Friday, August 29, 2014

Start off on the right foot with your biosketch

When it comes to "Section A. Personal Statement", researchers seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to write.  After all, how do you sum up your qualifications and expertise in one brief paragraph?  It is like some kind of exercise you might have done in an undergraduate Philosophy course.  Surprisingly, although many of the visitors to this blog are looking for advice on writing their personal statements, they do not seem to be putting the same amount of time into making sure they are using the correct form. 

Are you working on your biosketch right now?  Look at the top right corner.  If there isn't a header that says "OMB No. 0925-0001/0002 (Rev. 08/12 Approved Through 8/31/2015)", then you are not using the correct form.  Find the current correct NIH biosketch format page here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dismal numbers for NIH-funded women in science

A recent post by NIH's Deputy Director for Extramural Research (a woman) focused on the participation of women in research, including funding success broken down by gender.  According to the numbers provided, success rates are similar for men and women in terms of R01-type funding.  However, women only make up 30% of overall research project grant PIs and 20% of center grant and small business research program PIs.  Even more disappointing is that fewer women apply for NIH funding.  Thus, there is no disparity in the way the grants are being reviewed, but rather in who and where the applications are coming from. 

The possibility of women being hindered by taking time off to have families is very real.  Even a brief maternity leave, at the wrong time, can delay research applications or productivity in a lab.  This may contribute to the problem, but I do not believe it is the major cause.  In my experience, many institutions still have a very male-dominated group of leaders at the department levels and into the upper tiers of the univeristy.  If fewer women are in these leadership positions, they are unable to provide support in terms of family-friendly policies or resource allocation for career development, which seems to me to be disproportionately provided to men.  When I think about the many research teams I have worked with, most are led by a highly qualified man, and his right-hand person, who is usually equally or more qualified than the man, is a woman.  With this dynamic, the man is almost always PI, and the woman ends up as Co-I or some other role.  Until institutions begin to change this culture, I believe we will still see this disparity in funding.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A key piece of advice for multi-project applications

The upcoming September 25 deadline is important for many large types of grants.  Scattered around that date are also due dates for several other large NIH grant opportunities.  If you have had success with R01s or other types of NIH funding, you may think that writing a P01 or large Center grant, for example, will come easily to you.  However there is a different way of thinking that needs to go into constructing the perfect multi-project application.  One key ingredient is the SYNERGY between projects and cores proposed in the application.  You must highlight the synergy between projects or cores in order to explain to reviewers why your proposed project should be funded as a larger grant, rather than submitted as smaller grants in individual pieces.  The NIAID gives great advice on highlighting synergy here.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The impact of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on research funding

If you have been living on a deserted island, you may have missed the hundreds of videos of all of your friends and relatives - and even Steve O - taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

According to this comprehensive article written by a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, the challenge has raised over $13 million for ALS research.  At its peak in 2010, NIH was spending $59 million per year on ALS research.  In light of the flat NIH budget in recent years, that funding amount has been decreased by 32%.  Creative fundraisers such as the ice bucket challenge are not only great for spreading awareness, but also an innovative way to engage the public in funding vital next steps in research.  My only hope, however, is that people who are pouring buckets of ice water over their heads in an excuse to post bathing suit pictures of themselves on social media are also making a donation to the ALS Association or another worthy charity. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Think your multi-PI application may have a better chance at funding? Think again.

Several years ago, NIH began allowing multi-PI applications, which is essentially the same as co-PI applications allowed by other funders, but not actually called co-PIs.  Recently, I worked with a group of researchers who were convinced that a multi-PI application, with one more senior faculty member and one junior faculty member sharing PI responsibilities, would be better received by reviewers.  Given that the responsibilities and proposal plans did not lend themselves well to this arrangement, I encouraged them to pick one PI and not submit the multi-PI application simply in an attempt to game the system.  Based on this recent posting and analysis conducted by NIH, I feel vindicated.  Over a 4-year span, only in one year was there a significantly improved likelihood of funding success for multi-PI applications.  Overall, the chances for a single PI application are pretty much equal.  This is a good thing to keep in mind for those of you who are in the midst of discussing PI and Co-I roles for the fall deadlines.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Learning to use ASSIST for multi-project applications

When NIH rolled out the use of the ASSIST system instead of paper, grants managers across the country let out a collective gasp.  Gone is the need for page numbering, copying, and collating hundreds of pages of papers and killing hundreds of trees in the process.  However, this was replaced with a system that is counter-intuitive and still needs some changes to be ideal. 

That said, there are plenty of resources available to help you understand how ASSIST works.  Even if you are fortunate enough to have an experienced research administrator on staff who will handle all entry and uploading, it is still important as a PI that you understand how your application will be built.  How the pieces are ordered and what each document is titled on your pages will go a long way toward helping reviewers.  This is especially important because the system does not allow you to change naming or numbering of cores and projects. 

Here are some ASSIST resources that will help you to become an expert in the use of the system:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Cardinal Rule of Biographical Sketch Personal Statements

Although the personal statement section of the biosketch is still relatively new, I believe there is one simple rule that will help to ensure your statement is helpful to your application.  The rule is:
Your personal statement should NOT be a summary of everything that comes after it in the biosketch document.
It may seem intuitive to use the first paragraph on the page to provide an overview of what is to follow.  After all, this is what is expected of you in other sections of the proposal.  However, you are missing a serious opportunity to sell yourself if you only reiterate your degrees and past grant awards.  Reviewers should come away from your personal statement feeling as though they understand you as a scientist - your motivations, the questions that drive your passions, and the expertise you offer that makes you the perfect person for this project.  A list of your degrees will not serve this purpose.  Take a lesson from some of the more aggressive infomercials on television, and sell yourself in a way that is convincing and persuasive.  Here is some inspiration from Pajama Jeans:
If they can sell thousands of pairs of ridiculous looking pajama pants that look like jeans, you can certainly sell yourself as an accomplished and capable scientist.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Want to Be the Cristiano Ronaldo of Grant Proposals


In case you were wondering why all U.S. soccer fans collectively uttered curse words at around 7:45 yesterday, Portugal scored in the last minute of the game to tie the U.S. 2-2 and stay alive in the World Cup.  The goal was made possible by a beautiful assist from Cristiano Ronaldo, who was previously rated FIFA World Player of the Year and is known for having one of the most expensive soccer contracts worldwide. 

When it comes to grant proposals, a lot can be learned from Ronaldo.  His style of play is consistent and calculated.  His presentation style is impeccable.  He is reliable, and can be counted on to get the job done.  Even if it takes the whole game, he will take his time and come through with perfection for the win.  Despite knowing his value, he is still in there working hard and getting dirty, just like all of the newer and younger players.  These analogies can all be applied to writing your grant proposals. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

World Cup Soccer = science at its finest

OK, when I mean "at its finest", I am not talking about the reported good looks of the Italian team.  Rather, I am referring to all of the recent scientific discoveries surrounding soccer.  For example, one study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, examined soccer players and assessed the impact of heading the ball.  The researchers found changes in the white matter of the brains of these soccer players that was consistent with people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries.  Perhaps, like American football, this study will someday lead to a requirement for soccer players to wear helmets.  Another study, led by Harvard University scientists, examined the most common diseases in Brazil, in an effort to provide a guide for clinicians and visitors to the country for the 2014 World Cup.  More interesting science related to soccer and the World Cup can be found here