Advice for new grant writers gets one thing wrong

Oct 26 2012 Published by under Grantsmanship, Mentoring, NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

The latest iteration is on the Twitts, launched by queries from @JacquelynGill. You can browse the #firstgrant hash tag if you want some background.

One of the sounder bits of usual advice to new grant writers is to get some examples from established scientists. The closer to your field and the closer to the agency you are soliciting, the better.

All true. I can't imagine someone drafting a credible NIH application from the instructions alone.

Where I think the typical advice goes wrong is in emphasizing successful applications. As if this is all you need.

I think new grant seekers should ask their friends and senior colleagues for the losers too. With, preferably, the reviews.

There is much about the NIH review process and one's likely success within it that can be gleaned best from comparing successful and unsuccessful grants.

UPDATED: A prior post on what is wrong with the NIAID sample grants.

10 responses so far

  • anon says:

    It's better yet to get a successful application from a relatively young investigator - maybe another first-time application that scored well. The reason for this is that the bar is STILL different for established investigators. I have seen examples of shitty grants from these people that still get funded no matter what. If it weren't for electronic submission, they could send their proposals written in crayon on toilet paper and still get funded. Some people do fart rainbows and unicorns...

  • Dr Becca says:

    If you're going to look at a "loser," I'd say definitely get the summary statement. You never know exactly what the reviewers might have taken issue with, especially in a close-but-no-cigar kind of situation.

    And you know what? Get the summary statements from the winners, too. I've looked at a number of funded proposals, and there's no super obvious common theme, structure, writing style amongst them. Knowing what the reviewers found most compelling could be helpful.

  • physioprof says:

    The other thing that is hugely important is to have some understanding of the cultures of the possible study sections you could be targeting in terms of choosing which to target, and then to get serious input from people who have served on and/or submitted grants to that study section. Just reading a "good grant" doesn't tell you jack dicke about any of that. And Dr. Becca's point about how funded proposals all seem very different almost certainly reflects that.

  • physioprof says:

    And one of those twitterers is claiming that the NIAID example funded grants are useful. Actually, they are not at all useful for n00b grant writers, as they are extreme outliers in various ways.

  • physioprof says:

    Oh, yeah. I forgot we did that already.

  • DJMH says:

    Yes, seeing grants that didn't make the cut is useful in the same way as seeing neuroscience models (of circuits, synapses, whatever) that DON'T work. Those always help demonstrate that the variables in play are insufficient, which is actually much more informative than the working models, which could be achieved many different ways.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yes and no. They are also useful to see the fundamentally arbitrary difference between "really good" and "fundable".

  • [...] 2) Make use of your mentor network! Look at funded– and unfunded– proposals.  Drug Monkey Blog reiterates this point here.  [...]

  • [...] from people who’ve applied. Clearly it’s good to read proposals that were successful, but it also helps to read ones that were not, especially if the person is willing to share reviews, too. Knowing what doesn’t work can be as [...]

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