Archive for the ‘freelance medical writing’ 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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What Does It Take To Launch a Medical Writing Career?

Credit: adamr at  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Credit: adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Purposeful porpoising: Working smart when you gotta work hard

This blog post about being an overwhelmed freelancer really hit home for me:

Purposeful porpoising: Working smart when you gotta work hard.

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.

 

 

What Does the NIH FY12 Appropriations Report Actually Say?

Why should we follow the Appropriations process? Aside from the obvious reason—to know how big the pot of extramural money will be next year and to understand the government’s commitment (or lack thereof) to science funding—there is another important reason: If you know the language worked into Appropriations testimony you can strategically design your research and incorporate key language and ideas into your NIH proposal in order to improve your odds of funding. (In these competitive funding times, every little advantage helps.) So without further ado, here are some key concepts from the NIH FY12 Appropriation report:

NIH has requested $31.987B for FY12. In the cover letter for the report from the Office of the Budget, Francis Collins states: “The requested funding will enhance NIH’s ability to support research that prolongs life, reduces disability, and strengthens the economy. NIH-funded research contributes to economic growth, produces well-paying jobs, and helps to keep the United States competitive on the global stage.” He continues: “For the FY 2012 budget request, NIH has identified one major area of extraordinary opportunity and three other themes that are exceptionally ripe for investment and integral to improving the health of the American people.” The one major area of opportunity of course is the proposed highly-controversial National Center For Advancing Translational Science (NCAT), which Collins refers to as “a new paradigm for turning lab discoveries into cures and treatments through targeted investments in translational science and medicine.” The three themes that NIH has deemed “instrumental in paving the way for more rapid scientific advances across all areas of human health and disease, including global applications”:

 1) Technologies to Accelerate DiscoveryThis area focuses on genes and the environment (I guess we will see more of those FOAs), and directly lists advanced technologies such as DNA sequencing, microarray technology, nanotechnology, new imaging modalities, and computational biology.

2) Enhancing the Evidence Base For Health Care Decisions. Language here includes “comparative effectiveness” and “personalized medicine.” He also cites the new HMO Research Network, which “will bring together HMOs caring for more than13 million patients for the purpose of accelerating research in the high priority areas of epidemiological studies, clinical trials, and electronic-health-record-enabled health care delivery.”

3) New Investigators, New Ideas. Here Collins mentions two programs: “the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports new investigators with potentially high-impact projects, and the Early Independence Award, which enables our most talented young scientists to move directly from a doctoral degree to an independent research career.”

If you write NIH grants, I strongly encourage you to spend some time with the full Appropriations report put out by the NIH Office of the Budget. (click here)

The Administration requested $31.829B for NIH FY12. Here are highlights that the Administration pulled from the NIH report (and therefore deem important):

*The FY12 budget proposes to support a total of 9,158 competing Research Project Grants (RPGs), a reduction of 228 from FY10. In total, NIH projects it will support 36,582 RPGs (competing and non-competing) in FY12, an increase of 43 grants from 2010.

*The budget also proposes a 4 percent increase in stipends under the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program. The goal is to “improve NIH’s ability to attract high-quality research investigators to the field of biomedical research.” This will result in an increase in NRSA funding of $19 million over FY10, for a total of $794 million.

*The Cures Acceleration Network would receive $100 million in FY12; it is included in the budget of the Office of the Director.

*As in previous years, $300 million is transferred out of the budget of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and TB.

*Although the budget narrative specifically mentions implementation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) remains a line item in the FY12 budget.

*At a briefing of NIH advocates, NIH Director Francis Collins said that within the next month, the agency expects to file a budget amendment detailing the movement of NCRR programs into NCATS or other NIH institutes and centers.

*The National Children’s Study would receive $194 million, the same level as FY10; the Common Fund would receive $557 million, an increase of $13 million.

*NIH intramural research would increase by $50 million, to a total of $3.382 billion, which is approximately a 1.4 percent increase.

*NIH estimates it will be able to save more than $15 million in administrative costs in FY12. The agency plans to do so through such means as using technology to save study section travel costs by holding virtual peer review sessions.

To illustrate the achievements of NIH, Dr. Collins used two particularly compelling examples at the budget briefing:

*A 21-year-old diagnosed today with HIV/AIDS has a life expectancy of 70 years, thanks to the anti-retroviral         therapy made possible by NIH funding.

*Gains in life expectancy supported by NIH-funded research result in $3.2 trillion in annual savings.

NIH identified in its FY12 budget justification priority areas and initiatives related to the following diseases: autism; cancer; Alzheimer’s disease; type 1 diabetes; and HIV/AIDS.

Some scientific program areas of accomplishment or special emphasis provided by NIH include: bioinformatics and computational biology; National Technology Center for Networks and Pathways programs; epigenomics; genotype-tissue expression; global health; Gulf oil spill long-term follow-up; health economics; high-risk, high-reward investigator initiated research; the HMO research collaboratory; the human microbe project; and nanomedicine.

Posted April 27, 2011 by Meg Bouvier in Biomedical research, medical grant writing, medical policy writing

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Preparing for the upcoming Community Transformation Grants

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (section 4201), the federal government instituted Community Transformation Grants, to be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This innovative program is designed to “help local communities address racial and ethnic health disparities and reduce chronic diseases by promoting healthy living and tackling the social and economic causes of poor health.” State and local agencies, state or local nonprofits, national networks of community-based organizations, and Indian tribes may apply for grants. Applicants must devise a plan that lays out changes in policies, programs, environment and infrastructure. Specific activities suggested in the law include increasing access to nutritious foods, creating healthier school environments, encouraging physical activity, improving community safety, expanding worksite wellness programs and reducing health disparities. Grants are expected to fund innovative projects that involve broad coalitions of stakeholders in communities across the U.S.  Twenty percent of the grants were initially reserved for rural and frontier areas.

Although the program was supposed to run from 2010-14, it wasn’t until February 2011 that federal officials finally announced that $145 million would be distributed this year in the first of what is designed to be a multi-year initiative. This FY11 allocation is part of the $750M Prevention Fund in the Affordable Care Act. However, Republicans in Congress are proposing cuts to all aspects of the ACA. Rumors indicate that CTGs will focus only on the largest urban areas. Many organizations are attempting letter-writing campaigns to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, encouraging people to share success stories of improved health outcomes from previous Prevention Fund investments in small, mid-sized, and rural communities. Examples of such letters abound, including an open letter from the President and CEO of the YMCA together with the heads of several other prominent national organizations.

A funding opportunity has not yet been released.

 

NIH Paylines for FY11

Federal Year 2011 began on October 1, 2010. But the federal government has yet to appropriate a budget for FY11 and will be on a Continuing Resolution through at least March 3, 2011. Has a CR ever extended five months into the year? Not in my memory.

Grantwriters and grantees alike await news of the appropriation to NIH, which in FY10 was $31.3 billion, about 85% of which is distributed as extramural grants. (fyi, the Administration this week requested a $1B increase in the NIH budget for FY12, up 3.3% over last year’s appropriation. But don’t get too excited—given a 3.5% rate of inflation, that amount would represent level funding. And let’s face it, that funding recommendation will never clear the House anyway.)

Institutes are attempting to guesstimate paylines for FY11, despite the extremely tardy appropriation. I began tracking down this information on the labyrinthine NIH website, then discovered a wonderful blog post that has assembled available FY11 paylines for us. So pour yourself a stiff drink, click on this extremely helpful blog post (and peruse the other posts/links), and try to remind yourself that if you don’t apply, your chance of funding is zero.

 

The Joy (And Security) Of Self-Employment

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and like many people I find myself taking stock of the past year. Among other things, I am mulling over my freelance career, having just read a terrific blog post about a freelancer’s take on salaried employment (http://kommein.com/on-returning-to-a-job-after-freelancing/).

A few years ago, when I was home with children and trying really hard not to work, projects came in through writer friends—one person had overcommitted, so could I help out with this deadline? Another was offered a full-time job so could I take on a few of her freelance clients? Still another was in over his head on an engineering project so could I tackle the science content?

Eventually, after this supposed period of non-work, I began seeking out more steady freelance work while I looked for “something permanent.” I fretted about the economy and the lack of opportunities living in a rural area (although one can write from anywhere, I find that companies seem reluctant to hire a full-time, salaried writer who telecommutes exclusively without first having the writer work on-site for a while.) So I continued to take freelance work while I looked around, yearning for the security enjoyed by my friends with “real jobs”.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I got so busy with my temporary freelance gig that I forgot about looking for a “real job.” This year I was invited to apply for not one, but two different full-time writer positions. I was delighted! Yet, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made for me. My business had grown to the point where I no longer worried about finding the next job. In fact, I am looking for writers to hire. I have a personal assistant who keeps my life running smoothly.  I have enough money in the bank that I no longer worry about clients who take forever to pay (names omitted to protect the guilty.) My work schedule and my life have evolved into a model of efficiency, with no wasted time or effort. And, most importantly, I LOVE what I do, not just writing but running the business as well.

I respectfully declined to apply for either position. I will keep my business, thanks, and all the comfort and security it affords: An excellent income, a nimble business model that allows me to work with (or cease to work with) any colleague or client I choose or to pursue any type of work on a moment’s notice; the power to choose the projects that I find interesting, gratifying, and meaningful; the ability to maximize my efficiency so that I can shoe-horn everything worthwhile into my extremely busy schedule; and TRUE job security, meaning that the loss of a single client in my diverse work portfolio will never spell the demise of my business nor my financial security.

Would I ever take another full-time salaried position? Absolutely, if it were the right position. I truly loved my staff writing job at NIH. But for now, I will happily and gratefully run my own business.

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