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THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PREPARING AN NIH GRANT – THE PI’S PERSPECTIVE. Leslie J. Raffel M.D. 1) Start early 2) Start early 3) Start early 4) When you don’t start early enough (and even if you do), get good at staying up late and writing in the wee hours of the morning.

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Leslie J. Raffel M.D.

1)Start early2)Start early3)Start early4)When you don’t start early enough (and even if you do), get good at staying up late and writing in the wee hours of the morning

5) Think clearly about what type of proposal you are submitting and make sure you write the grant to address those concernsa) If you are writing a K23 or other training grant, be sure to address the issue of how this will increase your likelihood of becoming an independent investigator and be sure to include a description of the training component

b) If you are responding to a specific RFA,

make sure that your proposal is really

within the range of what that RFA covers (example – don’t submit an application on Type 2 diabetes when the RFA is for Type 1 diabetes)c) Particularly for RFA’s, it is often worthwhile

to talk to the program officer in advance –

sometimes you can get a better sense of

whether your proposal is likely to be

appropriate from a phone call than from

just reading the RFA

d) If it sounds too good – bewareSometimes RFA’s are set-ups, where the NIH is designing it for a specific group, and you don’t want to waste your time if you don’t have a chance of getting funded


1)Tell a story2)Use lots of figures, tables and illustrations a)visuals help to get the point across and also break up never-ending page after page of text

3)Specific Aims are very importanta)Make them succinct, carefully writtenb)Hypothesis driven – sometimesyou will have an aim that is tocreate a resource, etc. but try andkeep these to a minimum

c)Don’t propose more than is reasonable

– being ambitious is good, but only within


– remember you only have at most

5 years to accomplish these aims

d)Make your aims consistent with your


– don’t propose studying 5000 people

with a budget of $50,000/year when in

reality that would cost $500,000/year

e)Have a brief introduction to get the reviewer interested (i.e. your topic is important) and a brief conclusion/summary (your topic is important and will lead to bigger and better things)

4)Background sectiona)Don’t run too long, but give acomprehensive overview of what isknown about the topic of your proposali)Don’t assume that the reviewer is an expert in the field – give enough background information so that someone who isn’t very familiar with the area will feel as though they understand what has and hasn’t been done, what is and isn’t known

ii)Don’t assume that the review isn’t an expert in the field – be careful not to denigrate the work of another researcher, lest it turn out that he/she is your primary reviewer…..iii)In addition to general background re your area of research, you may want to give background concerning specific methodologies that are key to your study design

5)Preliminary Data/Relevant Worka)This section is very important! i)If you don’t have preliminary data, why are you writing the grant???

ii)Especially for young investigators (but

really for everyone), if you don’t have lots of

preliminary data directly related to your

study proposal, you may want to include

experience you have had that is relevant

to the likelihood that you will be able to

accomplish the aims of the proposal

– i.e. involvement in similar types of

studies (epidemiological, family design,

molecular biology, pathophysiology,

etc.) to the current proposal,

facility with particular techniques that

will be used in the study, etc.

iii)Whenever possible, have publications to

reference for your preliminary data

– Abstracts help, but peer-review

publications are better

– It is ok to have some preliminary data

that is ‘hot off the presses’ and

unpublished, but your credibility will be

much higher if you have relevant peer-

review publications

6)Methodsa)Because space is usually getting short by now, you may need to abbreviate descriptions of some of you methodologyb)If you need to shorten descriptions, be sure to reference well (don’t assume that the specific procedure you will use is obvious) and consider including more detail in an appendix (but only if this is really going to benefit the reviewers – don’t pad – think how you would feel if you were the one reading this proposal…)

c)There are 2 approaches to organizing the methods sectioni)Go through the methods in a chronological fashionii)Divide your methods by specific aimiii)The second seems to be in vogue at presentiv)However you organize, make sure that reviewers will be able to follow what methods you will be using to achieve each aim

d)If there is controversy as to which method to use, address this and justify your selectione)Flow charts to present overall study design and how the different aims interact are often helpful

7)Problems/Pitfallsa)Things always go wrong in scienceb)Show that you have given some thought to what problems are most likely to occur and how you would proceed if a problem does arise

8)Referencesa)Be carefulb)Be consistentc)Make sure you actually reference these in your textd)Author et al citations in text are easier to follow but take more roome)OK to use numerical referencing, but check your numbers – reviewers aren’t happy when they check a reference and find it is unrelated to the text

9)Human Subjects a)This used to be the last thing anyone wrote, typically just cutting and pasting from somewhere elseb)NIH reviewers are now being told to use human subjects protection concerns in scoringc)What you put in your grant doesn’t need to be as detailed as your IRB submission materials, but pay attention, show that you are aware of human protection issues (including privacy/confidentiality)

Last but not least…If you have paid heed to advice #1-3 (you started early), ask a colleague to read your grant and critique it – feedback is incredibly important, particularly if you are new to the process

If you don’t have time to send it to someone else, put the grant down for 12 hours, walk away and then read once more, as though for the first time.Pay attention to what you have written, not what you think you have written

Grants do not get finished, you

simply run out of time…...

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