Writing a successful grant Nicholas O. Davidson, MD Professor of Medicine, Director, Divison of Gastroenterology, Washington University School of Medicine AGA, Academic Skills Workshop, March 2006
General Principles of Grant Writing • Preparation • Application • Review process • Tips for a successful grant • My top ten lists
Find out which agencies are soliciting grant applications…and note due dates!! http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/listserv.htm www.ccfa.org www.fdhn.org www.asts.org www.acg.gi.org www.facs.org
Preparation: How long does it take? • 9-12 MONTHS for investigator-initiated [RO-1 KO-8] applications • 3 MONTHS for training/fellowship awards • Timing is critical in relation to your intended publications (esp.KO-8, RO-1) • Allows sufficient time to focus and refine a hypothesis driven question. • Insure resources (Mentor and collaborators are key).
Anticipate what reviewers will ask General questions: • What is the central hypothesis? : validity, clarity. • Is the question important and novel?: potential impact • Is the question interesting?: biological/clinical relevance • Are the specific aims logically arranged?: organization
More questions reviewers will ask Specific questions: • Are the proposed experiments feasible and justified? • Is there compelling preliminary data? • Is there a predictable flow to the proposal? • Are the investigators qualified ? • Are the facilities, environment and resources adequate?
The Hypothesis • Driving force for a strong application. • Emphasize in both abstract and specific aims. • Must provide a strong rationale based on current information. • Should further the field (biology, pathophysiology, treatment). • Should be a recurring theme throughout the application • The hypothesis must be intimately connected to the aims
The Application ABSTRACT DO THIS LAST..after completing your research plan. Succinct, accurate description of the proposal (200 words). State hypothesis in one sentence. Link hypothesis to your objectives and emphasize importance of goals. State plans and general methods to achieve these goals. Needs to be well written, self-contained summary. Will be the first piece read by reviewer.
The Application Research Plan: Specific Aims START HERE (t-9mo) • Self contained description of your objectives, in 1 page. • Must provide an organizational framework. • Begin with a concise statement of the general purpose and hypothesis to be tested. • Summarize your key preliminary or recently published data. • Organize specific aims in sequential, numerical format. • Restate these aims exactly in your experimental proposal.
The Application Research Plan: Background and Significance General Objectives • Demonstrate balanced understanding of the field. • Show how your research will increase knowledge. • Convince reviewers that your questions are important and novel. • Establish that your aims represent the next logical steps for research in the field.
The Application Research Plan: Background and Significance (contd). • Specific Objectives • Relate your preliminary findings to testable hypotheses • Make direct connections between background, your findings and • your aims- Do this by use of strong “linkage statements” • Convince the reviewers that your proposal is timely and that the • aims and objectives are irresistable
The Application Preliminary Studies/Progress report Key component of the proposal Objective is to convince reviewer that (i) Hypotheses are reasonable (ii) Proposed methods are feasible (establish competence) (iii) Preliminary data are novel and related directly to proposal (iv) All the aims have at least some preliminary support
The Application Preliminary Studies/Progress report • Must support the hypothesis and feasibility of the project. • Must interpret results critically. • Must be your own work (published or not), not work of others. • Must describe new methods in detail. • Must have clear figures and diagrams supporting concepts. • Must be seamless integration between text and figures
The Application Research Plan: Experimental Design and Methods • OrganizeEXACTLYas worded in Specific Aims page. For each Specific Aim,you should detail • Rationale • Experimental approach • Anticipated results, potential caveats • Advantages of proposed new methods (include consultants). • Possible pitfalls with alternative approaches. • Possible future directions. • Time line (year 01, 02, etc by aim)
The Application Research Plan: Experimental Design/Methods • Blend into description of the experimental approach. • Methods you have published; reference and describe briefly. • Describe new methods in detail. Justify. • Include consultants or collaborators for new methods. …Don’t make the methods section the focus of your aims …Don’t substitute methods for hypothesis
The Application Other components: Research Plan (continued) - Human Subjects - Vertebrate Animals - Literature Cited - Consortium/Contracts - Consultants
The Application (NIH) Formatting suggestions for RO-1 • Page Length: Adhere to recommendations. Specific Aims 1 page Background significance 2 - 3 pages Preliminary studies 6 - 8 pages Research design methods10 - 13 pages
Other Agencies (FDHN, CCFA, etc) Formatting • Page Length: Generally 4-6 page limit Specific Aims 1/2 page Background significance 1/2-1 page Preliminary studies 1 page Research design & methods1-3 pages
The Application Formatting • Do not overcrowd pages. • Observe type size limitations (6 lines/inch, 15 characters/inch). • Observe margins (1/2 inch). • Attractive layout. • Do not squeeze into the allotted space (avoid dense text). • Proposal should easily convey your ideas to a hurried reviewer*.
Reviewer Realities Average time to review NIH (RO-1) grant: Range 6-10 hours (read, critique, prepare written review) Average number of grants per reviewer, per study section: 8-10 Range of total time commitment: 50-100 hours
BETTER STILL….USE FIGURES TO ILLUSTRATE PATHWAYS AND SPECIFIC AIMS Aim 2: TRA-1, TRA-2 interaction Aim 3: Nuclear-cytoplasmic trafficking NXF-1 and TRA-2 Aim 1: Characterize nuclear protein complex
Application cover letter OK to request or suggest: Specific Institute (even OK to suggest more than one) Specific Study Section Indicate specific areas of expertise needed for your application Indicate any individual or group with a major conflict of interest NEVER OK: To name desired reviewers
Ks R01 PI quals: INVESTIGATOR 60±% 30±% Environment: Approach: SCIENCE Significance: 40±% 70±% Innovation: Summary Review Criteria Preliminary data Productivity: CV, etc Space/resources Collaborators Will experiments work? And when they don’t? Impact on field? Technique/Reagent Topic/Perspective
Successful Grant 1. Hypothesis driven, solid foundation 2. Mechanistic, insightful, feasible Clearly illustrated Logical flow Thoughtful contingency plans Centered on strong preliminary findings
Top Ten Traps • Starting writing less than two months prior to deadline. Poor • planning shows. It takes time to write a grant. 10- traps to avoid: 9. Asking a colleague or mentor to review proposal due Tuesday. • Rambling background review. It’s a grant, not a review article. • Don’t try and educate the reviewer. Stay focused on your proposal. 7. Dangling anecdotes and oblique references to “interesting” findings. 6. Too much text, not enough figures and diagrams. But the figures have to be clear, well illustrated and ideally stand alone.
Top Ten Traps 5. Overselling clinical relevance. If proposal only indirectly related to a disease, don’t hand wave over public health impact. 10- traps to avoid: 4. Proposing aims for which there is no preliminary data. Asking for trouble. Doesn’t need to be extensive, but something for all aims. 3. Trying to undertake too much in too many areas. Particularly for new investigators. Scope and focus are important disciplines. 2. Proposing experiments for which key reagents have to be developed or are not yet in hand. 1. Aims built around microarray, proteomic or other profiling methodology for which no a priori hypothesis exists.
Top Ten Habits of Highly Successful Investigators 10+ things to do to increase your chances of getting funded: • Plan ahead. Outline aims and sketch out what the ideal preliminary data set • for supporting studies would show. Do this ~9 months in advance. Tough to do. 9. Complete key experiments that will complement preliminary data sets. 8. At least 6 months prior to deadline, share your outline with mentor or senior colleague/ collaborator. Q: Is the project interesting and important?. 7. Finish and submit manuscripts 3 months prior to deadline. Get letters, animal care approvals, radiation safety forms and agreements into a file. 6. Refine specific aims in line with preliminary and published data.
Top Ten Habits (contd) 10+ things to do to increase your chances of getting funded: 5. Invest time in assembling figures and diagrams. Use color. This pays dividends. 4. Connect preliminary findings to current objectives. The goal is to fashion the proposal into an extension of your current work. 3. Generate a series of paragraphs for background and significance. Goal is to outline comprehensive overview of field, placing your objectives in context. The key is balance. 2. Challenge yourself to prioritize. What are the five MOST important things you want to know about your area of work? Eliminate #4 and #5. Justify the top 3. 1. Stay on task. Details count. Leave time to correct typos, paginate application.