Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons from a grants workshop

Lessons from a grants workshop
By Kolla Kristjansdottir and Tuba Sural
December 3, 2010

Finding grants:
Half the battle is finding the right funding source for your idea.

1-    Find the right program for you and your idea. If it doesn’t fit, can you spin it without compromising your idea?
2-    NIH: Good idea to look for Request for Applications (RFA). A RFA invites grant applications in a well-defined scientific area to accomplish specific program objectives. Specific funds are set aside and a special panel reviews. 
3-    Other foundations/grant agencies. Look up abstracts online of what they have funded in the last couple of years. Look up mission statement.

Funding resources:
Private (foundations, corporations etc) and Public (26 federal agencies, state and local agencies). Good websites for finding opportunities:

2-    Community of science website (accessible through URA at U of Chicago)
4-  Foreign postdocs can use this site to identify grants for non-residents and non-citizens
5-    Google:  “grants” “for” “xxx”
6-    Office of research administration at Tufts university

Writing grants:

Writing good grants is a formula; it takes work and time
1-    Your grant should tell a story; walk reviewers step by step, from beginning to end
2-    Grant should flow, be well-written and to the point
3-    You can have a good idea but you need to tell it well. Start with a good idea and package it well.
4-    Know who you are and what you want to accomplish, make it into manageable pieces. Most new investigator and fellowship grants get rejected because they are over-ambitious.
5-    What’s the innovation? What’s new? What are you bringing to the literature? Never go by the negative.
6-    Follow the instructions. Each agency has their own (30% of grants get rejected because of technical issues, missing signatures etc.). If the guidelines request something, do it.
7-    Submit at least 5 days in advance (those who do so have a 37% higher chance of being funded, since they have not rushed and carefully planned the proposal)
8-    Get good letters of recommendations from people in your field (they should promote you)
9-    Understand the criteria used to evaluate proposals, know where to put your efforts. Typical criteria:
·      Scientific merit or need (is it innovative?)
·      Relevance to program priorities
·      Qualifications of project personnel (if your project needs a statistician and you don’t list one, you’ll be rejected)
·      Planning and administration of the project (don’t be overambitious!!)
10- Fill out forms completely and correctly
11- Allow time for intramural administrative requirements
12- For NIH grants, even though future directions are not required, include them

Developing a timeline:

  • 12 - 6 months before : Generate preliminary data
  • 6 - 3 months before : Create initial draft of proposal
  • 3 - 2 months before : Obtain comments from colleagues, revise accordingly
  • 2-1 months before: Prepare budget and “non-science” parts. Request recommendation letters (fellowships)
  • 1 month before: Have draft of “final version”. Obtain additional comments from colleagues on the “whole package”.
  • 2 - 1 weeks before: Final version proofreading (by someone who has not seen it before) and then proofread again!
  • 3 - 2 days before:  Submit proposal

Obtain critical input from experienced and successful colleagues:
1-    One with significant experience
2-    One with only passing familiarity with the subject
3-    A good writer

Find someone who is blunt, has little sympathy for your ego, smart and crafty and who has success in obtaining grants.

The review process:
Understand the review process and the reviewers. Each reviewer may be assigned 10-25 proposals so make it understandable and follow rules. Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for. You can look up the review panels for federal grants. There are experts and general audience in review panels, so when you write find the middle ground.

For the NIH review, even if you are famous and have written an excellent proposal, if it is not novel methodology, you will not get funding. But if you are a new investigator with a novel approach and a well-written grant, you have a chance.

NIH center for scientific review:

What constitutes winning proposals?
1-    Clear need and data demonstrating that need
2-    Present material in a logical manner
3-    Written in positive terms
4-    Don’t overuse jargon
5-    Detailed budget (your department grant administrator will likely help you with this or do this for you)
6-    Give something back: who will benefit from this? What is the innovation? What are you contributing to the literature?
7-    Follow all guidelines
8-    Make it professional looking and textbook quality (no typos!)
9-    Make it not too long, not too short

Factors considered when awarding grants:
1-    Capacity of the applicant and the organization
2-    Extent of the need to the problem
3-    Balanced/clear approach
4-    Utilizing available resources
5-    Results

Most common criticisms:
1-    Poorly written
2-    Not well-justified; scientific problem, experimental model lacks convincing preliminary data
3-    No or poor hypothesis
4-    Objectives lack focus, too general
5-    Lack of detail in methods
6-    Investigator lacks expertise in given approach
7-    Pitfalls not addressed, alternative solution not presented
8-    Overly ambitious, timeline not realistic
9-    Resubmitted proposal didn’t address concerns identified during previous review

Most important section of your proposal is your Specific Aims and/or technical abstract! It’s the first thing they see; make it a work of art. Abstract should be the last section to be written and it should contain:
  • Identification of applicant/credibility
  • Issue/problem to be met
  • Objectives to be achieved (i.e. specific aims, they should be smart: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound)
  • Activities to be conducted to achieve objective

Additional helpful hints:
1-    Big part of being funded is being persistent: 15% get funded the first time, 30% after revise-resubmit
2-    Don’t use anything less than 12pt font
3-    Minimize author-defined acronyms, it’s OK as long as you define them
4-    Clarity is everything, proofread, proofread, proofread!

No comments:

Post a Comment