Friday, March 6, 2015

New Biosketch Format for NIH

The NIH has been discussing their new biosketch format for the past year, and at this point they are recommending applicants use the new biosketch form for their grant submissions, but are not requiring it until May 25, 2015. So, at this point, investigators should start to develop their new biosketches for the NIH, and below are some resources to help you.

The NIH posted their latest announcement about the biosketch in December of last year. These are the biggest biosketch changes:

  • The page limit has gone from four to five pages.
  • The format includes a contributions section where applicants can list up to five major contributions.
  • The contributions section expands the ways the applicant is able to show the significance of their work and their contributions.
  • Applicants will be able to include a link to all of their publications.
To get started, it's important to read the specific instructions and see an example of the new biosketch, which can be found here.

My favorite NIH blogger, Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Sally Rockey, offered some explication for the changes when they began rolling out the pilot last May. The NIH made this change to allow applicants themselves to describe their own research contributions that might not be obvious when looking just at their publications. This also allows for the integration of nontraditional contributions, which may not have yielded publications. As Dr. Rockey described, "We strongly believe that allowing a researcher to generate an account of his or her own work will provide a clearer picture of each individual's contributions and capabilities." (read the blog)

This new biosketch is the result of a request for information and a pilot process, which all began in the summer of 2012. These changes should prompt applicants to not only begin to update their biosketches, but to also consider their biosketch for each application. Does it make sense to submit the same biosketch, outlining the same contributions for every grant you write to the NIH?  Maybe, but maybe not. The biosketch is one of the first things that NIH reviewers read, so with that in mind, it's wise to re-read and update your biosketch with every submission.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Gates Grand Challenges Explorations

This week we offered a Know Your Agency Lunch on the Gates Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), hearing from Dr. Arunprakash Karunanithi, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering who has been funded by GCE. So, today's blog offers some nuggets from that conversation.

Make a fit:
The GCE is a grants mechanism focused on global health projects. It has an overall mission. But GCE also offers specific topics twice a year to which applicants must respond. The special topics are listed here. Dr. Karunanithi urged investigators to dig into the topics that GCE announces and to look for ways that your research may be able to fit. He said that even if you don't think your research is a fit at first blush to look closer. For instance, if you are an energy researcher, perhaps you could develop an energy fix for medication refrigeration in places that do not have consistent electricity.

Keep it short:
The GCE offers initial $100,000 Phase I awards to researchers to conduct an initial project that might serve as a pilot. GCE then considers fuller proposals for up to $1 million in Phase II from those funded by their smaller grant. The initial proposal can only be two pages long, and there are few instructions to guide you, but you can find them here. So this is the time to break out your most compelling and concise grant writing.

Be bold:
GCE is an unorthodox funding agency. They are looking for innovative projects that have the potential to make a big impact. In this spirit, they have a review process that offers a couple of different ways to be funded. Proposals that meet the requirements are reviewed through two channels: a Topic Expert Review and an Innovation Panel Review. Grants that receive the best scores as a result are funded. In addition, the Innovation Panel has the prerogative to choose projects that they see as the most innovative to be a part of their gold awards. Proposals that receive gold awards are funded regardless of the results of the Topic Expert Review. See more here.

The next round of proposals for GCE is due May 13th!

Gates Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE)
Know Your Agency Brief: GCE

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grant Editing Tips

You've probably heard the old adage, "nobody writes well the first time." Well, I agree with that, but in my experience I'd probably soften it to say, "nobody writes as well as they could the first time." So, with that in mind, in today's blog, I offer some grant editing tips that can help you turn your draft into a submission-ready proposal.

It's a good practice to create an outline before you begin to write your grant proposal. But, if you are one to just start writing to see what comes, outlining can still be useful to you. After you've written a draft and read through/revise it a couple of times, try creating an outline based on the draft to see if the outline has a logical flow. You may find you are not leading with your strongest argument or one paragraph is tangential to the point you are trying to make in that section. Outlining your grant can give you perspective on how you draft flows and where you might need some more work.

Writing like you speak can sometimes make your writing more conversational, but it also may mean including extra words or phrases that take up valuable space in your grant application. You want to trim your grant on different levels.  At the paragraph/section level, make sure that each description is important to understanding your project - make sure that your explanations don't go too far into the minutia of your project. Always ask yourself if your explanations will be necessary and important for your reviewers to consider. On the sentence level, stay in active voice wherever you can. "She wrote the grant."(active voice) uses less words than "The grant was written by her."(passive voice) And, then on the word level, cut out words like "very," "that," or "currently" (disclaimer: sometimes you may want to use these words, but oftentimes they're unnecessary). Also, cut out any words that are hyperbole. Don't tell your reviewers something is "important," show them.

Be consistent:
You want to cut down on the amount of jargon you use in your grant proposal, but sometimes certain phrases are appropriate and well-understood by people in your research community who are likely your reviewers. So, when you use jargon, acronyms, or abbreviations, make sure you define them upfront, and then use them in the same way throughout your grant. If you are using a word or a phrase to refer to a larger concept, do not use that word or phrase in another way later on in your grant.

Proofing is cleaning up your writing at the smallest level, i.e., grammar and spelling errors. Proofing makes the most sense to do after you've made larger edits - reframing your argument, rephrasing sentences, etc. I find that it's good to proof your work before you have outsiders give you feedback; if it's full of errors, your reviewers will tend to focus on those instead of on your main argument (which is where their feedback is most valuable).

Use outside Review:
Always have others review your grant before submitting. We suggest your reviewers include someone in your field, but not familiar with your project and a layperson. These very different perspectives can help you see other ways to improve your grant.

Below are some other blogs that include some useful tips for editing your grant proposal.

Self-Editing: 10 Ways to tighten your copy - Alexis Grant
9 Editing Tips for Your Proposal - The Non-profit Times

Monday, February 16, 2015

Using Props to Generate Interest in Your Research

I've noticed that when I'm explaining something to my toddler, he's paying attention to me about 60% of the time. If I'm reading him a book or showing him pictures, that may go up to 80%. And, if I have a thing to show him that he can touch, I've got him 100% of the time. Now, not to compare your colleagues or audiences to my three-year old, but I've found the same principle of hear vs. see vs. show works with adults.

Yet, like with anything, using a prop carelessly can be distracting from you and the content of your presentation, so use them wisely. The best use of a prop that I ever heard of was an engineer who had built a mechanism that made telescopes more powerful.  The piece he built was small and relatively inexpensive, and he kept one with him at all times, and whenever he was describing his research, he would retrieve his invention to show people what he did. This was very effective in helping secure funding when those who would fund him could actually see the results of his previous work.

Although most researchers are not able to keep the product of their research in their pocket,  many are still able to use props effectively. Before are some examples.

Using props to grab attention
At TED 2009, Bill Gates released a jar of mosquitoes into the crowd as an attention grabber in his talk on the importance of eliminating malaria in poor countries. This stunt did a couple of things for Gates. First, it got everyone's attention. Folks laughed and leaned in to see if they could make out the mosquitoes. Second, it made Gates' presentation go viral. TED participants were tweeting and it wasn't long before Fox and NBC were broadcasting the news. See the video

Using props as a metaphor
As I've described before, a metaphor can be a fantastic way to get your message across. Using props in that metaphor can make it that much more powerful.  TED Speaker, Amanda Palmer, used metaphorical props in her 2013 talk on the art of asking; Palmer begins her talk standing on a box, holding a flower, demonstrating her previous street performer gig. When someone put money in her hat, she "handed them a flower and some intense eye contact." She described how for many people, it seemed that no one but her had seen them and that it seemed like a fair trade - a dollar for a shared moment of acknowledgement. She then related that to her larger point: that fans shouldn't be made to pay for music and instead they should just be asked to support artists they like financially. Palmer's band demonstrated this principle when they raised 1.2 million in donations after asking on their website. To end her presentation, Palmer returns to her metaphor and props by offering the crowd a flower, saying "why don't we let people pay for music? Thank you," and throwing the flower into the crowd.

Using props to teach
I'm not sure if this is true today, but I remember most of my science classrooms in high school would have model skeletons or molecules sitting in the corner until we got to that unit in Science class. My drama teacher had a model of the Rose Theatre (the first theatre to perform Shakespeare's plays) to give us a sense of the environment in which those plays were performed. The fact that I can still remember the name of that theatre says something about the power of using props to teach.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, in her well-known talk, "A Stroke of Insight," described her experience as a brain researcher having a stroke. Before walking the audience through that experience, Dr. Jill spent time explaining to the audience how the left and right sides of the brain worked. To aid in this, she brought out a real human brain. Aside from grossing out the audience a bit and grabbing their attention, Dr. Jill taught the audience how the brain was structured and what the different pieces did. See the video.

Bill Gates' TED Talk
Amanda Palmer's TED Talk
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's TED Talk
Ten Tips for Using Props in a Presentation - blog

Friday, February 6, 2015

Do's and Don'ts of Working with Program Officers

This week Dr. Michael Jacobson, Professor in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and recent NSF Rotating Program Officer spoke to us about how to work with the NSF if you're interested in funding. He specifically offered some dos and don'ts on working with Program Officers:

Do contact program officers: Dr. Jacobson stressed the point that PO's are there to work with researchers and they can give you insight early on into whether your project might be a good fit for the NSF or not.

Do your homework: Recognizing that POs are busy people, it behooves the researcher to be familiar with NSF information on their website, any related program announcements, and even the PO's background so that you can identify common research areas to peak the PO's interest in conversation.

Don't cold call a PO: POs are scientists and oftentimes not comfortable with researchers popping in or calling them out of the blue. Try sending an email first, very briefly describing your project and requesting a phone call. Of course, if you're at a conference with a PO, it is entirely appropriate to approach them and talk about your project (and it's a good idea to keep a one-page write up handy when you may be meeting a PO). 

Do talk with POs about feedback and resubmissions: Oftentimes POs are in the room when your grant proposal is being discussed. They can sometimes offer you some additional insight into what comments mean and also advise you on your next steps around resubmissions.

Don't get on a PO's bad side: Although you may not hear back immediately from a PO, be sure to politely persist. Continue reaching out, but make sure that you walk the line between following up and pestering. Give the PO a week to respond to your initial email before writing again.

Always remember that POs are an important piece to the equation of grant funding. Even if they don't have direct control of their budgets (NSF POs do have this control), they still wield a great deal of influence and insight. Be sure to use them and their expertise!

Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers - Robert Porter
What to Say - and Not Say - to Program Officers - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, January 30, 2015

Confident Presentation: Connecting with research stakeholders

Whether you're meeting with a program officer, presenting at a conference, or speaking to potential collaborators, making an impression with your verbal presentations is key to developing your reputation. When you're able to make such an impact, you can potentially create a buzz about your research that can then carry through into the grant review panels reading your proposal or keep you top of mind among researchers with whom you might collaborate.

Yet, when it comes to presentation, content is just a piece of the impression you leave. A large part of what makes you memorable is how you come across. Below, I outline some strategies for being a more effective presenter.

Dr. Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School has done research into "power postures," and their influence on an audience and on the speaker.  Power postures are those positions that those in more powerful roles tend to use that make themselves large - things like putting your hands on your hips, standing with your feet apart, or sitting up straight. These postures project power and confidence when used in presentation. But, even better than that, Dr. Cuddy's research shows that using these power postures before an interview or a presentation can increase our levels of testosterone and lower our levels of cortisol, in effect making us feel more powerful and confident. Of course, using the inverse of these power positions projects weakness and a lack of confidence. Postures that make you smaller - crossing your arms, slumping, or touching your face or neck (I realize I do this all the time when speaking in a professional setting). These postures can distract from your presentation and rob you of your authority in a presentation setting. One of the beauties of Dr. Cuddy's research is how she shifts the old adage, "fake it till you make it" to "fake it till you become it"

Author, Simon Sinek suggests that the secret to influential people, including speakers is that they begin with the "why" of what they do while the majority of us start with the "what." He uses examples like Martin Luther King Jr. and Apple founders to show how success is found by starting with why you do something. Think about how your research spiel might change if you began with why you do your research instead of with what your research is. How might you connect with your audience and stakeholders in a new way?

Dr. Cuddy and Mr. Sinek have both presented at TED, and better yet, their talks have been included in the TED playlist to inspire folks before they give their own presentations.  I recommend watching them. I found these talks when reading the book Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo. This book outlines several speaking strategies used by successful TED speakers. I would also recommend this book. And, if you're coming to ORDE's faculty seminars on Marketing Your Research, you'll be given a copy. Faculty may register for these seminars here.

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (TED talk) 
Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
TED Playlist (8 talks): Before Public Speaking
Book: Talk Like TED - Carmine Gallo

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