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Writing Your First Grant

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  1. Writing Your First Grant Sara Rockwell, PhD Professor, Therapeutic Radiology and Pharmacology Associate Dean for Scientific Affairs Yale School of Medicine Postdoc Workshop, 1/11/11

  2. Why write grants? • To get money to support the research you want to do • To support your career development • Current reality: institutional funds to support research and researchers at most medical schools is very, very limited • If you’re going to become a PI you will need to write successful grants • This is not easy (especially right now)

  3. Going from being a trainee performing research in a lab headed by another PI to being the PI of a project is a major transition. • Writing your first grant is the first step down this path to independence. • Many people begin by writing applications for fellowships and mentored awards or by writing small grants that they hold while still in the lab of a senior faculty member. • Even this is a big step • new responsibilities • new skills to learn

  4. PI responsibilities - pre award • Securing appropriate institutional appointment • Obtaining space and resources • Signing Yale’s patent agreement • Filing your COI form • Taking the required PI training course • Other compliance protocols and approvals (HIC, HIPAA, IACUC, Biosafety, etc) • Completing the application materials • Obtaining letters of support • Adhering to institutional and agency deadlines • Sending proposals to sponsors (some grants; sometimes GCA must “press the button”)

  5. PI responsibilities - post award • Conducting your research as proposed • Directly managing and administering your awards • Authorizing all direct cost expenditures of project funds • Approving all project related expenditures and cost transfers • Ensuring that all charges to an award are appropriate, including salary/wage charges for yourselves and others are charged to the award • Ensuring compliance with Human Subjects Protections; Animal Care and Use; Conflict of Interest disclosures; and other safety and responsible conduct of research regulations and guidance • Reporting scientific progress to grantmaker as required

  6. Administration is a major part of the PI’s responsibility and effort PIs on average spend more than 40% of their time on administrative issues directly related to their research grants • Completing training and requirements (PI training, COI, IRB, RCR) • Writing related research protocols (IRB, IACUC Biosafety, etc.); ensuring compliance • Assembling team; ensuring their training • Continuing reviews; reports during project • Managing personnel • Managing finances

  7. Your are going to need helpFortunately, there are people who can and will help you • Department Business Office • Grant and Contract Administration • Sponsor • Others

  8. Departmental Business Office • The business office provides administrative support services to the PI • Business office staff are the ‘Go to’ persons who will: • Assist with proposal preparation • Monitor awards and execute authorized transactions • Keep the PI abreast of policy and sponsor requirements and changes in these requirements • Develop appropriate local business processes for the administration of sponsored projects • Provide reports to the PI on award status

  9. Grant and Contract Administration • Communicates changes in policy • Reviews applications for compliance • Negotiates terms and conditions against standards • Primary contact with funding agency both pre and post award • Partners with financial offices upon award to set up and manage award

  10. Other offices that can help • Office of Research Administration • Office of Strategic Research Initiatives • HRPP Office (HIC/IRB Office) • HIPPA Office • IACUC Office • Safety Office • Conflict of Interest Office • Faculty Office • Dean’s Office • YCCI • Development Office

  11. The Old World: The NIH Mailroom The new world:ERA

  12. Electronic Research Administration (ERA) • ERA has made the grants world both easier and more difficult • Standardized formats (in theory) • Complicated routing structures • More non-standard funding mechanisms, RFAs, RFPs • More PI responsibilities • More non-standard submission dates • More changes, made more rapidly (and less carefully) • Leave extra time for electronic submissions • The systems often crash on deadline dates! • The old 2-day “window” to make corrections on NIH applications is gone as of January 25, 2011. • Errors often occur during uploading. Check every page of every file to be sure it’s there, and still legible, correct, complete, and the right length. • Check your application’s progress!

  13. Right now there are continuing changes at Yale and beyond • Continuing changes in funding mechanisms, policies, application forms, submission procedures, submission deadlines, review criteria and review procedures • InfoEd (new internal grant writing and submission system, coming all too soon) • PubMed • Clinical trials.gov • Stem Cell Research • ARRA requirements • Be sure you have the latest information

  14. A good reason to get it right the first time Thousands of applications per cycle Planning, Writing, Submitting Receipt & Referral 1-3 Months Peer Review & Scoring 4-8 Months Final Review & Negotiation 9-10 months AWARD

  15. The Writing Process • When to start? • At least three months in advance • Longer for new project • Longer for complex project • Don’t assume that a renewal will be automatic or easy • Competitive renewals are as hard to get as new grants • Sometimes harder, if “new investigator” advantage is lost

  16. Research Grants and Career Development Awards • Research grant:focus is on the merit of the project • Career development award: focus is on the potential of the applicant • Different foci • Different requirements • Even when you use the same research project for both kinds of grants, you will write them very differently

  17. You can (and probably should) apply for more than one grant for your project • “Pay line” is often less than 20% • Same project to different agencies • Research project + career development award • Acknowledge overlap in “other support” sheets • If they are all funded • Celebrate • Decide which award (or sometimes awards) to accept and which to decline (GCA can help)

  18. How to find funding sources • Talk with colleagues • Talk with business office/chair • Talk to Melanie Smith in ORA/SRI • Search databases on GCA website • Utilize alert services • Professional society websites • YSM and Yale bulletin boards, list serves, announcements, etc. • Explore your options broadly!

  19. Limited competitions • “Scholars Awards” • Usually career development awards • Often limited to a narrow subject area • Often limited to junior faculty • Some open to or limited to postdocs • Often very prestigious – big career boost • Institution may be allowed to nominate only 1 or 2 two candidates • Internal competition to select Yale’s nominee(s) • Listed on GCA website • Melanie Smith can provide information

  20. Internal competitions • Grants through programs at Yale • Often limited to Yale researchers • Generally very focused • Sometimes limited to new investigators • Some Postdoctoral Fellowships • Some Career Development Awards • Some research grants • Generally small • Often for pilot studies • Can be very valuable • Get preliminary data • Establish that you can be an independent PI • Establish your track record of success as a PI

  21. A few examples • Brown Coxe Fellowships • Anna Fuller Fellowships • Cancer Center Postdoctoral Fellowships and Pilot Projects • YCCI (CTSA) Scholars Program and CTSA Pilot Projects • Skin Center Pilots • Hematology Pilots

  22. Explore all opportunities • Federal Agencies • NIH, NSF, DOD, DOE, NASA, others • Small Federal grant programs (e.g. R03) • Non Federal sponsors • Foundations • Industry • State and local organizations • Voluntary Health Agencies • Professional Societies • Think and look very broadly • No grant is “too small”for your first grant

  23. Responding to an RFA or RFP • Some Requests for Applications and Requests for Proposals are great opportunities; others are not worth the effort • Talk to the contact person • Find out more about the request, the intent, the criteria for funding, and the scope • Find out about the review process – who will be reviewing your grant? • Is money set aside? • How many projects will they fund?

  24. Where to start: Gather information about grant and grantmaker • Grantmaker’s areas of interest • Grantmaker’s policies • Amount and duration of funding • Deadlines • Instructions • Application forms • Procedures used to review grants • Time until funding • Probability of funding

  25. Gather the information needed to plan and develop your application • Literature related to project • Resources needed for project • Techniques needed • Possible collaborators and mentors • People who can be asked to write letters • Cost and budget information • Make a list of everything you need to do before submitting the grant

  26. Some critical things to think about beforeyou begin to write • Are you eligible? • Position title • Time in position • Citizenship • Do you have the resources you need? • Skills • Equipment, facilities • Support from your department, institution • If not, can you get them? • What scope of project can you perform with your resources and time? • Don’t waste your time preparing grant applications that can’t fly

  27. Things to keep in mind • If this project is successful, why will the world be a better place? • How does this project relate to the interests of the funding agency? • Why is your research strategy the right one for use in this project? • Use these to target the proposal to the appropriate funding agency and to sell the grant to the reviewers and program people

  28. Remember: Reviewing and Funding are separate actions by different groups • Study Sections / Review Panels • Review applications for scientific merit • Prioritize by scientific merit • Program Officers fund projects • Consider the scientific reviews and rankings • Also consider priorities of program • Consider balance of their portfolio • May “reach” for applications in areas they feel are critical or under funded • May skip applications of low interest to their program

  29. When you have questions • Talk to your Business Office • Talk to your GCA representative • Contact the grantmaker • Program people (scientists) • Administrators • Talk to experienced investigators in your field of research • Senior investigators • Young investigators, a couple years ahead of you • Successful applicants for same grant

  30. Writing the application • Formats and contents of applications vary dramatically for different agencies • Read the instructions • Follow them to the letter • You will need to alter focus for different agencies and grant opportunities • You will need to alter scope of work to match money and time available • You will need to re-write to fit length, format • One size does not fit all…or even most

  31. But you already knew that!

  32. Watch for special requirements in career development applications • Letters of recommendation • Statement of long range career goals • Statement describing the relationship between this project and your long range professional goals • Plans for course work • Responsible Conduct of Research • Statistics • Courses related to the research • Interviews for finalists • Agreement to attend or speak at meetings

  33. Important parts of the application • Cover sheet • Abstract or abstracts • Administrative elements • Assurances • Biosketches or CVs • Scientific sections • Letters (sometimes) • Appendices (sometimes)

  34. The cover sheet • Specific to agency and grant type • Will have very specific format and instructions • May require very specific (and sometimes very bizarre) information • Some you will not know • Go to your Business Office and the Grants and Contracts website and for help • May require signatures and assurances • Must be complete and accurate

  35. Assurances • Don’t panic at the terrifying list of required assurances • Many already have been handled by the institution • You will need to handle some • Human subjects protection (HIC; HIPPA) • Animal welfare (IACUC) • Biosafety, Radiation, Environmental Health (OEHS) • Conflict of Interest and Commitment • Patent assignment • Export Controls • Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) • Scientific Misconduct • Data sharing /Data management • Mentoring

  36. Picking a title for your project • Sounds trivial…but isn’t • Length may be quite limited • Be informative: • Titles may be used to assign grants to review committees and to individual reviewers • Titles may be sent to reviewers to allow them to the select grants they want to review • Should be intelligible to non-specialists • Don’t use jargon • Don’t get cute

  37. Abstract • Draft first; then edit/rewrite when your application is almost done • May be the most important part of application • Used to assign committees and reviewers • Reviewers may use to select grants for review • Read by all reviewers on panel • The abstract should summarize your project, describe its importance, and make the reader excited about reading the application and funding the project

  38. Lay abstract • Many agencies require lay abstracts • Very important • There may be non-scientists on the review panel • Foundations give these abstracts to their donors • Can be difficult to write • Write it for an intelligent non-scientist • Describe project in non-technical terms • Emphasize importance and relevance • Ask some non-scientists to read and critique your draft

  39. CV or Biosketch • Very important element of any grant • Absolutely critical for fellowships and career development awards • Primary reviewers will examine this very carefully • Other reviewers will look at it before and during meeting - especially if there are questions or problems • Different from your resume and from your full academic CV • Focus tightly on information relevant to your research career and your project

  40. Preparing the Biosketch or CV • Format varies with grantmaker • Look for forms and detailed instructions • Follow them exactly • Do not alter order from that specified • Proofread, proofread,proofread • Do not exceed the allowed length • Sections usually include • Current position • Education • Personal Statement (NIH: specific to application) • Professional Experience • Honors and Awards • Publications

  41. Biosketch: Current Position • Be sure your Current Position on the CV matches that on cover and elsewhere • Use your official University title • Promotion in progress? • List effective date • List only positions that have been offered and accepted in writing • You may be asked to provide documentation • If application includes letter from the Chair, Dean or Mentor be sure that letter mentions the pending promotion

  42. Education and Experience • Generally: start with college • Include areas of study and degrees earned • Non-degree programs and education may warrant inclusion • Include all graduate and postdoctoral training and research • Broad outline: start and end dates, institution, city, state, country, mentor • Don’t give details of project or activities • NIH: education goes in boxes, wanting less information • Chronological, but watch order

  43. Experience and Awards • Experience may go beyond your primary job appointment, if it is relevant to application • Secondary appointments • Advisory boards • Some other experience and activities (e.g. teaching, certain community activities) • Avoid unexplained gaps • Awards and honors • Select with care • Begin with college • Do not include trivial awards • Awards relevant to professional career • Describe award if implications may be unclear to an outside observer

  44. Publications • Follow instructions for format and content very carefully – great variation between grantmakers • Reviewers will look at • Number of publications • Evidence of a good trajectory of publication • Quality of publications Peer reviewed journals? Quality, impact of journals? Full article or brief notes and case reports? • Your position as author • How many authors? • Who are the other authors? • Relevance to proposed research • Warning: Negotiate your authorships carefully

  45. Publications • Usually allowed • Papers published in peer reviewed journals • Papers in press (this means the paper has been accepted for publication) • Books • Book chapters, full papers in peer reviewed proceedings, review articles (may be separate) • Abstracts - maybe. Specify and list separately • Do not include • Papers in preparation • Papers submitted but not yet accepted • Plan ahead - submit early • Can sometimes send new papers after they have been accepted

  46. Publications • Look for restrictions on the number of publications • New NIH Biosketch format specifies a maximum of 15 recent, relevant publications • NSF wants 5 publications relevant to the project • Select with care! • Check formatting requirements (e.g. NIHMS or PMC # for NIH Biosketches) • Some agencies also ask for your total number of publications • If you have more publications than allowed consider including an opening statement such as “Selected from a total of 195 publications” • If you have only fewer than the allowed number of publications, include them all

  47. Budget • Format and required information vary dramatically • Some agencies specify a fixed budget and define how you must spend it. • Some want budget details • Some want none • Give them what they want • Use the forms or follow the format given in the instructions • Check agency guidelines: whatcosts are allowable and what are not? • You won’t get money for unallowable items • Watch how Indirect Costs (Facilities and Administrative Costs) are handled.

  48. Developing your numbers • Even if the agency doesn’t want details, work up a budget so you know what you can do with the funds available • Use real numbers • Real salaries and fringes • Real costs of supplies, animal care, etc • Include everything you will need • Extrapolate costs to actual start date of grant • Don’t “low ball” • Don’t forget the F&A costs

  49. Future years • Extrapolate from first year budget • Consider changes in project over time; the science and the budget should always correspond • Project future salaries as accurately as possible • Include expected raises and promotions • Business office can help here • Increase other costs to allow for inflation

  50. PROBLEM: Constant budgets • Some agencies fund grants at a constant level for future years • NIH modular grants • Grants with total budget set by agency • May allow carryover of funds • Remember to plan for raises and inflation in deciding how much money you request in the first year • HINT: for a 3 year grant use second year cost estimates (not current year values or first year cost estimates) to develop the budget for the project