Presentation on theme: "How to Prepare a Fundable Grant. Grantspersonship Writing is important, but it’s not the only thing. Start years before: »Organize approach to the science."— Presentation transcript:
How to Prepare a Fundable Grant
Grantspersonship Writing is important, but it’s not the only thing. Start years before: »Organize approach to the science »Learn the field and its players »Networking with potential collaborators, mentors and reviewers »Building a conceptual framework for the proposal Set goals for the research and the proposal Develop hypothesis and specific aims Then write the grant
It Starts 5 Years Beforehand 1. Get excited about the science. 2. Organize your science and your life Make a 5-year career plan: »What do you want to do? »What big questions are you asking? »How does your research get you there? The purpose of a grant is to support your process of discovery, not to support your academic appointment.
3-5 Years Before 3. Learn your field--become an expert! 4. Know who is active in your field »Major players »Up-and-comers »People who are peripheral but who are doing cool, relevant stuff 5. Get to know these people »They might have some good ideas »They will keep you abreast of developments before they are published or presented »As you network, you will learn who to seek and who to avoid. Take advantage of the good ones! »And they might turn out to be reviewers
1-2 Years Before (Reworking #2) 7. Redefine your overall goal: What is it that your lab wishes to accomplish? Be CONCEPTUAL. 8. What is your big question? 9. Identify study section(s) that might be appropriate target(s) »General area of interest (e.g., kidney or brain) or focus (e.g., development or toxicology) »Look at membership of study section: Does it include people with whose work you are familiar? If possible, get to know them--and vice versa
1-2 Years Before (cont’d) How do you get people to know you? Invite them to give a talk Sit down with one at lunch at a Gordon Conference Nab one at a meeting and ask them to come critique your poster--or ask your mentor to ask them But be prepared when they come! Sell yourself and your ideas. Not fawning or shameless self-promotion. 10. Identify people who are willing and able to read your grant and provide a helpful critique before you submit it.
6-8 Months Before 11. Decide on your QUESTION: » What is the overall goal of the lab? » What is the specific, broad question you wish to address with this project? » What general approaches will you use (forming specific aims)? 12. Call your Program Officer and talk about your plans. » Is this something of interest? » Is there some part of it or the approach that is of particular interest? » NIH: Suggestions regarding study sections?
5-6 Months Before: Start Writing Specific Aims Spend at least a month drafting them Introductory paragraph »Introduce the field »State where you are coming from (what is known, what isn’t known), what new findings you have made. »State OVERALL GOAL of lab (be firm and certain) »State hypothesis »Describe specific aims
Specific Aims: The Hypothesis Single most important sentence in entire grant. Format to make it obvious: in my grants, I state, “based on the hypothesis that bees go after honey...” Points/caveats: 1. An hypothesis is testable. 2. Testing the hypothesis will be interesting and advance the field. 3. “I can elucidate this signaling pathway” is not a scientific hypothesis. 4. Exception: “Discovery-based” or “Unsupervised” research-- e.g., genomic or proteomic analysis. But you need a compelling reason to do it.
Specific Aims “The Christmas Tree on which you hang the tinsel that is the rest of the grant.” Each aim should clearly relate back to the hypothesis- -not necessarily to test it, but to address it. Aims should be written in a CONCEPTUAL fashion, describing what you wish to understand/learn rather than experiments you plan to do. Firm, clear organized structure--I use an outline form which helps when I am writing the experimental design section. Be brief--best if kept to one page so reviewer can take it all in at a glance.
Make it Clear and Attractive
Parallel Structure a. Specific AIMS Introduction A A.1. a.---- b.---- c.---- A A.2.a.-- b.-- A b. Background Introduction B B.1.a.---- b.---- c.---- B a.-- b.-- B c. Prelim Data Introduction C C.1.a.---- b.---- c.---- C a.-- b.-- C d. Resch Design Rationale D D.1. a.---- b.---- c.---- Aim a.-- b.-- Aim
More on Specific Aims Take a month or more just to do this. The elements raised in the introductory paragraph should point to the question, support the hypothesis, and be the logical jumping-off point for the proposal. Aims should logically answer the question you have raised, and, together, test the hypothesis. It is a good strategy to raise questions in the reviewers’ minds--if your introductory paragraph raises such questions and you address them in a clear fashion subsequently, you will have convinced the reviewer how clever you both are.
Writing the Rest of the Proposal Make it easy for the reviewer: »Clear exposition »Clean formatting: Lots of headings, underlines and white space »Lots of clear diagrams Don’t assume they know everything that you do KISS principle holds Avoid insulting the reviewer with sarcasm and, in rebuttals, anger. If the reviewer misses a point, the only way you will get funded is if you find a way to be clearer next time.
Writing Style Write in a style that you would enjoy reading. Put topic sentences very near the beginning of each paragraph so the reviewer knows what point you are about to make. Declarative sentences are ideal. Keep sentences as simple as possible, and use an “active voice” when writing. Conversely, change cadence with occasional dependent phrases at the beginning of a sentence. Transition sentences are critical. GOAL: Soothe but don’t bore the reader.
Background and Significance Don’t write a review article: Include as much as you need, but not more. Unless it describes a critical method or illustrates a major problem in the present knowledge base, state the conclusion rather than expounding on lots of methods and other detail. Every paragraph or two, relate to your proposal by pointing out something that remains to be learned and how you proposal seeks to address that: “While this indicates....we still don’t know...; in Aim 1 we will...”
Background and Significance Be conversant with the literature. Accurately cite recent references; better, cite some data in press or even personal communications. End with significance. If possi- ble, talk about significance of relevant disease(s) but empha- size scientific significance. State how field will be advanced and, if possible, draw a diagram of the model you will test. General Field Current Know- ledge Base Specific Issues What Isn’t Known
Preliminary Data Three purposes: »Support hypothesis »Justify Research Design »Demonstrate feasibility (that it can be done, by you) Don’t pad with unnecessary data-- But it is all right to give a few examples of what you can do in other systems or what you have done to develop your system. If you do this, explain simply and directly why you are including these data.
Research Design and Methods Legal Disclaimer: ***A GRANT IS NOT A CONTRACT*** If you can say for certain what will happen, there’s no point in doing it! Your proposal is like a stock prospectus: to make it clear the the reviewer that you are a thoughtful, capable person--a worthwhile investment.
RD&M 2: Writing it out General rationale: Given the above, in this project we will do something useful and important. Aim 1: RESTATE it. The reviewer will not remember what you wrote 10 pages ago. General rationale for aim: Right after stating aim, write 2-4 sentences reminding the reader why this is a good idea. Sub-aim 1.A. RESTATE it. Rationale: Provide a CONTEXT--explain what isn’t known and how your doing the planned experi- ments will contribute to accomplishing aim 1.
RD&M 3: Aim1 continued Methods/Approach: Explain your approach--how data collected, timing, experimental conditions and manipulations, controls. Make it clear how doing it this way will work. For experimental therapeutics or animal studies, a diagrammed time-line is essential.
Timeline Week Washout Start Drug 1 Washout Drug 2 Sacrifice
RD&M 3: Aim1 continued Methods/Approach: Explain your approach--how data collected, timing, experimental conditions and manipulations, controls. Make it clear how doing it this way will work. For experimental therapeutics or animal studies, a diagrammed time-line is essential. Sources of reagents/drugs, etc: Nature and quality, where you will get them or how you will develop them, any progress in doing this. Refer to letters of support for more description and confirmation that you will get reagents.
RD&M 4: Aim 1 continued Anticipated results and critique: At least as important as methods. What do you think will happen? How will you interpret results? Potential traps/problems/pitfalls. Alternative interpretations of anticipated results and what you might think or do if different outcome from expected. CLINICAL: Indicate availability of sufficient patients/material (no power analysis = no funding). BENCH: Reminder from Preliminary Studies of progress to date (e.g., 1/2-way to making reagent).
More AR & C: The D Word “Descriptive” is a nasty word in reviews, unless accompanied by lots of modifiers. Simply going from A==>B==>C is still often descriptive unless related to a mechanism of a major event. If your results might be somewhat descriptive instead of mechanistic or therapeutic, indicate how this description is essential for subsequent studies. **Make Lemonade out of Lemons**
RD&M 6: Aim >1 Rationale: Like for Aim 1, but begin with a contrast: “Aim 1 will establish that bees make honey, and how they make it. In this aim, we will determine whether that honey serves as a chemoattractant and/or chemokinetic agent for bees.” Rest of aim 2 is similar to aim 1. Ideally, it will build upon aim 1 by advancing, amplifying or elucidating knowledge from that aim. But not too much....If aim 2 depends totally on aim 1, it is important that there are enough preliminary data that success for aim 1 is assured.
The Double Entendre “Ambitious” can be another nasty word, or it can be very positive: “Ambitious” means you are proposing yourself a challenge and hopefully this makes your work cutting edge and exciting. “Overly ambitious” means that you have bitten off more than you can chew and swallow. It is often said of broadly-based proposals by new investigators who underestimate the amount of work involved--and in more severe cases is a code word for lack of focus.
At the End of the Proposal Perspective and Timeline section (long-range CONTEXT) Summarize your overall plan, what you hope to accomplish how it will move the field forward; potential problems with the overall approach and why they aren’t real problems (more lemonade). Timeline: Yr 1Yr 2Yr 3Yr 4Yr 5 Aim 1.AXX Aim 1.BXX Aim 2.AXX Aim 2.BXX Aim 3XX
Good Things to Read in Reviews Context Hypothesis-driven Mechanistic Well thought-out Novel/Innovative Feasible Potential problems and alternative approaches well considered
Bad Things to Read in Reviews Descriptive Unclear Hard to tell what is being proposed Failed to take into account Feasibility Not as well developed as....
Training Grants Read the instructions carefully. Figure out what they are asking for. Make the case that »You are a good candidate with clear career goals »The mentor is a good mentor »The project is a good project »The project will provide you with new skills »The project is ideally suited to helping you achieve your career goals
When Is It Time to Write a Grant? Funding availability is a sine wave function. You need enough to feel confident in your writing and excited about the project. The “Let The Reviewers Help Me” Hypothesis: Fact or Fiction? “You can’t get it in the hoop if you don’t throw it toward the basket.”
Rules for the Grant Road Be neat, orderly and easy on the reviewer’s eyes. Emphasize your strengths, but don’t brag. Avoid making unsupportable or poorly supported statements Don’t misquote the literature Use correct grammar and PROOFREAD! TNTPOTR.
How to Be a Better Grant Writer Start well in advance. Set it aside for a week or two and come back to it. Or, change the font when you re-read it. Do something so that you can “recognize it as foreign.” Get someone senior who is knowledgeable, committed and available to look at it. Read each others’ grants. Get on a grant review committee/study section.