Archive for the ‘Freelance medical writing’ Category

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Posted February 16, 2015 by Meg Bouvier in Freelance medical writing

New Webinar: NIH Submission Strategies — Register Now!

You have a cool idea for a research project, now what? The second in my new webinar series addresses NIH Submission Strategies. As a person who works on NIH submissions full time, I know there are certain steps you can take before you write a single word that correlate with better scores and outcomes.

Some of these steps include the following: taking the time to understand the priorities of the stakeholders involved, including reading Appropriations Reports; learning which projects are already in the NIH funding portfolio to ascertain how you might adjust your idea to fit in; identifying multiple ICs (not just an obvious one) and shopping around different versions of your Specific Aims to gauge enthusiasm; building a relationship with the all-important Program Officer, who will help guide questions related to study design, FOA, ESI status, and study section; and understanding the review process and audience before you write.

Your team will invest hundreds of hours in your submission. Why not spend 90 minutes learning some tried-and-true strategies to use before you write that will optimize your chance of success? I probably work on more NIH submissions in a month than you will work on across your entire career. I’ve helped clients land over $200 million in federal funds, and I can help strengthen your submission and improve your grantsmanship as well.

Bundle with two more webinars and save! Three webinars for $499.

Read about all three webinars, including “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications” and “How To Write The Specific Aims.”

NIH Submission Strategies

Who: Essential for grantees planning to submit an R01, R21, or R03 in an upcoming cycle, and the senior faculty and administrators who advise them.
When: Wednesday 11 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST or
Thursday 19 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST
Cost: $199; Or register for all three webinars this month for $499
Takeaways: At the end of this 90-minute session, participants will be able to:

1. Utilize the Reporter website to identify their niche in the funding portfolio
2. Identify likely ICs, POs, and FOAs
3. Write several drafts of their Aims to send to POs
4. Choose the most appropriate IC, FOA, and study section with PO guidance


Posted February 5, 2015 by Meg Bouvier in Freelance medical writing, medical grant writing, NIH grantwriting

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New Webinar: “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications”

In an effort to provide cost-effective training to the broadest group possible, I am launching a series of webinars in the upcoming months. The first of these will be in early February, and the goal will be to help grantees recognize and correct common submission mistakes.

Unlike many who conduct NIH submission training programs, I myself work on NIH submissions full time. I see clients make the same types of mistakes repeatedly– mistakes that are easily avoided.

Each year I am fortunate to have dozens of clients share their Summary Statements with me. Because I regularly read reviewer comments from a multitude of study sections, I can easily identify trends in pink sheets. I also keep track of evolving trends at NIH based on information I find in FOAs, Notices, and Appropriations Testimony. Study sections change, funding priorities evolve. It is important to understand NIH’s priorities right now.

I have helped clients land over $200 million in federal funds in the past five years. Your NIH submission will entail several hundred hours of work by you and others. Why not learn strategies to optimize your success on this and future submissions?

What: Webinar entitled “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications

Who: Ideal for faculty preparing to submit a K, R21, R03, or R01 in an upcoming cycle, and the senior faculty and administrators who advise them.

When:Wednesday 4 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST or
Thursday 12 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST
Cost: $149
Takeaways: At the end of this 90-minute session, participants will be able to:
1) Predict some key criticisms reviewers may make
2) Identify problems in their or their colleague’s draft applications
3) Utilize that information to write stronger drafts

NIH Grantwriting Webinar Series Begins in February 2015!

We are happy to announce that in addition to one-on-one consulting, workshops, and seminars, we are now adding webinars to our menu of options to help NIH grantees. Upcoming webinars:

Mistakes Commonly Made On NIH Grant Applications
Benefit from the knowledge gained by a grantwriter who reads dozens of Summary Statements per year.

Wednesday 4 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Thursday 12 February, 11am-12:30pm EST

NIH Submission Strategies
Take steps to optimize your chance of success before you write.

Wednesday 11 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Thursday 19 February, 11am-12:30pm EST

How To Write The Specific Aims Of An NIH R01
Learn how to make the most important section of your submission compelling and persuasive.

Wednesday 25 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Tuesday 3 March, 11am-12:30pm EST

Learn More!

Rapid Advances in Ebola Research

The current Ebola outbreak is by far the largest since this hemorrhagic fever was identified in 1976. Previous outbreaks involved dozens or hundreds of infected people (click here for CDC chronology). Estimates of the current outbreak are 2,473 infections and 1350 deaths thus far. Outbreaks begin by transmission through close contact with infected animals, then rapidly spread through human communities via direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people, or through contact with items contaminated with such fluids. Once infected, case fatality is as high as 90% (click here for WHO fact sheet). There are currently no vaccines, treatments, or cures. Traditionally, outbreaks have been controlled largely by infection control measures (masks, gloves, etc.) and quarantine, and supportive care such as hydration of the infected patient.


Experimental Treatments: A promising drug called ZMAPP was given at Emory University to two missionaries who were infected with Ebola. Both have gotten better. The drug was also given to a Spanish priest who died soon thereafter, though the timing of drug delivery may have played a part in the drug’s efficacy in this case. As of this week, it appears to be helping three Liberian health care workers. The drug is manufactured by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. It is not FDA approved at present, nor can this monoclonal antibody be produced quickly in large quantities. Other drugs are in development but have yet to show as much promise as ZMAPP. Ebola is a rare disease and affects poor countries almost exclusively, so limited funding is provided mostly by government agencies (see $28 million consortium led by Scripps and funded by NIH, and the recent $10.8 million initiative announced by Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development.) I generally distrust .com coverage of anything related to medicine (and so should you), but this recent CNN piece on ZMAPP seems reasonable, if you would like more information.


Cause of the Current Outbreak: NIH announced this morning that researchers funded by NIH have used advanced genomic analysis to determine the single point of infection from an animal that led to the current outbreak, and that since that initial infection the spread has been solely human to human. Importantly, through their genetic analysis, the researchers can see how the virus has mutated since December to outsmart human immune systems. As we know, viruses are little more than tiny pieces of DNA that can mutate with diabolical speed to outsmart the comparatively slow human immune response. By understanding how infection occurs, how disease is spread, and how viruses are mutating to defy immune attack, these researchers have taken a giant step toward improved treatments and a cure. The team was led by Pardis Sabeti, MD, PhD (who not surprisingly won a highly prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator award in 2009.)


Experimental Vaccines: Next week, NIAID will begin the first of several phase I clinical trials of an Ebola vaccine produced in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (for details, click here). They will also test an Ebola vaccine developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp. NIH will partner with a British-based international consortium to test volunteers in the UK, and in the West African countries of Gambia (with approval of local authorities) and Mali. The CDC is in discussion with Nigerian officials about testing vaccines there.

Seven-Year, Multi-Center Clinical Trial Award 2014

Credit: terapun at

Credit: Teerapun at FreeDigitalPhotos. net

Meg Bouvier Medical Writing is pleased to announce that our client has been awarded a seven-year Cooperative Agreement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The team, working at four participating medical centers, will conduct clinical trials to accelerate the discovery of treatments for critically ill patients. The work will be conducted as part of a highly prestigious, multidisciplinary clinical research consortium at NIH. While the size of the award will depend on the clinical protocols chosen, a typical seven-year clinical trial award runs in the tens of millions of dollars. Dr. Bouvier was the lead writer, editor, and advisor on the U01 submission team from Meg Bouvier Medical Writing.

Grantwriting Workshops Offered by Meg Bouvier Medical Writing

On May 8-9, The Arizona Biomedical Research Commission (ABRC) will be hosting a series of workshops on NIH grant submissions, at which I will be the featured presenter. For details and registration information, click here.

Workshops are often a cost-effective way to educate a larger group of faculty on the NIH grant process. In Phoenix next week, I will be kicking off my presentations with a popular 3 ½ hour R01 workshop, which includes a workbook that contains exercises and samples of funded grant applications. After, I will be conducting a series of one-hour breakout groups on topics including NIH submission strategies, resubmissions, mistakes commonly made by applicants, the review process, and how to choose an appropriate funding mechanism (R01, R21, or R03). Each time I present to a group, I work with the client to customize the presentations to address the needs of a particular group of attendees.

The workshops have proved quite popular with departments and institutions and can be taken for CME credit. I draw upon my experience working each year with dozens of NIH submissions and summary statements. My experience as both a bench scientist and staff writer at NIH also informs my approach to NIH grantsmanship and trainings.

Please contact us to discuss a workshop that will fit your needs and budget, and for a sampling of workshop formats and topics.

The End of Two Strikes You’re Out: Good or Bad News for Grant Applicants?

Yesterday, NIH and AHRQ announced that they had changed its resubmission policy. While a given application is still allowed only one resubmission, if you are unsuccessful on the A1, you can then submit the application again as an A0 without having to substantially redesign the content and scope of the project. This “new submission” will be reviewed without any association to the previous attempts. There will be no Introduction to the Revised Application, no explanation of how you addressed the reviewers’ concerns. Even if reviewers have seen the application in prior review cycles, they will be instructed to review it as new. (However, reviewers are human, and one wonders if this is realistic. It’s like asking a juror to ignore evidence they just heard, and we know from social psychologists that that doesn’t actually work.) Of course, the idea is that an applicant will use previous reviewer comments to strengthen the application, thereby improving their odds of funding.

Click here to read the full notice

In 2009, as part of their Enhancing Peer Review project, NIH eliminated the A2 in what has been dubbed by unhappy researchers as the “Two Strikes You’re Out” policy. NIH eliminated the A2 because meritorious research was most likely funded on the A2, which meant quite a delay to funding. The resubmission policy did indeed result in an increase in the number of awards made on A0 applications (although most funded applications are successful on the A1). About the “Two Strikes You’re Out” policy, Deputy Director Dr. Sally Rockey states: “…we heard increasing concerns from the community about the impact of the policy on new investigators because finding new research directions can be quite difficult during this phase of their career. Also, established investigators voiced concern about the need to redirect the research focus of productive labs in order to submit future NIH applications.” For one of many discussions on Dr. Rockey’s blog about the decision to sunset the A2 submission, click here.

In theory, it would appear that one could submit the same idea endlessly until one finds the best way to sell it to reviewers. The policy will no doubt appeal to many researchers, because it is now up to a researcher to decide when it is time to abandon a given project. If one waits long enough, one could submit to the same study section after most of the members have turned over, thereby having a new set of reviewers to weigh in on the project. One risk I see is that sometimes a PI is so blindly enamored with their idea that they have difficulty hearing that the reviewers are trying to tell them that the idea is simply not fundable in any form; i.e., no amount of tinkering with the writing or the details will fix it. A PI could waste a lot of time if they cannot see when it is time to abandon an unfundable project.

Judging from the comments on some of the NIH blogs (for examples, click here), many reviewers are thrilled to have more submission attempts, while others are dismayed that this marks a return to a huge number of submissions and long delays to funding. What do you think?

Seeing Beauty in Biology

Meg- Microscope Pic

Credit: Lemonade at

I started my career in a laboratory, spending countless happy hours doing cell culture work and bent over a microscope. I sometimes miss those quiet hours and the joy of doing delicate, precise work with my hands. I also miss the beautiful images under the microscope, especially of neurons. So it’s no wonder that the winning entry of the 2013 Visual Challenge knocked my socks off. Each year Science magazine and the National Science Foundation conduct an International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. The 2013 winners in each category were announced last month, and can be found here (

This year’s winners in the Illustration category were Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards, Greg Dunn Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Marty Saggese, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C.; Tracy Bale, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Rick Huganir, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

The winning entry in the Illustration category looks like Asian art—beautiful cortical neurons displayed like bare trees in winter, against a pastel background in muted tones. The Science magazine piece describes it thus:

Cortex in Metallic Pastels represents a stylized section of the cerebral cortex, in which axons, dendrites, and other features create a scene reminiscent of a copse of silver birch at twilight. An accurate depiction of a slice of cerebral cortex would be a confusing mess, Dunn says, so he thins out the forest of cells, revealing the delicate branching structure of each neuron.

“Dunn blows pigments across the canvas to create the neurons and highlights some of them in gold leaf and palladium… He hopes that lay viewers will see how the branching structures of neurons mirror so many other natural structures, from river deltas to the roots of a tree.”

This idea about the repetition of such visual themes throughout nature is bound to resonate with any biologist who has spent time at a microscope. I have been enjoying watching the remake of the wonderful television series Cosmos, and I must say that the images they show of space remind me strongly of many of the images I saw years ago at the microscope.

Not surprisingly, Greg Dunn earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and loves Asian art.  His works can be seen and purchased here (

(And no, I have no financial interest in recommending Dr. Dunn’s art work—though I may buy a print for my office!)

What Does It Take To Launch a Medical Writing Career?

Credit: adamr at

Credit: adamr at

This topic comes up so frequently from would-be writers I thought I would blog about it again. I can only identify the things I did that, in retrospect, I believe helped me launch a successful writing career. Based on my experience, what would I suggest to those trying to launch a medical writing career?

1.    Show some chutzpah. When I began a   post-doc at NIH I took over the position of another post-doc who was leaving for a job in industry. Her mail still came to my mailbox. One day a postcard arrived addressed to her, it said: “Congratulations Dr. Baker, you have been selected to be one of 15 participants from hundreds of NIH post-doctoral fellows who applied to attend our medical writing workshop.” It would be taught by Ruth Levy Guyer of Science magazine, who also was teaching at Johns Hopkins. Naturally I went. It was a wonderful course and helped me understand that medical writing might be a good fit for me.

2.    Do it for free. Because I enjoyed science writing and editing and wanted to know more about it, I volunteered to edit articles for a journal called Women In Science. One day an article arrived for me to edit, and the author was none other than Ruth Guyer. It is a bit nerve wracking to edit the work of your writing teacher. I must not have screwed up too badly, because when we were done, Ruth informed me that NHGRI was looking for a staff writer in their office of Press, Policy, and Communications, and was I interested? (Turned out Ruth was married to the head of NHGRI extramural division.) I was only two years into my post-doc and wasn’t on the job market, but I figured I’d better not pass up the opportunity at least to learn more.

3.    Take a risk. I went on the interview at NHGRI. I was asked for a type of writing sample I did not have, given that I was a bench scientist. Happily, the head of communications asked if I had seen a movie recently—I had, the great documentary about Mohammad Ali entitled “When We Were Kings.” She asked me to write a movie review, and she liked it. But she was still hesitant to take a chance on a bench scientist with no real writing experience. Finally I offered to take the job for 6 months with no obligation to renew at the end of the six-month period, and I offered to do it at my post-doc salary, which was half a staff writer’s salary. She accepted my offer. Anyone in bench science knows what a risk this was; Bench science moves so quickly that it is widely believed that if you are out of the field for six months, you are finished.

4.    Work your carcass off. Naturally, once I took the job I worked my fanny off. I was accustomed to the 12-18 hour days of a post-doctoral fellow, so you can imagine how that helped me stand out in the timeclock-punching environment of government administration. After six months I was signed on as a full-fledged staff writer.

5.    Persevere. I worked a number of years as a staff writer at NIH, then relocated to the northeast and stayed home with my young kids for a few years. I found myself ready to work again and wanted to launch a freelance career. I was extremely lucky because a wonderful administrator named Marla Michel, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offered me a sizable project helping to develop content for a searchable database of life science faculty on campus. That “luck” was preceded by hundreds of networking functions at which I shook thousands of hands.

6.    Try something new. Shortly thereafter I was doing a little bit of press work for a client, who talked me into helping with an NIH grant application. I warned him that I had precious little experience with grant applications, but he assured me he understood and thought I could help. That first grant client landed his R01, and I found a line of work that has proved satisfying and at which I seem to have a knack.

Hopefully some newbies out there will find something in my experiences helpful. Of course, I love what I do for a living, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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