, mentors, and key researchers in your field. Of course, since you’re applying to a grant, a fellowship, or a career development award, make sure that your research that is being proposed is relevant and appropriate for the mission of the funding opportunity announcement. Tip number 4 is to use your specific aims document as your roadmap. The specific aims document is a one-page description of your research plan during the project period. And we have another video that you can learn more about how to write a compelling specific aims page in another video. But briefly, your specific aims page must concisely answer the following questions. Is the research question important? So compelling projects often tackle a particular gap in the knowledge base that when addressed, significantly advance the field. What is the overall goal? The overall goal must define the purpose of the proposal and must be obtainable regardless of how the hypothesis tests. What specifically will be done? Attract the reviewer’s interest using attention-getting headlines, describe your working hypothesis and your approach to objectively test the hypothesis. What are the expected outcomes and impact? Describe what the reviewers can expect after their proposal is completed in terms of advancement to the field. So just like gears that I’m showing here, the specific aims page and the answers to these questions must be specifically aligned. Otherwise, it’s not a very effective specific aims page. So again, you can learn more techniques for developing a one-page executive summary of your research in the next video about specific aims. Okay, tip number 5 is build a first-rate team. Team science is a collaborative effort to address a scientific challenge that leverages the strengths and expertise of personnel trained in different fields. The team approach is ideal for for many scientific endeavors and coordinated teams and investigators with diverse skills and knowledge may be especially helpful for studies of complex problems. because the cross-disciplinary approach to a team science can accelerate scientific innovation and translation. Building a first-rate team is especially important for fellowships and career development awards. And this team would include your mentor, your co-mentor, and then members of your advisory team as well. Tip number 6 is develop a complete research plan. So see the video on Communicating Your Research Strategy for more information. So, in short, the research plan is a narrative that describes a set of schools and how you will reach them. So the first question that needs to be answered is, is there a need? This is getting at the significance and background information of your project. Second, how will the specific aims be accomplished? This includes the methods and analysis that will be used. What are the expected outcomes? What might go wrong and how will it be managed? And what are the alternative approaches? How long will the project take? Is it really feasible in the project time for this proposal? Then what’s next? What are the future directions for this project? How is it going to advance your field? Tip number 7 is stop and get feedback. Feedback is critical to developing a first class proposal. You need a wide audience providing feedback because your reviewers will likely come from diverse backgrounds as well. Be proactive in asking for feedback from your colleagues and mentors. Even nonscientist can provide critical advice about the clarity of your rating. When eliciting feedback, inform your reviewers of your specific needs. So for example, do you desire broader feedback on overall concepts or feasibility? Or do you want advice on grammar and spelling? Tip number 8, tell a consistent and cohesive story. Applications are often composed of numerous documents or sections. Therefore it’s important that all your documents tell a consistent and cohesive story. Let’s look at the NIH NRSA as an example again. So here is a list of the main documents of this application. And so you might state your long-term goal in the specific aims document and the personal statement of your biosketch. And then elaborate more on the long-term goal in the career development documents. So each of these documents must tell a consistent story. It’s important to allow at least one to two weeks of time after composing the entire application to review and scrutinize the story you tell, and to ensure it’s consistent and cohesive. Tip number 9 is to follow specific requirements and proofread for error and readability. Grants have specific formats and page requirements that must be strictly followed. Keep these instructions and the review criteria close at hand when writing and revising. Applications that do not conform to the required formatting or other requirements may be administratively rejected before the review process. So meticulously follow all the requirements and guidelines. Proofread your almost final documents for errors and readability. Errors can be confusing to reviewers. Also, if the documents have many misspellings or grammar errors, your reviewers will question the ability of you to complete the proposed experiments with precision and accuracy. Tip number 10, recycle and resubmit. Funding opportunity announcements for various applications frequently have similar requirements. So it’s fairly easy to recycle your application or resubmit it to several different funding opportunities. This can significantly increase your odds for success. Especially if you’re able to improve your application with each submission by tackling reviewers’ comments from a prior submission. However, some sponsors limit concurrent applications to different funding opportunity. So read the instructions carefully. You almost always want to resubmit. Submitting a proposal is like rolling the dice. Some you lose, and some you win. But at 30% odds, it’s not so bad to keep trying. Okay, so here are the ten tips for writing proposals. And these tips that we discussed today are broadly based on the ten tips from this paper, Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Postdoctoral Fellowship. But tip number five and six were slightly changed in this talk today.
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