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NIH101. Sharon L. Milgram, The National Institutes of Health. “The Nation’s biomedical research institution”. Composed of 27 Institutes and Centers Campuses in MD, NC, AZ, MI, and MT Two divisions -- intramural and extramural

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Sharon L. Milgram,


The National Institutes of Health

“The Nation’s biomedical research institution”

  • Composed of 27 Institutes and Centers
  • Campuses in MD, NC, AZ, MI, and MT
  • Two divisions -- intramural and extramural
    • Biomedical, behavioral and social sciences
    • Basic, translational and clinical research

Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center

  • The world’s largest hospital devoted exclusively to clinical research, with:
  • 240 beds
  • 7,000 inpatient admissions a year
  • 9,750 new patients a year
  • 72,600 outpatient visits a year
  • 900 active clinical research protocols

how many researchers are at nih
How many researchers are at NIH?
  • 1100 Tenured/Tenure-track investigators
  • 800 Staff Scientists
  • 300 Staff Clinicians
  • 3800 Postdoctoral Fellows
  • 400 Clinical Fellows
  • 485 Graduate Students
  • 100 Medical Students
  • 600 Postbaccalaureates
  • 1200 Summer Students

……. In 1250 intramural labs


What we offer?

  • Resources - access to outstanding mentors, new technologies & state-of-the-art research facilities
  • Amazing science seminars, workshops and courses
  • Exciting programs in all NIH Institutes & Centers
  • Leadership and personal development opportunities
  • Communication skills workshops
  • Opportunities to learn about many different science careers
  • Workshops to help you successfully make “the next step”
  • Access to NIH Career Services Center in OITE
  • Special one-day events for the NIH community

Summer Internship Program

  • Eight - 10 week research experience at all levels
    • High School
    • College
    • Medical/Dental
    • Graduate (MS. PhD, PharmD, PsyD, etc)
  • Many workshops and other educational opportunities
  • Access to pre-professional and pre-graduate advising
  • End-of-summer poster session


The Graduate Partnerships Program

  • Students work in NIH lab for all or part of their dissertation research
  • PhD is granted by home university
  • Two types of partnerships:
    • Individual agreement
    • Institutional agreement


NIH Postdoctoral Programs

  • Positions in biomedical, social and behavioral research
  • For US citizens and foreign nationals
  • Must be within 5 yrs of receiving doctoral degree
  • First year stipend $41,200 - $47,200
  • Includes health insurance for individual or family
  • Appointment for up to 5 years
  • A number of competitive fellowships are available:
    • Intramural Fellowship to Promote Diversity
    • National Research Council
    • PRAT Program

writing research fellowships

Writing research fellowships

Sharon L. Milgram,


Why write a fellowship application?

  • To develop writing skills
  • Begin understanding the grant writing process
  • Initiate dialogue with your mentors and committee
  • Assure that you have a good grasp of the field, including important questions, current controversies, gaps, broad relevance, etc
  • Assure that you know (or can learn) techniques required to succeed
  • Helps you envision potential problems and devise solutions in advance

How to find fellowships

  • Talk to your teachers
  • Visit the Graduate School
  • Go to undergraduate research conferences
  • Use the web

Useful websites

getting started programmatic issues
Getting started: programmatic issues
  • Start by reading the instructions CAREFULLY
    • Are you eligible?
    • When is it due?
    • What will my mentor/program need to do?
  • Find examples from senior students
  • Discuss your interest with your mentors
    • let them know WHAT help you will need and WHEN you will need it
getting started academic issues
Getting started: academic issues
  • Read the literature broadly - not deeply; save important papers for a deeper read later
  • Engage your colleagues and your mentors in the brainstorming process
  • Find outside experts to talk with - but go prepared
  • Work early to define, organize, and plan the content
getting started personal issues
Getting started: personal issues
  • Find help to improve your writing style
  • Set a daily writing schedule
  • Form a writing group to help with proof-reading, procrastination, writer’s block, etc
parts of a typical proposal
Parts of a typical proposal
  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Specific aims
  • Background & significance
  • [Preliminary data]
  • Research design & methods
  • [Timeline]
  • References
negotiating content
Negotiating content
  • Start talking with your mentor(s) before you get too far along
  • Agree on the Aims/goals before beginning other sections
  • Be aware that the proposal is not a contract written in stone, so be willing to compromise
whose project is it









Whose project is it?
a real life example
A real-life example

My interest: Regulation of CFTR trafficking

Bill’s interest: Using mass spectrometry to identify novel protein interactions

Bill’s thesis: Using mass spectrometry to identify novel regulators

Of CFTR trafficking, turn-over, and activity

the organizational process
The organizational process

“Many of us when confronted by a writing deadline, skip the organizational phase of writing. This is akin to leaving on a trip to unknown parts without a road map, hotel reservations, or plans of any sort.”

approaching the first draft
Approaching the first draft
  • Don’t start writing immediately - spend time thinking & talking first
  • Brain-storm and make lists of the issues you hope to address
  • Make lists of methodologies you need to learn and reagent, cell type, animal, or human subject issues you need to deal with
  • Use an outline or a concept map to help you prepare to write

Getting started with a concept map

Relevance to treatment of CF

Preliminary data

a disease of protein trafficking and cell signaling

Status of CF drug discovery

Could novel interactors be drug targets? P’TASE data

P’TASE data

MS results

Domain mapping

CFTR protein interactions

Known interactions

How to find them?

PDZ proteins (ours & others)


Adaptor proteins



Yeast two-hybrid

Targeted guesses


Experimental design


to each

Sample prep

MS approaches


Domain mapping

Functional assays

CF Center


  • The Reader’s Digest condensed version of your story
  • Should begin by stating the problem & end by stating the impact of the work if successful
  • Should stand alone
  • Should not contain abbreviations or jargon
  • Typically follows strict word limits
specific aims
Specific aims
  • The “opening statement” -- tells what your proposal is about
  • Should generate enthusiasm & excitement for your ideas - should grab the readers attention
  • The reader MUST finish this section convinced that the work you propose is significant and that you have a feasible approach; they should want to read on…
  • Should list Aims and include subaims
  • Typically no more than one page
background significance
Background & Significance
  • The place to clearly state the importance of the proposed research
  • Looks both backward & forward
  • Should be appropriately referenced with an honest & balanced discussion of others’ work
  • Points out controversies and discrepancies that your work will address
  • Convinces the reader that you know what you are talking about & that your proposed work is the OBVIOUS next step
  • 2 - 3 pages; no more than one or two figures
preliminary data
Preliminary data
  • Key pieces of data to generate excitement and enthusiasm for the proposed studies
  • Demonstrates feasibility
  • Shows you are a careful scientist who does controls and does not over-interpret data
  • Ranges from 2 - 8 pages depending on overall grant length
  • May contain several figures with clear legends
research plan
Research plan
  • Organized by Aims
  • Can put general methods at the end or leave them out (but not if you are junior)
  • Should be balanced between over-view of approaches, rationale for specific experiments, & the specific details of each experiment
  • Clearly discuss controls (positive & negative) for all experimental approaches
  • Show you have thought through issues of feasibility, sample size, data analysis, etc
  • Include sections discussing expected outcomes, data interpretation, potential pitfalls & alternate approaches
  • Include a timeframe & discussion of critical collaborators if appropriate
  • Include detailed discussion of animal use or human subjects if appropriate
writing hints i
Writing hints (I)
  • Write from the perspective of the reader - make sure there is a logical starting point & a flow to your “story”
  • Start all paragraphs with a topic sentence - this tells the reader what the paragraph is about
  • End each paragraph with a transition sentence to lead to the next section
  • Pay attention to the stress position in each sentence and paragraph - readers naturally emphasize material that arrives at the end of a sentence or paragraph.
  • Avoid passive voice, especially in the Aims, background & preliminary data sections
  • Avoid long-winded sentences, & big words when simpler words would work just as well

See Spot run. Run Spot run.

The canine was observed moving at very high velocity. Accelerate rapidly from a walk, Spot, accelerate rapidly from a walk.

common criticisms
Common criticisms
  • Diffuse, unfocused or superficial examination of the field
  • Lack of knowledge of published work
  • Mediocre preliminary data that is over-hyped
  • Lack of experience in required methodologies
  • Unrealistic amount of work
  • Lack of experimental detail
  • Too many irrelevant experimental details
  • Not enough discussion of potential pitfalls & alternate approaches
  • Poorly written with typographical errors and grammatical mistakes

Writing is all about revising drafts & seeking feedback

Proof-readers and editors

Scientists in your field

Scientists in peripheral/related fields

Scientists who write and review grants