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Grant Funding: How to obtain it and why you should care


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Grant money drives research, but obtaining funding can be a daunting task for those unfamiliar with the process. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to show you the ropes?

That’s why three postdoctoral fellows from Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology were asked to present a sort of crash course in how to get those almighty research dollars. The talk, given as one of INBT’s professional development seminars on July 27 to a group of graduate, undergraduate and a few high school summer research interns, covered basics, as well as some commonly overlooked issues encountered in the grant application process.

Published in: Health & Medicine, Technology
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Grant Funding: How to obtain it and why you should care

  1. 1. Grant funding How to obtain it, and why you should care July 27 th , 2011 Eric Balzer - Danielle Gilkes - Yanique Rattigan
  2. 2. Why obtain your own funding? <ul><li>Students entering into a graduate program are financially supported. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Program support (first two years) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mentor support (remaining time until graduation) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What does this support cover? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tuition costs, registration fees, health insurance, and stipend </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Annual stipend range: 18-24K (Depending on geographical location and institutional policy </li></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Why obtain your own funding? <ul><li>If supported already, what are the incentives? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Makes you look good by demonstrating your ability to finance your research ideas </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Good practice for the ‘real world’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can help organize your research goals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Impressive addition to your CV </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Financial benefits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>higher stipend (if allowed by the university) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Travel support (for meetings, job interviews, etc.) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Material support (lab supplies, computer) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Getting started: a basic outline <ul><li>Develop your research plan </li></ul><ul><li>Identify funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Consider all of the components of a complete application </li></ul><ul><li>Plan your timeline and arrange for letters of reference </li></ul><ul><li>Compose and submit the application </li></ul>
  5. 5. 1. Developing the research plan <ul><li>The research question (the most important aspect of the grant proposal) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You will have to sell your idea to the reviewers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>why should they care? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Remember: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A good idea isn’t enough </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>You will be competing with lots of other smart people. Better to assume that everyone will be proposing a good idea. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A great idea is closer, but still not enough: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Funding resources are limited to only the best ideas. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>An outstanding idea is enough, but… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A poorly written application will not be funded, no matter how excellent your research idea is. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  6. 6. 1. Developing the research plan <ul><li>Key criteria used by reviewers during evaluation: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What is novel about the proposed research? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Has anyone published on this topic? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is the proposed research significant? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>How will your research advance the field? (e.g. potential disease therapies/markers) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is the proposed research feasible </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Is it within your means? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Do you have the equipment to accomplish your goal? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Do you and your mentor have the appropriate expertise? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t propose to experiment in space if you don’t have a rocket to get you there </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Evaluate competitiveness of proposed research <ul><li>Is the proposed study in-line with the interests of the targeted funding agency? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Do not submit a lung cancer grant to a foundation which exclusively funds breast cancer research </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Competitiveness of the applicant and mentor </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Publication history and funding record </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Area of expertise should be (and sometimes must be ) directly relevant to proposed area of research </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Feasibility and scope </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Applications that propose to do too much are rarely funded </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Proposed research must be perceived as realistic, given your experience and available resources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Environmental support (mentor, collaborators, student resources) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Material resources (lab equipment and supplies, core facilities) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Getting started <ul><li>Develop your research plan </li></ul><ul><li>Identify funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Consider all of the components of a complete application </li></ul><ul><li>Plan your timeline and arrange for letters of reference </li></ul><ul><li>Compose and submit the application </li></ul>
  9. 9. 2. Identify funding agencies <ul><ul><li>Start simple: Talk to others who have submitted grant applications: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Your advisor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Your professors </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Peers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Graduate program administrators </li></ul></ul></ul>See the INBT website for a list of funding opportunities:
  10. 10. Funding Agencies (just to name a few…) <ul><li>Federal </li></ul><ul><li>NIH/NCI </li></ul><ul><li>DOD </li></ul><ul><li>NSF </li></ul><ul><li>NASA </li></ul><ul><li>Private </li></ul><ul><li>Damon Runyon Foundation </li></ul><ul><li>American Cancer Society </li></ul><ul><li>Burroughs Wellcome fund </li></ul><ul><li>American Heart Association </li></ul>
  11. 11. 2. Identifying Funding agencies <ul><li> is a consolidated archive of federal grant mechanisms </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  12. 12. Identify Funding Agencies <ul><li>The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>provides grant mechanisms for all levels of academic study (undergrad through faculty and center grants) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is made up of 28 separate institutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>National Cancer Institute (NCI) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>National Institute on Aging (NIA) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>and 25 others… </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Choosing a funding agency <ul><li>Consider the stated goals of the agency… </li></ul><ul><li>NIH mission statement </li></ul><ul><li>Foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications as a basis to advance significantly the Nation’s capacity to protect and improve health… </li></ul><ul><li>Review the available award mechanisms </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pre-doctoral (NRSA F31) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Post-doctoral (NRSA F32, K99/R00) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Faculty (RO1, R21) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Institutional (U54, T32) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Information for each award is included in the program announcement (PA) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Available online at all times at </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. NIH award mechanisms <ul><li>All NIH grants are handled through the office of extramural research (OER) </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>210 available award mechanisms </li></ul>
  15. 15. Additional Considerations <ul><li>Boldness (aka riskiness) of an idea can heavily influence its potential to be funded </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some mechanisms are geared toward high-risk projects (do not require preliminary data) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Read program announcement or contact the program officer to determine suitability of your research for a given award mechanism </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Eligibility </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most grants have specific eligibility requirements… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Years of experience (minimum vs maximum) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>E.g. many predoc grants require at least 2 years of experience, while most postdoc grants don’t allow more than 5. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Appropriate degree </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Citizenship and Minority status for specialty grant programs </li></ul></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Getting started <ul><li>Develop your research plan </li></ul><ul><li>Identify funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Consider all of the components of a complete application </li></ul><ul><li>Plan your timeline and arrange for letters of reference </li></ul><ul><li>Compose and submit the application </li></ul>
  17. 17. Central components <ul><li>Title </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Captures the essence of goals and objectives </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Abstract </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Scientific/Technical </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Concise presentation of the central hypothesis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Statement of significance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Summary of methods </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Statement of potential impact </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>All of the above, but written in lay-terms (for non-expert reviewers, such as patient representatives) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Research Plan (aka Project Narrative) </li></ul><ul><li>References </li></ul>
  18. 18. Project Narrative <ul><li>Further broken into subsections (contained in one document) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Specific aims section </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Background & significance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Preliminary studies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Research design & methods </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Statement of impact / significance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facilities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Will address each of these in following slides </li></ul>
  19. 19. Specific Aims Section <ul><li>Most important component of your application </li></ul><ul><li>Template for the entire proposal </li></ul><ul><li>Should be a concise outline of your application </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provides background to educate the reviewer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identifies gaps in current understanding </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identifies the problem(s) caused by this gap </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Explains how your proposed research will address this problem </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Specific Aims Section <ul><li>First paragraph: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Opening sentence should establish the relevance of your proposal to the goals of the funding agency. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Educate reviewers on what is known and what is unknown in the field. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Use key literature references to build your foundation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Explain the need to address the unknowns, and how this will advance the field. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Specific Aims Section <ul><li>Second Paragraph: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Proposes a solution to the problems outlined in the first paragraph. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Speculates on the reportable outcomes to arise from a solution to this problem </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Vaccines, therapies, reduced cost, improved material properties, etc… </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Collectively, these provide the objective and rationale for the proposed work </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Specific Aims Section <ul><li>Third paragraph: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Define central hypothesis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Provide support for the hypothesis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Introduce specific aims </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Bold, bulleted statements that describe how you will test your central hypothesis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>2-3 specific aims is standard for most applications (2 for short applications; 3 for lengthier ones like RO1) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Include sub-aims </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(2-3 per specific aim) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  23. 23. Example: Specific Aims <ul><li>[paragraph 1] </li></ul><ul><li>[paragraph 2] </li></ul><ul><li>[paragraph 3] begins with… </li></ul><ul><li>We propose to test the central hypothesis that apples are not oranges. This hypothesis is based primarily on the following evidence [provide itemized list of examples in paragraph form] . Predictions of this hypothesis will be tested via the following independent specific aims: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Aim1: Determine whether both apples and oranges are citrus fruits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Aim 1a) taste and smell both fruits </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Aim 1b) chemically analyze samples of each fruit for acid content </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aim 2: Determine whether apples and oranges share a common origin </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Aim 2a) clarify the tree on which each fruit grows </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Aim 2b) sequence and compare the DNA of apples and oranges </li></ul></ul></ul>introduce the problem to be addressed and the potential benefits of doing so
  24. 24. Background Section <ul><li>Provides an in-depth summary of relevant information within the field </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Critically analyzes existing literature and provides key foundational references </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Documents a solid theoretical basis for the study </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Outlines why the proposed research is important by identifying the gaps in current understanding and emphasizing the problems that result from these gaps. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>States how your proposed research will address or resolve the problem in question. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. Additional Sections <ul><li>Preliminary Data </li></ul><ul><ul><li>may or may not be required, depend on the agency requirements, and specific terms of the award </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Research Design & Methods </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Discuss the methodology and necessary materials that will be used to test hypotheses within each specific aim </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make sure to include statistics where appropriate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Describe the expected result of each experiment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Acknowledge potential weaknesses in your design and provide alternative strategies (no experiment is perfect) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Statement of Relevance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If the aims are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What will be the effect on the field? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Define some reportable outcomes </li></ul></ul>
  26. 26. Additional Components <ul><li>Application Forms </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Institutional Information </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Eligibility Statement </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Generally signed by a Dean or your Mentor </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Letters </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Reference / collaboration / support (departmental, institutional, etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Personal Background </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Curriculum Vitae or Biosketch </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Statement of Current / Pending Support </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Statement of Career Goals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Transcripts </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proposed Budget </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Supplies, equipment, and travel </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Statement of Work </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Timeline for the Proposal (Experiment by Experiment) </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. Common mistakes <ul><li>Failure to … </li></ul><ul><li>Effectively document why the problem is important </li></ul><ul><li>Distinguish empirical preliminary findings from speculation </li></ul><ul><li>Establish a strong case for novelty of the research via insufficient analysis of the literature </li></ul><ul><li>Consider and integrate alternative perspectives and approaches </li></ul><ul><li>Leave enough time to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Write and edit the proposal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assemble necessary documents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Obtain reference letters (notify referees 1 month in advance, at a minimum) </li></ul></ul>
  28. 28. Getting started <ul><li>Develop your research plan </li></ul><ul><li>Identify funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Consider all of the components of a complete application </li></ul><ul><li>Plan your timeline and arrange for letters of reference </li></ul><ul><li>Compose and submit the application </li></ul>
  29. 30. Getting started <ul><li>Develop your research plan </li></ul><ul><li>Identify funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Consider all of the components of a complete application </li></ul><ul><li>Plan your timeline and arrange for letters of reference </li></ul><ul><li>Compose and submit the application </li></ul>
  30. 31. General Tips for Writing <ul><li>Science writing is not like English composition </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More is not better </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid wordiness and complex statements </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Short and sweet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Be succinct, clear, and to-the-point </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>State the facts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>limit speculation and conjecture to sections where it is appropriate (e.g. in establishing hypothesis or interpreting results) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Save, save, save </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Do not overwrite drafts…save documents as versions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Be open to criticism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Ask someone without a vested interest to read through your proposal and give you as much feedback as they are willing. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Get used to having your writing torn apart during the editing process (it’s a good thing) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  31. 32. Questions? <ul><li>Thanks for your attention </li></ul>
  32. 33. Prepared and presented by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology postdocs… Eric Balzer, Yanique Rattigan and Daniele Gilkes