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How To Write Your First Grant Penny Cook, Executive Director, Grants and Contracts Sara Rockwell, Ph.D., Director, Office of Scientific Affairs Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and Pharmacology Sponsors: Office of Academic Development Grants and Contracts Office of Scientific Affairs

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how to write your first grant
How To Write Your First Grant

Penny Cook, Executive Director, Grants and Contracts

Sara Rockwell, Ph.D., Director, Office of Scientific Affairs

Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and Pharmacology


Office of Academic Development

Grants and Contracts

Office of Scientific Affairs

July 27, 2005

  • The funding environment today
  • Your support
    • Business Office
    • Grant and Contract Administration
    • Other
  • Your responsibility
  • Introduction to Sara Rockwell
  • Writing your application
  • Questions and answers
where to get help
Where To Get Help
  • Department Business Office
  • Grant and Contract Administration
  • Other
  • Sponsor
the funding environment today
The Funding Environment Today
  • Competitive
    • Reduced Budgets and/or years of support
    • Falling paylines
  • ERA
  • Collaborative multidisciplinary
  • Clinical relevance
departmental business office
Departmental Business Office
  • May provide assistance in:
    • Budget preparation
    • Administrative pages
    • Obtaining endorsement letters
    • Preparing proposal summary sheet (Prosum)
    • Procuring signatures
    • Post award financial management
grant and contract administration
Grant and Contract Administration
  • Research available support
  • Communicate changes in policy
  • Review grants and contracts for policy and compliance
  • Negotiate terms and conditions
  • Require complete application at time of submission
  • Primary contact with funding agency pre and post award
  • GCFA
other support
Other Support
  • HIC
  • Safety Office
  • Conflict of Interest Office
  • OCR
sponsor life cycle nih example
Sponsor Life Cycle (NIH example)

Center for Scientific Review


10,000 applications/cycle


4 months

Integrated Review Group




Study Section

Priority Score

Summary Statement

3 months

Advisory Counsel

3 months


pi responsibilities
PI Responsibilities
  • Appropriate institutional appointment
  • Obtain space and resources
  • Signed patent agreement
  • Complete application materials
  • Obtain Letters
  • Adhere to GCA deadlines
  • Send proposal to sponsor
  • Manage post award administration
  • Compliance reviews/training
the writing process from the principal investigator s perspective
The writing process from the Principal Investigator’s perspective
  • When to start?
  • At least three months in advance
    • Longer for new project
  • Longer for complex project
  • Don’t assume that at the end of a project cycle that renewal is automatic
where to find out about funding sources
Where to find out about funding sources
  • Talk with colleagues
  • Talk with business office/chair
  • Talk to Melanie Smith
  • Databases on Grants and Contracts website
  • Alert services
  • Professional society websites
  • YSM and Yale bulletin boards, announcements, e-mail list serves, etc.
research grants and career development awards
Research Grants and Career Development Awards
  • Research grant: focus is on project
  • Career development award: focus is on potential of applicant
  • Different focus
  • Different requirements
  • Even when you use the same project for both you will write them differently
you can and probably should apply for more than one grant for a project
Youcan(and probably should) apply for more than one grant for a project
  • “Pay line” is often at ~20%
  • Same project to different agencies
  • Research project plus career development award
  • Acknowledge overlap in “other support” sheets
  • If they are all funded
    • Open champagne
    • Decide which award (or awards) to accept and which to decline
limited competitions
Limited competitions
  • “Scholars awards”
  • Usually career development grants – often limited to new faculty
  • Institution or department may be allowed only 1 or 2 two candidates
  • Internal competition to select Yale’s nominee(s)
  • List on Grants and Contracts website
  • Melanie Smith can send you information on those of interest to you
internal competitions
Internal competitions
  • Grants through programs at Yale or YSM
  • Often limited to Yale researchers
  • Generally in focused area
  • Fellowships and research grants
  • Generally small
  • Often for pilot studies
  • Sometimes limited to new investigators
  • Can be very valuable
    • Get preliminary data
    • Establish independence and track record
where to start gather information about possible grantmakers
Where to start: Gather information about possible grantmakers
  • Grantmaker’s areas of interest
  • Grantmaker’s policies
  • Amount and duration of funding
  • Deadlines
  • Instructions
  • Application forms
  • Procedures used to review grants
  • Time until funding
  • Probability of funding
responding to an rfa or rfp
Responding to an RFA or RFP
  • Some RFAs and RFPs are great opportunities; others are not worth the effort
  • Talk to the contact person
  • Find out more about the request and the intent and scope
  • Ask about review process -special panel or regular study sections?
  • Is money set aside?
  • How many projects will they fund?
reviewing and funding are separate actions by independent groups
Reviewing and Funding are separate actions by independent groups
  • Study sections
    • review applications for scientific merit
    • prioritize by scientific merit
  • Institutes and Programs fund projects
    • consider the scientific merit
    • also consider priorities of program
    • consider balance of their portfolio
    • may “reach for” applications in critical areas
    • may skip applications of “low interest” to program
gather the information needed to plan and develop your application
Gather the information needed to plan and develop your application
  • Literature related to project
  • Resources needed for project
  • Techniques needed
  • Possible collaborators and mentors
  • People who can be asked to write letters
  • Cost and budget information
  • Make a list of the things you will need to do before submitting grant
some critical elements to think about before you begin to write
Some critical elements to think about beforeyou begin to write
  • Are you eligible?
  • Do you have the resources you need?
    • Skills
    • Equipment, facilities
    • Support from department, institution
  • If not, can you get them?
  • What scope of project can you perform with your resources and time?
  • Don’t waste your time preparing grants that can’t fly
if you have questions
If you have questions
  • Talk to Grants and Contracts
  • Contact the grantmaker
    • Program people (scientists)
    • Administrators
  • Talk to your business office
  • Talk to experienced investigators in your field of research
    • Senior investigators
    • Young investigators, a couple years ahead of you
    • Successful applicants for same grant
writing the application
Writing the application
  • Format and content varies dramatically
  • Read the instructions
  • Follow them to the letter
  • May need to alter focus
  • May need to alter scope to match money and time available
  • One size does not fit all…or even most
parts of the application
Parts of the application
  • Cover sheets
  • Abstract or abstracts
  • Administrative elements
  • Assurances
  • Biosketches or CVs
  • Scientific sections
  • Letters (sometimes)
  • Appendices (sometimes)
the cover sheet
The cover sheet
  • Specific to agency and grant type
  • Will have very specific format and instructions
  • May require very specific (and sometimes very bizarre) information
    • Some you will not know
    • Go to Grants and Contracts website and business office for help
  • May require signatures and assurances
  • Must be complete and accurate
  • With most grants you will see a terrifyinglist of required assurances
  • Don’t panic: many will already have been handled by the institution
  • You will need to handle
    • Human subjects protection
    • Animal welfare
    • Safety
    • Conflict of interest and commitment
    • Patent assignment
    • Will require reviews/approvals at Yale and may require discussion in the application
picking a title for your project
Picking a title for your project
  • Sounds trivial…but isn’t
  • Length may be quite limited
  • Make it informative: titles may be used to assign grants to review committees and reviewers
  • Should be intelligible to a non specialist
  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t get cute
  • Draft first; rewrite when application is almost done
  • May be the most important part of application
  • Used to assign reviewers
  • Read by all reviewers on panel
  • The abstract should summarize your project, describe its importance, and make the reader excited about reading the application and funding the project
lay abstract
Lay abstract
  • Many foundations require a lay abstract
  • Very important
    • There may be non-scientists on the review panel
    • Some foundations give these to their donors
  • Can be difficult to write
  • Write it for an intelligent non-scientist
  • Describe project in non-technical terms
  • Emphasize importance and relevance
  • Ask some non-scientists to read and critique your draft of this abstract
cv or biosketch
CV or Biosketch
  • Very important element of any grant
  • Critical for career development awards
  • Primary reviewers will examine this carefully
  • Other reviewers will look at it before and during meeting - especially if there are questions or problems
  • Different from resume, full academic CV
  • Focus tightly on information relevant to your research career and to the project
preparing the biosketch or cv
Preparing the Biosketch or CV
  • Funding agency may provide a form and detailed instructions
    • Follow them exactly
    • Do not alter order from that specified
    • Proofread, proofread, proofread
    • Do not exceed allowed length
  • Sections usually included
    • Current position
    • Education
    • Professional Experience
    • Honors and Awards
    • Publications
education and experience
Education and Experience
  • Generally: start with college
  • Include areas of study and degrees earned
  • Non degree programs and education may warrant inclusion
  • All graduate and postdoctoral training and research should be included
    • Broad outline: start end dates, institution, city and state, mentor
    • Don’t give details
  • Chronological, but watch order
biosketch current position
Biosketch: Current position
  • Current position - be sure it matches that on cover and elsewhere
  • Use official University titles only
  • Promotion in progress?
    • List effective date
    • List only those made in writing
    • May be ask to provide documentation
    • If application includes letter from the Chair or Dean, be sure it mentions the promotion.
experience and awards
Experience and awards
  • Experience goes beyond your primary appointment
    • Secondary appointments
    • Advisory boards
  • Awards and honors
    • Select with care
    • Begin with college
    • Do not include trivial awards
    • Awards relevant to professional career
    • Describe if implications unclear to outside observer
  • Follow instructions for format and content very carefully
  • Reviewers will look at
    • Number of publications
    • Quality of publications
      • Peer reviewed journals?
      • Quality, impact of journals?
      • Full article or brief notes and case reports?
    • Position as author
    • How many authors?
    • Who are the authors?
  • Negotiate authorships carefully
  • Include
    • Papers published in peer reviewed journals
    • Papers in press ( this means accepted for publication)
    • Book chapters, papers in proceedings, reviews (may be separate)
    • Abstracts - maybe. Specify and list separately
  • Do not include
    • Papers in preparation
    • Papers submitted but not yet accepted

Plan ahead - submit early

Can sometimes send newly accepted papers after acceptance

  • NIH: “All publications in last 3 years and representative earlier publications pertinent to this application”
  • If you have more publications than can fit into the allowed space, include an opening statement such as “Selected from a total of 195 publications”
  • Some agencies ask for the total number of publications
  • Format and information required varies dramatically
  • Some agencies specify a fixed budget and define how you must spend it.
  • Some want details
  • Some want none
  • Give them what they want
  • Use the forms or follow the format given in the instructions
  • Check agency guidelines: what costs are allowable and what are not?
developing your numbers
Developing your numbers
  • Even if the agency doesn’t want details, work up a detailed budget so you know what you can do with the funds available
  • Use real numbers
    • Real salaries and fringes
    • Real costs of supplies, animal care, etc
    • Include everything you will need
  • Extrapolate costs to start date of grant
  • Don’t “low ball”
  • Don’t forget indirect costs
future years
Future years
  • Extrapolate from first year
  • Consider changes in project over time - the science and the budget should always correspond
  • Project future salaries as accurately as possible
    • Include expected raises and promotions
    • business office can help here
  • Increase other costs to allow for inflation
problem nih modular grants
PROBLEM: NIH modular grants
  • NIH now funds modular grants at a constant level for future years
  • Allows carryover of funds
  • Remember to plan for raises and inflation in deciding how many modules you request in the first year
  • E.g. for 3 year grant use second year cost estimates, not current or first year cost estimates to develop the budget
budget justification
Budget justification
  • Format and detail required vary greatly
  • Follow instructions carefully
  • Should justify your costs in terms of the science of the project
  • Will be examined by study section members (scientists) during their review
  • Will be examined by business people later
time and effort of investigators is often examined closely
Time and effort of investigators is often examined closely
  • Does it match the scientific activities you have described?
  • Do you have enough time from the essential people?
  • Do you have all the skills you need?
  • Do you have enough technical support?
  • A problem with many first applications is that the project cannot possibly be done with the time and resources available
expectations on time and effort
Expectations on time and effort
  • Percent Salary = Percent Effort
    • If not, you must justify the difference
    • No effort is allowed without salary support
  • You cannot have more than 100% professional effort
    • All Yale assignments
    • All external professional activities
  • Watch time and effort carefully
resources and environment
Resources and Environment
  • Space
  • Equipment
  • Core facilities
    • Departmental
    • School of Medicine
    • University
  • Expertise and facilities available from your co-investigators
  • External resources to be used
resources and environment46
Resources and Environment
  • For critical resources and expertise that you don’t have yourself, get letters of collaboration
  • You have an advantage by being at Yale
    • Many talented scientists, willing to share their expertise and resources
    • Great core facilities
      • E.g. Keck center
      • Internationally known
      • Available on fee for service basis
      • If you’re going to use them, say so
scientific sections
Scientific Sections
  • Format varies with sponsor
  • Follow instructions exactly
  • Conform to required length
    • Can be shorter
    • Can never be longer
  • Don’t try to get around length limits by using tiny fonts, small margins or appendices.
    • Many agencies return such grants without review
    • Even if they don’t, the reviewers are usually ruthless
scientific sections of an nih ro1 application
Scientific sections of an NIH RO1 application
  • Specific Aims
  • Background and Significance
  • Preliminary Data
  • Research Plan and Methods
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendices - sometimes
specific aims
Specific Aims
  • Short paragraph describing overarching goal of project
  • Brief list of specific things you plan to accomplish during the project
    • 3 - 5 Aims
    • May have sub-aims
  • length 1/2 to 1 page
  • Broad overview of goals, hypotheses to be tested and approaches to be used, in telegraphic form
background and significance
Background and Significance
  • Give scientific background and context for project
  • Establish importance and novelty of proposed project
  • Review prior work in area of project and literature related to the project
  • Goals of this section
    • Orient reader to subject and importance of project
    • Prove your knowledge of the area through a solid review and objective citation of prior related work
preliminary studies
Preliminary Studies
  • Closely related studies by others
  • Your own preliminary data
    • Present your data carefully and clearly
    • Use high quality graphs, photos, and tables
    • Show, discuss appropriate controls
    • Analyze appropriately
    • Use appropriate statistics
    • Interpret your findings carefully and critically; acknowledge limitations of techniques and data
the reviewers will examine the preliminary data critically
The reviewers will examine the preliminary data critically
  • To evaluate the basis of the project
  • To predict the chance of success
  • To evaluate you
    • Ability to develop and test hypotheses
    • Ability to design rigorous experiments
    • Expertise with experimental techniques
    • Expertise in analysis of data
    • Rigor in interpreting the data
    • Ability to present findings clearly and effectively
  • Sloppiness here is absolutely fatal
research design and methods
Research Design and Methods
  • Longest section of application
  • Develop details of project
don t neglect the research design
Don’t neglect the research design

This section is not just methods

Outline experimental plan

Base on specific aims - restate aims and describe flow of experiments under each aim

Develop logic of project

Describe timeline, sequence of experiments

Describe potential pitfalls and what you will do if they occur

Think about clinical relevance

  • Describe methodology
  • Cite appropriate references
  • Establish your expertise with techniques to be used
    • give citations to your work using the techniques
    • provide accurate discussion of techniques and of their strength and limitations
    • give methodology details where critical
    • describe alternatives to be used if a technique is inadequate or the results are inconclusive
for techniques that are new for you
For techniques that are new for you

Tell how you will obtain expertise

  • Collaborator
    • Yale

include as investigator

include biosketch

    • Outside

consultant: biosketch, letter,

subcontract: agreement between institutions

  • Someone who will teach you the technique
    • Letter
    • Biosketch
  • Use corefacility
literature cited
Literature Cited
  • Follow required format exactly
  • Be complete, but not silly
  • Be accurate
    • read entire article carefully
    • cite accurately
  • Include your own work but also cite others, including competitors
  • Be objective: don’t ignore literature you don’t like. Discuss it.
  • Follow instructions carefully
    • Some applications will have mandatory appendices
    • Some will not allow appendices
    • Some will limit appendices
  • Possible appendices
    • Letters of collaboration
    • Letters or recommendation
    • Papers, manuscripts
warnings about appendices
Warnings about appendices
  • Only the primary reviewers will have them
  • Most reviewers will never see them
  • Do not try to use them to circumvent page limitations
  • Do not use them for critical information; put that in the application
  • They will not be attached to the application - label them clearly
letters of recommendation
Letters of Recommendation
  • Sometimes required
  • Examined with great care
  • Should discuss your past and current work and your long range potential in your chosen profession
  • Select sponsors carefully
    • Scientific references, not personal references
    • Ideally, include thesis advisor, postdoctoral advisor, and someone who knows present work
    • Select people who know your work, are reasonably senior, and know how to write good letters
when requesting letters
When requesting letters
  • Provide instructions from grantmaker
    • Specific format may be specified
    • Specific information may be requested
  • Provide your current full CV
  • Provide a good draft of the proposal
  • Talk with them about your long term plans and goals
  • Provide a draft letter giving an overview of the project and your goals. Include any elements you want to see included
you may also need a letter from your chair the dean or the president
You may also need a letter from your Chair, the Dean, or the President
  • The Chair may know you well
    • provide draft letter
    • provide all information given to others writing letters
  • The Dean and President are less likely to know you well
    • Don’t panic
    • G&C andDevelopment will arrange and help
    • Will need information described above
    • May call you for additional information
    • May ask your mentor or Chair for draft letter
more on letters
More on letters
  • Don’t be shy about asking for letters
    • It’s part of the senior faculty’s job to mentor you and do these things
    • Make their job as easy as possible
    • Approach them early - give them enough time
  • Multiple requests are not a problem
    • Second and subsequent letters are easy
    • Computers are our friends
  • Be sure to let your writers know when you get an award
  • Begin asking people to read the grant at an early draft stage (~2 months before submission)
  • Use their input and feedback as you develop the project
  • Do this early enough that you can add or delete experiments, aims, and collaborators
  • Projects evolve while they are being written
who should read the final drafts
Who should read the final drafts?
  • All collaborators must have an opportunity to read the proposal
  • Anyone who is writing a letter for you should be given a draft
  • Outside readers
    • An expert in the field
    • A person in a closely related field
    • An intelligent non-expert
      • A good proofreader; good English skills
      • This reader will provide a critical perspective if there are non-scientists on the review panel
a word on readers
A word on readers
  • You want people who are honest and critical
  • You want both scientific comments and editorial comments
  • Pick people who will take the time to read thoroughly and thoughtfully
  • Yes, it is an imposition to ask a senior colleague to read your grant
    • Ask anyhow
    • It’s part of their job
    • Give them enough time
  • With your peers: trade favors
the final proofreading
The final proofreading
  • Use spell check program
  • Use grammar check program
  • Don’t trust these programs - proofread!
    • “principle investigator”
    • “hear at Yale, we…”
  • Have multiple people proofread
  • Check figures, tables, data, legends
  • If your English skills are not strong, get someone with strong English skills to edit and proofread for you
assembling the application
Assembling the application
  • Follow instructions to the letter
  • Where/how to number pages?
  • What order for sections?
  • How to handle appendices?
  • How many copies?
  • Staple copies or not?
  • Identify proprietary or confidential information?
  • You don’t want it sent back!!
sending the application
Sending the application
  • Paper or electronic?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • With cover letter?
    • You may be able to request specific review committee
    • You may request that specific people not review the application
  • Watch for special instructions on RFAs
now what
Now what?
  • You wait
  • Will get acknowledgement and information on assignment for review and contact person
  • The review can take months
  • In some cases you may be asked for additional information - send ASAP
  • In some case you may wish to send new information - contact before sending
problems in grants nrfc nci staff
Problems in grants NRFC. NCI Staff
  • 98% Preliminary Data – Quality, relation to project
  • 85% Experimental plan – too ambitious, no preliminary data to support project, project not feasible, conceptual flaws, lack of detail in plan or methods, lack of alternative strategies, necessary reagents not available or not characterized
  • 70% Not innovative
  • 58% Hypothesis not clear
  • 50% Significance not clear
  • 40% Expertise not clear – needed letters from collaborators or needed input from collaborators during preparation of application (often for analysis, interpretation)
  • 25% Statistics = inappropriate or lacking
a final word
A final word
  • NIH receives about 40,000 grant applications each year
  • Each Study section reviews 80-100 grants per session
  • Each reviewer is assigned 10-20 grants to read – make yours the best one your reviewer reads, so he/she fights for it.

For Me

Penny Cook

Melanie Smith

Anyone else in room