7.4- Grants III
Answering these questions will effectively address this background and significance, the aims, the timeline and the conclusion and future directions section that can form an outline for your research plan. In our bridge analogy on data collected during construction, we might say that our results confirmed that the material meets current standards and justifies continued work. In this section, you should summarize the expected outcomes and how they will bridge a current knowledge gap, and how the proposed project will lead to progress in the field.
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Hi, my name is Sky Brubaker, and I’m a post-doc at Stanford University. In this short video, I will be discussing effective ways to communicate a research plan for a grant or fellowship application. The research plan is a narrative document that should provide a clearly defined set of goals and how you plan to reach them. When developing your research plan it can be helpful to use a specific aims page as a road map. In a previous video Krystal Botham introduced you to a set of questions that all specific aims pages should address. First of all are you proposing an important question in your project? What is the overall goal of the project? What specifically will be done in the project? And what are the expected payoffs of the project? The bulk of a research plan consists of the overall goal and what will be done. And this is in the form of detailed specific gains. However, you must not forget that you need to communicate why the project is important, and what can be expected. Thus, the detailed research plan will bridge this gap between the need and the payoff. To instill this analogy of bridging a gap, let’s consider how we might create a research plan for a proposal to build a bridge from San Francisco to Marin. To convince a funding agency for the money to do this you may have to address some key questions. First, is there a need for the bridge or for the project? And if there is a need, why hasn’t it been done already? Are there any specific barriers that need to be overcome? Second, you’ll need to address the details of the project. How will the project be accomplished? This can be broken down into some other key questions. Specifically, what other methods and the analysis that will be used? What are the expected outcomes? What might go wrong? And how will it be managed? And what are some alternative approaches if things do go wrong? Third, you’ll need to address how long a project will take. And finally, you’ll want to address the expected payoff and what are future directions that might be envisioned following its completion. Answering these questions will effectively address this background and significance, the aims, the timeline and the conclusion and future directions section that can form an outline for your research plan. So now that we have an outline for our research plan, let’s look at each section independently. First, let’s take a look at the background and significance section. In this section, you’ll need to address the importance of the problem. This may include the premise for the proposed project, the strengths and weaknesses of previously published research, or any of your preliminary data. This will allow you to outline a knowledge gap, or a technical deficiency, that the project will overcome. In our bridge analogy, we might state that we will provide a new avenue for exploration and commerce between San Francisco and Marin and we may advance the field of bridge building in the future. Briefly, I’d like to address innovation in your research project. Because many applications request a statement on innovation. Innovation can apply to improved approaches or methodologies. Specifically you want to describe how your proposal improves upon previous research. This can include but is not limited to changes in methods, technology or improved experimental design. In our bridge analogy, we can state that we’ll be developing a new material for bridge building that will revolutionize the way that we build bridges in the future. So now we have covered the Background and Significance section of our research plan. Next step is the Aims section. As described by the instructions directly from an NIH application form, your aims should include the following. A hypothesis. Specific aims and objectives used to examine this hypothesis. A description of methods, approaches and techniques that will be used. Discussion of possible problems and how they will be managed. And finally alternative approaches that might be used if needed. So how can we organize this information into a cohesive document? Well we can break up the Aim section into five parts. An introductory paragraph, preliminary data, methods, expected outcomes, and alternative approaches. Your introduction should be short, about one paragraph. And provide the reviewers with a conceptual overview of the importance of this aim. This will include a specific objective, a working hypothesis, rationale behind the hypothesis, and expected outcomes. The next section should cover your preliminary data. This section may vary in length depending on space limitations and the amount of preliminary data you have to present. It should provide a critical review of the relevant literature. Your preliminary studies that help establish the project’s feasibility. The data presented here should be clear and capable of standing alone, outside the greater framework of the grant. For example, figure legends should be clear and more detailed giving some background and data interpretation. By walking your reader through the presented data, you lead the reviewer to conclude that you and the project are capable of success. In our bridge analogy, we might state that our new material has been tested for strength demonstrating that it will be suitable for our proposed bridge. Next, you will develop your Methods section that will provide a detailed description of the experimental design or the aims. This should include validation of essential reagents and approaches. Appropriate description of controls and their significance, any statistical analysis that will be used, and the interpretations that can be made from the resulting data. In this section remember to use strong words like expect and can, avoiding weaker words like hope and try. In our bridge analogy, we might say that our proposed material will be regularly tested throughout construction. And we expect that it’s strength capacity will be validated. You also need to describe the outcomes that you expect from these experiments. Do this by summarizing the expected experimental outcomes, and providing an interpretation of the data, specifically what is the immediate payoff that you may get from these results? And does this address the knowledge gap that you wish to bridge? In our bridge analogy on data collected during construction, we might say that our results confirmed that the material meets current standards and justifies continued work. This leads us into our alternative approaches which is the final component of the Aims section. You can introduce alternative approaches by highlighting potential problems. For example, if you don’t get the expected outcomes that you were hoping for. In our bridge analogy we might say that if the strength of the new material is in question, it would only be used for certain portions of the bridge that were less critical. So that sums up what’s required in the Aims section. Next we’ll take a look at the timeline and the conclusions and future directions required in your research plan. A timeline is an important feature of your proposal because it helps to bridge the gap between the need and the expected payoff by demonstrating feasibility. In our bridge analogy, you might state that in year 1, you expect the support structure to be complete and in year 2, you expect the surface structure to be complete, and provide data that supports this current timeline. You can also demonstrate the feasibility of a project or the timeline that you hope to achieve visually. This can help a reader more quickly gather the expected timeline between multiple projects that may be overlapping. And it saves you space. Finally, let’s look at the Conclusion and Future Directions at the end of your research plan. In this section, you should summarize the expected outcomes and how they will bridge a current knowledge gap, and how the proposed project will lead to progress in the field. Furthermore, you can discuss future experiments or approaches, that may be possible after the project has been accomplished. In our bridge analogy a critical barrier has been eliminated and we’ve bridged the gap between San Francisco and Marin. We can now explore Marin. Also, with the advent of our new bridge technology we may one day be able to build a bridge all the way to Hawaii. In this way, we’ve discussed the immediate payoffs of the bridge, as well as future payoffs that are yet to be unforeseen. In this way we discuss the immediate payoffs as well as long term payoffs that may be achieved as a result of this project. Now we’ve gone through the key sections of your research plan outline. But remember, these sections are based on a set of key questions for your research plan. For example, it should be clear from reading your proposal that there is a need for the project. In addition, there should be an understanding of the payoff and future possibilities that will emerge from the project. It’s your job to bridge this gap, between the need and the payoff, by addressing how the project will be accomplished and how long the project will take. Thus a good research plan always bridges the gap between the need and the expected payoff. For further resources on building your research plan, please look to the following. Thank you and have a great day.
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