Archive for the ‘federal grantwriting’ Tag

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

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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!

NIH Awards $31M To Increase Diversity in The Biomedical Research Workforce

Credit: Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhoto.net

Credit: Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhoto.net

In late October, NIH issued a news release stating that it will award $31 million to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce in FY14. The award will go to over 50 recipients who will be part of the national Diversity Program Consortium, established to engage researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. Award recipients work at geographically diverse institutions across the country that serve underrepresented communities. Members of the consortium will develop, implement, and evaluate methods for encouraging individuals to pursue careers in biomedical research and remain in this field.

Research shows that economic, social, and cultural factors significantly influence the pursuit of science careers. Dr. Hannah Valentine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, asserts, “These awards represent a significant step toward ensuring that NIH’s future biomedical research workforce will reflect the unique perspectives found within the diverse composition of our society.”

The Diversity Program Consortium is part of a five-year plan with three major initiatives. The goal of the first initiative, BUILD, is to explore new approaches to attract students from diverse backgrounds to the biomedical science workforce. The goal of the second initiative, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), is to develop best practices for mentoring individuals from underrepresented groups. Finally, work carried out as part of the Coordination and Evaluation Center is designed to assess the effectiveness of the training and mentoring approaches developed by BUILD and NRMN. It will also establish short- and long-term methods for measuring the effectiveness of both training and mentoring programs.

Seven-Year, Multi-Center Clinical Trial Award 2014

Credit: terapun at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Should You Ask An NIH Grantwriter For Their Success Rate?

The short answer is no. And if you find a grantwriter who maintains and advertises such a thing, you should probably run for the hills. Grantwriting is an iterative process. At NIH, few applications are funded on the first try, and it can take time to titrate a grantee’s submission strategy. Success in one agency, IC, or study section does not mean you will be successful at others. It takes time, patience, legwork, and usually multiple submissions to figure it out. Most of my clients understand this and are willing to invest time and energy in developing their relationship with a given agency over time.

While one should write an application as if it were your only shot at funding, the grantwriter and client must also understand that a first submission to a new agency, study section, or IC will likely wind up being a learning experience. I find it very rewarding to work with a client over time as they develop their understanding of a given IC and study section, and build a relationship with a PO. It is gratifying to help that client grow in terms of their NIH grantsmanship, and hopefully to land their grant on a subsequent submission and launch their relationship with NIH. The same holds true for experienced grantees looking to make the leap into center grants. It usually takes patience, hard work, and multiple submissions to succeed.

No matter how strong the science, NIH statistics show that few funded projects are successful on the A0. Therefore, a grantwriter who maintains their own funding statistics is not likely to accept inexperienced applicants as clients—yet these are the very clients who may benefit the most from your help. If grantwriters only accept projects they know have a strong chance of funding, then who will help inexperienced grantees learn the ropes?

If a grantwriter maintains success statistics, I would question their commitment to their clients. That said, you certainly don’t want to choose a grantwriter who never lands grants! But perhaps the better measure of “success” in this scenario is if their clients feel the grantwriter strengthened their application, educated them on the NIH grant process, and improved their overall approach to grantsmanship—skills they will carry with them throughout their career, whether they are successful on a given submission or not.

I assume I do not need to mention that you should steer clear of a grantwriter who guarantees success. Anyone fool enough to believe such a thing deserves what they get. Great writing and grantsmanship savvy are necessary, but not sufficient, to funding success. A grantwriter cannot change the science, and naturally many projects are not funded because of the science.

What would you look for in an NIH grantwriter? How would you interview one if you wanted help on a submission?

Dr. Bouvier Interviewed on Grantsmanship for the Journal Nature

We invite you to read Dr. Bouvier’s comments on grantsmanship in an article in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The article, entitled, “Impact: Pack a Punch”, discusses the importance of impact in proposed research projects. It included comments from scientists and funding agency administrators from a wide variety of scientific fields in numerous countries. Dr. Bouvier was the only professional grantwriter who participated in the article.

Nature, a prominent international journal published weekly, remains one of the few journals to publish research spanning all of the scientific disciplines. It is one of the most widely cited journals in science worldwide.

Dr. Bouvier provided permission for her information to be translated for their Japanese and Arabic editions.

Posted October 21, 2013 by Meg Bouvier in Biomedical research, Freelance medical writing, medical grant writing, medical policy writing, NIH grantwriting

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How to Shop Your Research Idea(s) Around at NIH Before You Write a Proposal

As you may have surmised I like to discuss strategies for grantsmanship in this blog. A number of people have questioned the wisdom of this approach given that I run a medical writing business, a large portion of which is devoted to proposal writing. Why should the client buy the cow if they are getting the milk for free? I have plenty of proposal writing work and, wise or not, I like to provide some measure of relief to the hordes of desperate grantees out there (see previous post re: despair.) So here is a tip I give out frequently:

If you are like most researchers, you have several ideas for projects percolating in your brain at any given time. The question is, which should you write up as a proposal? Writing a quality proposal takes dozens of hours of work, usually squeezed into an already over-full work schedule. Then it takes many months to get the funding decision back. Then there is the time spent reworking the proposal for resubmission, then the months awaiting that funding decision. All in all, when you embark on this process, you are agreeing to several hundred hours of work and potentially several precious years of your career, as start-up funds and Early Stage Investigator status may be dwindling. And that’s before we consider the additional gray hairs, sleepless nights, and years shaved off your life due to the stress of a (potentially) unscored application.

Given the pound of flesh the proposal writing process will exact, why not put some time in before you write in order to maximize your chances of success? You are already putting in a few hundred hours on the proposal and resubmission, what’s a few more? I suggest that you take each one of your ideas and mock up a one-page Specific Aims. Think of different ways you could frame the research question to make it relevant to more than one Institute. For example, if you are examining a behavioral effect, could you look at it in the aging population and shop it to NIA? Could you look at it in children and shop it to NICHD? If you are doing SNP work, do you want to examine SNPs in cancer (NCI), diabetes (NIDDK), cardiovascular disease (NHLBI)? Once you have drafted the Specific Aims for each of your ideas and/or each version of an idea, email it to the appropriate Program Officer at the relevant IC. Ask if they would be willing to discuss the Aims with you briefly on the phone to determine its relevance to the IC’s funding priorities. This fishing expedition may well lead to an enthusiastic PO (or two.) Once you find someone who is encouraging and helpful, work with them to polish the Aims so that the project is tailored to the Institute and program, and makes sense in terms of the timeline and budget in the funding opportunity announcement. Remember that POs sit in on study sections, so they likely have their finger on the pulse of what will be well received there. Send your Aims to your trusted mentors and colleagues for their input, then discuss further with the PO. Revise the Aims repeatedly, beat them up until everyone is satisfied with them.

THEN you can start writing the proposal.

As for getting the milk for free: I think when it comes to writing proposals, grantees can be rather superstitious. I had a client post on my business Facebook page the other day likening what I do to correctly reading tea leaves (no, he was not being facetious. Yes, he has paid for my advice, more than once.) I have known superstitious scientists not to shave while they are writing grants, or to wear their lucky socks (that latter ripe-smelling group is probably best dealt with via Skype). I think this cohort will do whatever it takes to maximize their chances of funding, including hiring an experienced and successful proposal writer. And as for those grantees who feel they can brave the perilous grant process on their own simply by reading my tips in this blog, I remind them of Paul Newman’s line to his protégé as they are about to face off in a high-stakes pool game in The Color Of Money: “I taught you everything you know, but I didn’t teach you everything I know.”

And now that I have managed to equate my work to reading tea leaves and hustling pool all in one post, I will sign off for the evening.

 

 

The Value of the NIH Program Officer

I am starting to come up for air after having survived the first half of the Cycle II NIH grant deadlines—We have submitted all our new proposals (with the exception of an R34, an R15, and a lingering R01 with a rolling deadline because one of the PIs is an NIH reviewer.) Next come all the resubmission deadlines. Why do so many people submit Cycle II grants, as compared to Cycle I and Cycle III? Every person I know who handles NIH grants is exhausted, sleep-deprived, and crabby. Our families are ready to disown us. I am fantasizing about my vacation time on Cape Cod this August.

Now that half the deadlines have passed I will be returning to my usual blogging schedule. So what can I report from “the trenches” of federal grantwriting that will help prospective grantees? I will be in Washington at the end of this week to spend time with old friends from NIH, one of whom is a Program Officer. It got me thinking about how important POs are in my line of work. One recurring theme in my discussions with clients has to do with the value of the Program Officer to one’s grantsmanship. A good PO is worth their weight in gold. They are your conduit to the NIH. They can provide critical information about the institute’s funding priorities and how your idea may or may not fit into them. They are the only person involved in the review of your proposal with whom you are allowed any contact (remember, the second level review occurs at Council, where I have seen POs passionately go to the mats on behalf of a grantee in whom they believe.) Possibly the single most important thing you can do to improve your grantsmanship is to develop a relationship with your PO. I encourage grantees to draft a one-page Specific Aims, and email it to potential POs at various institutes that might have relevance to your work. Ask them if your project interests them and fits the funding priorities of the Institute, and whether you are considering the correct funding mechanism. Try to get them to discuss your project idea over the phone, and take copious notes when you do. If you listen carefully to what they say, you will garner a wealth of information. POs can provide a level of input that can literally save a grantee a resubmission, if the grantee listens carefully and heeds the POs suggestions. Remember, getting funded is not simply a matter of doing great science, but doing the sort of science in which the agency is interested. The PO can help you figure out how to alter your project to fit their priorities.

Take opportunities to contact them with questions as you write the proposal. For example, you might want them to provide clarification on some aspect of the funding opportunity announcement, or perhaps you want to ask permission to be considered an early stage investigator because the early years of your research were not in an environment that allowed proposal writing, such as industry. It always pays to call and ask such questions. There are few hard-and-fast rules at NIH, and such rules tend to differ (sometimes wildly) from Institute to Institute.

After submission, your relationship with the PO remains important. After review, call them to discuss your pink sheets and how to approach a resubmission, if they recommend one. If funded, keep in close contact with them throughout the year about progress such as publications or patents, and if problems arise with the project call the PO for advice immediately. (Don’t wait for the annual progress report to share bad news, it just pisses them off.) If your project is going extremely well, you are hitting your milestones and cranking out publications, ask the PO if there are any internal funds to extend the project a little longer as you put together a renewal application. The worst they can say is no.

If you develop an established relationship with the PO, invite them to lunch or coffee the next time you are in Washington—but don’t offer to pay, as that is not allowed. I am not suggesting icky lobbying-type behavior on your part. Your goal here is information exchange. You each have important information to share with the other. I have a very personable, likable client who is passionate about his work. He has a very well established and close relationship with his PO. When his R01 scored in the 30th percentile, the PO dipped into her own internal pot of money (via an R-series grant mechanism that is not open to external applicants) and gave him two years of funding to help beef up his preliminary data before he resubmitted his R01. That’s how powerful an advocate your PO can be.

Remember that speaking with prospective grantees is a large part of the job description of an NIH PO. Most POs are extremely helpful in this regard. In addition, they tend to keep their jobs for a long, long time (would you give up the chance to help set national biomedical science funding priorities, regularly discuss cutting-edge research with scientists in the field, and enjoy federal benefits?) I have clients whose relationship with their PO spans years, even decades. They can be an invaluable critic and advocate for your work.

 

 

Center for Scientific Review’s “Peer Review Notes” is out!

I’m emerging briefly from my grantwriting fog to remind people that the NIH’s Center For Scientific Review, which oversees the peer review portion of the extramural grants, publishes a newsletter three times a year. The latest issue is out. If you don’t already subscribe, I strongly encourage you to do so.

I’ll be posting more when I emerge from the hell of impending Cycle II grant deadlines. (WHY do so many people apply for Cycle II grants? Does anyone know?)

The Importance of the “Approach” Criterion On NIH Grant Scores

Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of Extramural Research at NIH, posted data on her blog concerning reviewer behavior on proposals reviewed in 2010. Recall that with the new NIH grant format, NIH implemented scores of one to five (lower is better) in each of five categories: Significance, Innovation, Approach, Investigators, and Environment, as well as the overall impact score. Of 54,727 applications reviewed in FY10, 32,546 were discussed and received overall impact scores. The NIH generated some data on these scores. Among their findings:

*While reviewers used the full scoring range (one through five) for each of the five review categories, their scores were distributed more widely for the Approach category.

*Criterion scores are moderately correlated with each other and with the overall impact score.

*Of the five scoring categories, the one best able to predict the overall impact score was the Approach section (followed by significance, innovation, investigators, environment.)

The language surrounding the changes to the NIH grant format in Zerhouni’s efforts to enhance peer review stressed the importance of Impact, Significance, and Innovation. And in the new format, the length of the Research Strategies was halved, forcing grantees to compress “Approach” sections such as the exhaustive literature review and the detailed methodologies. However, from the data in Rockey’s blog post, we might surmise that reviewers still heavily weigh the Approach category. And based on my own experience with pink sheets in the new format, reviewers’ nearly-insatiable desire for preliminary data appears to continue unabated, despite the reduced page limits on proposals.

Multiple Regression To Predict Impact Scores Using Criterion Scores

Criterion Regression Weight
Approach

6.7

Significance

3.3

Innovation

1.4

Investigator

1.3

Environment

-0.1

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