Friday, January 23, 2015

Department of Defense Funding

This week and next, ORDE is offering Know Your Agency lunches on the Department of Defense (DOD) for faculty interested in applying to them for funding.

Yesterday, Dr. Andrew Thorburn, Professor of Pharmacology at CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus spoke to us about his experience applying to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDRMP), his experience as a reviewer for the DOD, as well as his experience as part of their advisory panel, which directs changes in the research review process.

Dr. Thorburn stressed the following points to consider when applying to the DOD.
  • Your project must be innovative - Even applications that receive perfect scores in peer review will sometimes not be funded if they are not deemed innovative.
  • Your project must speak to consumers - the DOD includes consumers on their peer review panels (e.g., cancer survivors or their family members). The consumers are looking for projects that will make a real and more immediate difference to patients.
  • You must read the program announcement closely and offer exactly what they're looking for in your application.
  • You must write a lay abstract that is understandable and compelling to the lay person - Dr. Thorburn stressed that every reviewer reads the lay abstract, and it's essential that it be clear especially for the consumers who are the lay people that are reviewing your grant.
If you think your research falls into one of the areas that the DOD is funding this year or in one of its on-going programs, consider applying and bear in mind these tips. Please see the links below for more information.

ORDE Know Your Agency Briefs
DOD CDRMP Research Funding for 2015
DOD Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program Appropriation Announcement

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Grant-Writing Across Cultures

As a sort of follow-up to our blog on Intercultural Collaboration, I thought I'd dig into how culture can also come into play when it comes to writing.  This can be especially significant when a multi-cultural research team forms and works to write a grant together. Without some foresight on cultural starting points and unspoken writing rule differences amongst members, this can be a frustrating experience. Below are some differences to be aware of...

Linear vs. Spiral Writing
Scholars in western cultures tend to write linearly - where there is a clear beginning, middle, and conclusion to their writing. Not surprisingly, U.S. granting agencies tend to prefer this sort of writing in their grant applications. In some Eastern cultures, scholarly writing has a more spiral nature to it where the writer touches on key points throughout the writing and comes back around to those same points to add on later. Although this is a perfectly acceptable and preferable way to write within these same cultures, to the western scholar and grant reviewer, it can be seen as unfocused or hard to follow.

To follow on linear vs. spiral writing is this idea of direct writing.  The sense of directness in writing is cultural in much the same as the preference for directness in verbal communication. We discussed the high and low context cultural differences in our Intercultural Collaboration blog post. Western cultures often prefer more direct and literal writing and may perceive indirect writing as flowery or overly verbose. This is important to acknowledge if you hale from an eastern culture but are writing a grant for a western sponsor and grant reviewers. Western readers want to know right away what your grant is about and why it's important and have a lower tolerance for over contextualizing or long stories that finally lead up to what's important about your work. There is also lower tolerance for humility, which may be more valued by eastern readers, but by western readers it may look like a lack of confidence.

Lastly, although it may seem obvious, idioms and metaphors that are used by all people to communicate on a daily basis are extremely cultural, and taken out of context make very little sense. When you consider that most idioms are formed based on history, religion, or even politics, it's easy to see how you need to have that sociocultural understanding for an idiom to work. Thus taking idioms across cultures may fail to translate. This is essential for all grant writers to remember. For, even though you may be western, writing a grant for a western sponsor, you should not assume that all of your grant reviewers will have a western cultural orientation. Thus it's dangerous to use idioms in any grant application.

As before, I do not mean to essentialize or over-simplify eastern and western cultures, but instead hope to illuminate some common cultural differences that are often seen in writing to allow grant developers to better navigate those differences to build their competitiveness within the grants world, but also to be able to successfully co-write with researchers from many different cultures.

Intercultural Written Communication Blog - Ahlam
Cultural Considerations: Rhetoric and Ethics - wikidot
Writing for an International Audience -

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Intercultural Collaboration

Independent research is still highly valued in academia and within the funding and tenure worlds. However, most realize that it is becoming more and more necessary for researchers to create truly collaborative teams and to partner with those outside their discipline, institution, and country. Given the potential of international research collaborations, it's important for PIs to consider cultural differences that can have an impact on the effectiveness of their team and collaborations.

With that in mind, I wanted to introduce you to some cultural dialectics to bear in mind when working with people who are from cultures different than your own. Geert Hofstede, a social psychologist developed a cultural dimensions theory that identified several spectra that people from the same national culture tend to share. Edward T. Hall, known as the father of Intercultural Communication also identified useful cultural variants. Below, I describe some of these spectra, and suggest how awareness of the dialectic can allow you to maneuver collaborations that extend outside of your native culture.

High/Low Context Communication
In this spectrum, high context communication refers to that which relies heavily on non-verbals, such as a person's position, sex, and other social cues as to how they should be addressed and what is appropriate to say.  Low context cultures, such as the US and other Western countries, tend to favor a more literal communication style that is direct and spells out meaning within verbals.

Low context communicators should be sensitive to those from higher context cultures, such as Japanese culture, and realize that they may not be comfortable verbalizing their thoughts, especially around negotiating publication authorship or leadership in an interest to save face for themselves and others on the team. On the flip side, if you are from a high context culture, realizing that those in low context cultures are not meaning to be offensive, but are instead more comfortable communicating directly can allow you to more effectively communicate with them.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
It may seem that a person's comfort with ambiguity is personal, and that's certainly true. However, there is a larger cultural orientation that influences members' UAI.  High UAI cultures are uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity and tend to want to have very clear guidelines and steps for solving a problem. Low UAI cultures are more comfortable with uncertainty and are more comfortable with change and being flexible. Whereas high UAI cultures are more comfortable dealing with uncertainty by instigating rules, low UAI cultures are more comfortable with risk.

Those researchers from High UAI cultures, such as Latin American cultures, in a research collaboration setting may tend to want clear structure in embarking on a project, whereas those in lower UAI cultures, like the US may be more comfortable working on issues and complexities as they come up.

The individualism/collectivism spectrum is particularly interesting to consider in relation to research teams, considering the tension around PIs proving their independence in research and the recognition/need for collaboration in research to solve the really big challenges of our day. In short, individualistic cultures, like mainstream US and Canada, tend to promote and reward an individual's accomplishments and endorse competition as a driver for achievement. Those collectivistic cultures, such as Native American and First Nations people tend to value the interests of their communities, families, or teams over an individual's interests.

Understanding these differences can allow research teams to understand the goals and interests of members from different cultural orientations and to forge paths that respect these different starting points. They can also allow research teams to better collaborate collectively, drawing on those cultural strengths in the group while recognizing and distinguishing the individual contributions of each group, drawing on and recognizing the values of more individualistic cultures.

As a caveat, although these spectra can give us insight into different cultural perspectives and some generalizations about national cultures, it's important to recognize the variance within countries - such as mainstream US and native cultures within the US mentioned above. It's also important to recognize the cultural differences within cultural groups, such as those related to gender. Lastly, in a more and more globalized world, we're seeing more and more people who are culturally nomadic in a sense and able to navigate very different cultures easily.

With that said, if members of a research team can be aware of these differences - including their own cultural preferences and where others might be coming from, it can make for a more clear and productive collaboration.

The Hofstede Center's Culture Compass Tool
Edward T. Hall and the History of Intercultural Communication: United States and Japan - Rogers, Hart, and Miike

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Storytelling Lessons for Your Grant Writing

Around the holidays, I often find myself recounting family stories for various people at different occasions.  Having a toddler and a new baby, people ask what's new with the kids at holiday office parties, dinners with close friends and family, and old acquaintances you run into at the grocery store.

Especially around this time of year, I try to keep a couple of hilarious toddler stories in my back pocket, but as I regale folks with my story, I notice how the story changes depending on whom I'm telling and when, and have noticed how this also applies to grant writing and marketing one's research in general.

My story:
A few weeks ago, my three-year old, Linus, and I went for a walk around my block.  When we go for a walk, he likes to tell me what he wants to see - these holiday decorations, or the blow up Peyton Manning that our neighbor puts out on Broncos game days. On this particular occasion, Linus told me he wanted to see the "mantis." "The mantis?" I asked, having no clue what he was referring to. He and I went back and forth on it, he, more and more adamantly saying he wanted to see the mantis. Exasperated, I said, "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're saying!" And, Linus very clearly said, "I want to see the praying mantis!"

I could somewhat recall seeing a praying mantis during the summer and pointing it out to Linus and figured that's what he was talking about.  I explained that we probably wouldn't see one during the winter, but that we could keep our eyes open looking for it. Linus seemed somewhat happy with this explanation.

The next week while at the store, I saw a t-shirt with a picture of Peyton Manning on it. "Look Linus," I said, "it's Peyton Manning!" "Yeah," he replied, "It's Praying Mantis!"

What strikes me about this story is how I vary it as I tell it.  When I run into that acquaintance at the grocery store and they ask about the kids, I might say, "They're great! Linus is into the Broncos and calls Peyton Manning "Praying Mantis!" (chuckle) "Take care! Say hi to so and so!"

At extended family dinners, depending on how many glasses of spilled milk there are or how many people are trying to tell their own story, I may or may not tell the whole story. In all likelihood, I'll say something along the lines of - the other day Linus was saying he wanted to see the Praying Mantis and I had no idea what he was talking about until we saw a picture of Peyton Manning at the store and he said, "Look Mom, it's Praying Mantis!" Now, you'll notice that I've changed some details of the story in this iteration to get the idea across more quickly, but still put in a few of the details of the story that I thought were charming. If I'm sitting down for coffee with a good friend, I might decide to tell the whole story, or at least start the story, gauge their interest, and abbreviate the end if I see their eyes start to wander.

This is the balancing act we must manage whether we're telling cute stories around the holidays or we're trying to "sell" our research to potential collaborators or program officers - deciding when and how much to tell. As we initiate telling these research stories, be they written or verbal, we want to be clear and concise, yet we do not want to abbreviate "the story" to the point where it is not engaging. To do this, it's important to identify the clincher - what's the most interesting/exciting part of your research story and how do you hone your story down to include the clincher and give enough context for folks to get the gist?

A helpful exercise is to try narrowing your research story - or your current research project - down to one or two sentences that give enough context and interesting points. Perhaps you can state what you're doing briefly and then make a pun about it or a quick metaphor for your work. This helps you to be memorable. If your listener seems engaged, try giving a bit more detail or give the PO or collaborator a little room to ask a question. If you have different lengths of your story to tell and you pay close attention to how engaged your listener is, you can maneuver initial conversations to your benefit or at least not waste your time and your listener's if they're really not interested.

Hopefully this parallel allows you to better engage stakeholders in your research, but if nothing else, perhaps it will allow you to be the life of the party over the holidays! :)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Aligning Research to a Sponsor

Many faculty researchers, especially those in under-funded disciplines feel that aligning their research and work to funders' expectations is selling out. And, in all fairness, faculty that see external funding in that light won't apply and probably shouldn't. It really takes a perspective that includes funding agencies and potential sponsors in achieving some larger research goals to find grant success. So, in that respect, the PI needs to understand the goals of the sponsor to which they are applying and tailor their research project to allow the sponsor to invest in something that aligns with their priorities, preferred approach, ideology, etc.

This is not to suggest that researchers should throw their own background and agenda out the window to chase the big dollars. This will not work even if they do it, because they will be competing against researchers who do have the background and an agenda that lines up with the granting agency. Reviewers will see through an overly opportunistic PI and always go with the PI whose project and background are a match made in heaven. So, what to do? Developing a fundable project for an agency calls for a balancing act that I try to illuminate in this blog.

Find agencies that fit
As you develop a project idea, start searching for what agencies fund the sort of work you want to do. There are many resources available to you for this.  Faculty at CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campuses are encouraged to reach out to ORDE to have a personalized fund search conducted for them/their project. Please visit our website to get more information on this service. Other ways to discover potential sponsors are to look at where your colleagues are being funded and which sponsors are funding projects similar to yours.

Also, try to think outside the box.  How can your research become a fit for an agency.  We've seen PIs able to form and re-form their research to appeal to diverse sponsors - NSF, NIH, and private sponsors while still staying on their research career path.

Understand the agency
To be successfully funded by diverse sponsors takes some skill at being able to reframe your work in different ways. However, that's only half of the work. You must also really understand an agency to be able to customize your work for them. Understanding an agency should happen on different levels. Of course, you want to understand the subject matter that a sponsor funds, but beyond that, you want to understand the approach the sponsor prefers (e.g., exploratory or applied), the level of risk and/or innovation the sponsor desires, and any ideologies or political motivations that might drive the sponsor. Does your agency report to congress? Or, what is the back story on how your foundation began?

Develop your project
Once you understand your agency, it's important to meaningfully integrate their needs and priorities into your project.  Agencies and grant reviewers will see through superficial project changes that are tacked on to your project to respond to their interests. So, although you certainly have goals and a path for your research, this stage of aligning calls for you to step back to see how you can integrate sponsor priorities into your work. This may come in the form of new partnerships with colleagues in other disciplines that better connect your research to the sponsor. Or, it might come in the form of re-creating the story of your work to relate it to the agency - again, meaningfully.

Work with your PO
Another important way to gain insight into a funding agency as well as to receive feedback and a partner to help you customize your grant is to work with the agency's program officer (PO). POs generally have great insight into the agency and the grant review process and are interested in having the very best grants submission from you. Generally, you want to have a sense of the project you want to propose before you reach out to a PO. Once you do, send a short email to the PO (make sure the whole message fits in the view window), briefly describe your project (3-5 sentences), and ask to schedule a short phone call with them to discuss. If they don't respond to you within a week, follow-up with a call. Refer to your email and ask to schedule a call (they may not be ready to talk right then and there). When you talk to the PO, have specific questions ready that demonstrate that you are well-versed on the agency (don't let them catch you not having read the program announcement or information readily available on the website). Take careful note of any advice and feedback from the PO and integrate it into your project and ultimately your grant proposal.

Fund Search and Resources Page - ORDE
What do grant reviewers really want anyway? - Robert Porter, Ph.D.
Can we talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers - Robert Porter, Ph,D.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Early Career Investigators - Jump-Starting Your Research

For many early career investigators (ECIs), beginning a first tenure track faculty position is intense. Some find themselves in the first semester juggling a heavy course load, including courses they've never taught that they're scrambling to develop. It's no wonder that research goals sometimes fall off the radar until at least the winter semester. It absolutely makes sense, yet a chaotic start to your career can leave some faculty in a sort of slump as to how to really get things started around their research when they are ready to do so.

Drawing from ORDE and Office of Research Services (ORS) resources, as well as other successful research development offices around the country, I offer some tips to get started that can help to get your research and research funding work going.

Attend workshops and seminars
Even if you've written several grants with your mentor, leading a grant development effort can bring new challenges. By registering for grant development seminars and training, you can get insight on how to approach grant-writing, as well as meet other ECIs and seasoned PIs that you might collaborate with and/or learn from.

ORDE offers a seminar series that will begin in January of 2015, open to all CU Denver faculty. The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) also offers various educational programs, including Pre-K and K to R programs for aspiring NIH ECIs. Many professional organizations offer grant development training or intensive programs to their members as well. It's always worth exploring what these organizations offer as it may be a good fit for you.

Meet with a mentor, RD professional, or leader
Having a one-on-one conversation with a mentor, an accomplished investigator or a research development professional can help you put your research career and plans into perspective. Having someone to serve as a sounding board and/or an adviser can be incredibly helpful to ECIs as they juggle their responsibilities and find ways that they can move forward.

The ORDE team is always available to meet with any of our faculty in strategy sessions as folks who you can bounce ideas off of. This can be particularly helpful when you're also wondering what funding sources are available to you.

Conduct a fund search
ORDE is also available to conduct personalized fund searches for our faculty. We work with you to understand your research goals or your specific research project, and provide you with a planning document that outlines potential funding agencies, a summary of those agencies, deadlines, eligibility, etc. These fund searches and our follow-up updates are all focused on your research.

Find seed money
Seed money can be difficult to come by, but it can really make the difference for ECIs trying to grow their research. ORDE offers a New Investigator Funding e-Book and an e-Book for Pilot Project Funding. Additionally ORS offers small and large grants to researchers on the Denver campus. This seed money can help to jump start your project and put you in a more competitive position when applying for larger external grants down the road.

Identify/form a writing group
Although a large amount of grant development and research is done independently, recruiting and working with a group of peers in a writing group or something of the like can keep you moving forward. A writing group that meets regularly can give you accountability to your peers as well as give you a mutually beneficial group of peer reviewers to offer you feedback on draft grant applications.

These resources and tips can be helpful as you grow your research and research support.

Office of Research Development Education (ORDE)
Office of Research Services (ORS)
Colorado Clinical and Translational Service Institute (CCTSI)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Supporting Documents for Grants

Letters of recommendation, letters of collaboration, references, oh my! Unfortunately, these important support documents are often left to the last minute by grant-writers. But, there is a danger to leaving these documents to an afterthought...

Get them early
First, they take time to get together.  If you're waiting till you finish writing your grant to reach out to your collaborators or supporters to provide a letter for you, it oftentimes frustrates those vital partners who are forced to turn something around so quickly, if in fact they can turn it around as quickly as you ask. Waiting till the last minute can also impact the quality of the letter you get. As we all know, writing is only as good as the time put into it.

Clarify what the sponsor wants to see
In some situations, agencies are happy to see letters that speak to the character or strong qualities of the PI, but more and more, agencies want to see specifics in letters of support, and do not want to see any "fluff" on how great the PI is. For instance, depending on the program and agency, they may want to see specific resources that a collaborator is providing - including time, numbers, access, etc. Some sponsors want to see letters from department heads that assure them that the institution and department are supportive of the PI, the project, and their career trajectory.

Write them yourself
Although you don't want to be presumptuous, most letter writers appreciate if the PI provides a draft of the letter (including exactly what the sponsor is looking for) that they can then alter or put into their own words. More often than not, the letter writer will just sign the letter written by the PI, although if there is any misunderstanding around commitments, the letter can bring those to light early on.

Consider submittal requirements
Most grant submissions use an electronic process. Make sure that your letters are submitted appropriately and once submitted, print out the full application to make sure that it looks right and that all of the letters look professional, especially if they are in a different format than other parts of the application with signatures, etc.

How to write an effective letter of support - Tufts University, Office of Proposal Development
Letters of Support - Fresno State, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs
Letters of Support - The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Office of Research