Friday, November 20, 2015

Giving Thanks (and getting grants)

In this Thanksgiving season, if you currently have a grant, you're probably grateful for that grant. If you've received a recent rejection, you may feel less so. However, whatever camp you're in, giving thanks in a variety of grant development situations can be an opportunity for you to further your case for eventual funding.

When we think about the relationship-building side of the grant development process, saying thank you and following up with a Program Officer (PO) gives you a chance to put your name and your work in front of the PO again in a positive light (everyone likes a thank you). Even when you are not funded and receive feedback from reviewers, email your PO to discuss those comments, but start that email with a "thank you" for the agency taking the time to thoughtfully review your grant. And, again, after you discuss reviewer comments, follow up with another "thank you" for the PO's time.

This may seem like overkill, but did you know that there is a field and science to the follow-up and thank yous for people who give you money?  In higher education and the nonprofit world, we call this stewardship. The idea behind this field is the follow-up with a donor after they've made a gift to not only thank them, but also to begin moving them or "stewarding" them toward making a next (hopefully larger) gift.

You may think that comparing an official at a grant-making agency with an individual donor to a charity as apples and oranges. However, I think there are some donor stewardship ideas that apply to relationship-building with POs.

Donors want to know the gift was received and appreciated. Oftentimes, your PO is the one to let you know that you've been funded. So they know that you know that you're funded. But, again, don't miss the opportunity to say thank you and show your gratitude and your excitement to pursue your project. Also, it's good to bear in mind that grant making agencies and their POs do see themselves as investors in you and your project, and in that way, they want to be acknowledged and kept in the loop.

Donors want to know their money is being used for its intended purpose. POs want to know the agency's money is being used for its intended purpose. Remember those pesky reports you are required to submit annually or bi-annually? Those reports are actually a great opportunity for you to steward your PO. Write a report that demonstrates your gratitude and your excitement around what you're able to do with your grant. In a recent ORDE seminar, Timberley Roane, Associate Professor in Integrative Biology, described how at a conference she attended, a PO came up to her and just said "Thank you!" He was so appreciative for her diligence to send reports on time that she stood out from her colleagues in this way.

Additionally, when you receive any press on your research, especially your funded research, be sure to forward to your PO with a quick thank you. Also, be sure to acknowledge the agency in any recognition or press that you receive. Granting agencies are essential to accomplishing research in this day and age, so bear this in mind, and when there is an opportunity, give thanks!

Stewardship - More than a Thank-You - Blog by Michael Rosen
Million Dollar Donors - Presentation by Shelley Henry, Debbie Meyers, and Kristin Sullivan

Friday, November 13, 2015

What do Program Officers Say?

Last month, I polled former National Science Foundation (NSF) Program Officers (PO) about how they wanted PIs to work with them and reach out to them. Below is a summary of those responses. Although all of these folks had been NSF POs, their insights can be applied to working with POs more generally, especially at the federal level.

Here are the questions and responses from our POs:

What is the best way to reach out to a PO?
  • email a one-two pager (3)
  • Set up a phone call (2)
  • Arrange a face-to-face visit (2)
What should you do if a PO is unresponsive?
  • Be persistent (2)
  • Find another PO (2)
  • Not much you can do (1)
 How can you best cultivate a relationship with a PO?
  • Send them projects interesting to them (2)
  • Visit the PO (1)
  • Invite them to your campus (1)
  • Be concise in your communications (1)
What advice do you have for working with POs?
  • Don't request funding for the same old thing (2)
  • Don't cold call (1)
  • Ask to be on a review panel (1)
 Please use the comments box to share your own advice or questions about working with POs.

Advice for Meeting Directors at NSF - Richard Nader
The Role of Program Officers (NIH) - Timothy Gondre-Lewis

Friday, October 30, 2015

Planning for Sabbatical Funding

Most faculty who take their first sabbatical do so right after they receive tenure. At CU, tenured faculty are eligible for a sabbatical after six years of service. Although it makes sense that faculty are given a time to refresh right after a herculean effort to earn tenure, because it happens so close to the award of tenure, faculty are often ill-prepared for their sabbatical when it comes to funding.

At CU, faculty applying for sabbatical are eligible for one semester off at full-pay or two semesters off at half-pay.  Many who plan to take off one academic year seek funding to help cover salary and other expenses.  Yet, many of the fellowships and funds designed for sabbaticals must have applications submitted at least a year in advance of funding. Thus, if faculty wait to look for and apply for sabbatical funding once they've received tenure, oftentimes they've missed out on some opportunities.

It may feel strange to be planning for your sabbatical when you're still in the throes of going up for tenure. But, considering that those you're competing with for sabbatical funding are likely in the same boat, planning ahead, can give you an edge. Another consideration, if you are too pressed in pulling together your dossier for tenure review, is postponing your sabbatical for a semester or two to give you a chance to search and apply for funding to allow for a full sabbatical. Other sabbatical-planning faculty include more seasoned Associate Professors or Professors who are once again eligible, and sabbaticals can sneak up on these folks too.

Sabbatical funding can come in many different forms. Oftentimes, it is in the form of a fellowship or residency, allowing for you to get away from it all to do your work in a new space. Or, it can allow you to develop a new skill. Some sabbatical funding opportunities allow you to work at and/or with federal agency staff on new projects using their data and resources.

While many faculty going on sabbatical think about starting or writing a book, there are a limited number of opportunities that will fund you to do that outright. But, if you can make a case for a fellowship or the need to travel and/or collaborate in conjunction with a book project, there may be greater opportunity.

When it comes to sabbatical funding, the most important thing to remember is to start early, and probably even earlier than you think is early. To get started, use the link below to start digging through our e-book on Sabbatical funding!

Sabbatical Funding e-book - ORDE
Five Steps to a Successful Sabbatical -  Science Careers

Friday, October 23, 2015

NIH Grant Application Updates

This week the NIH announced upcoming changes to their grant application process. These changes fall in the following areas:
  • Research rigor/transparency
  • Vertebrate animals
  • Inclusion reporting
  • Data safety monitoring
  • Research training
  • Appendices
  • Font requirements
  • Biosketch clarifications
Among the updates, the following jumped out at me (but this may be biased, since we do little with vertebrate animals besides our dogs in ORDE).

Research rigor/transparency: Seemingly responding to concern over recent reports showing the low rate that research is able to be reproduced, the NIH is asking for more specifics in the significance and approach sections in grant applications that allude to the rigor and transparency of the project. Additionally, reviewers will be asked to consider new criteria to this effect in study section.

Font requirements: The NIH is becoming more flexible on the fonts accepted in grant applications, but they still offer recommended fonts. Before you go crazy with a nice Brush Script font, remember the expectations of your reviewers. Although font may seem like a small thing, when your reviewers are used to seeing a particular font, and have written their grants in that same font, they may find a new font a bit irksome. We'd recommend staying with NIH's recommended fonts even if you don't have to.

Biosketch clarifications: After the NIH updated their biosketch format earlier this year, these clarifications offer a little more information as to what they're looking for. For instance the link that you're allowed to include for your publication list needs to link to a .gov site, like My Bibliography. Publications and research products can be discussed in both the personal statement and in the contributions to science sections of your biosketch. Also, as many folks are still trying to figure out "what counts" as a  research product, the NIH is making explicit that no graphics, charts, etc. are allowed in the biosketch (so although you could describe any of these as a research product, do not include the image itself).

The larger changes will be applied in a phased approach, with the first being implemented in January 2016. If you're working on an NIH grant or plan to start soon, be sure to read through these updates!

NIH Notice

Friday, October 16, 2015

Emailing Agencies

As ORDE is preparing for our October seminars on Working with Program Officers, I've noticed the questions from PI's about reaching out to PO's or agencies in general. Reaching out may seem like a simple thing to do, but as we've seen many researchers and scholars are hesitant.

Robert Porter in his article, "Can we talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers" (2009), suggests that this hesitancy lies in academics being more used to the lack of relationships they have with journal editors or even those universities to which they apply for tenure track positions.  It would, of course, be inappropriate to contact an editor to see what you could do to get your article published. And, at the University of Colorado (CU), hiring authorities are not allowed to speak to potential applicants about open jobs anyway.

For these reasons, researchers sometimes think that it is cheating to reach out to agencies and their PO's. Yet, in a recent poll of former NSF PO's at CU, all responding PO's emphasized the importance of PI's reaching out to make sure the grants they are developing are in line with the agency's priorities.

Given this importance, below are some tips from PO's and research development professionals on initially reaching out to PO's.

Start early
PO's are busy people, but they get even busier as they approach grant deadlines or as we approach the end of the fiscal year, so make sure that you are preparing early and reaching out at a time when a PO isn't up to his or her ears in questions, requests, and grants.
Do your homework
Before you reach out to an agency in any form, make sure you know about that agency. Be familiar with their website, their mission, how they are organized, and who you should contact.  If you are responding to a program announcement (PA), make sure that you've read it several times.  Nothing makes you look unprepared as asking a question that is answered in a PA or the website.

Send an email
When you're ready, send an email to who you think is the appropriate PO.  Make the email short. Introduce yourself (are you an early career investigator? have you received an award from the agency previously?) and give a quick description of your project (3-5 sentences). Use your subject line to describe why you're reaching out and keep it short.  Something like "Scheduling phone call?" or "Request for feedback" let's the PO quickly know why you're contacting them. Lastly, make sure that there is a call-to-action in your email. This is usually a request for a brief phone call to discuss your project.

Send a one/two-pager
Some PO's at some agencies are ready for you to send a one-pager in your first email, but if you're unsure about it, you can send the email outlined above, but you want to have that project description in your back pocket. One PI told us about her reaching out to a PO and discussing her project only for the PO to ask her to send along her one-pager. The PI spent the rest of the afternoon and night putting together a project description (she hadn't written it yet).

Schedule a call
Usually, when first emailing, you're trying to schedule a call. But, in doing that, you want to remember that although you are busy, the PO is also busy and you are the one that needs to be flexible. You're asking for their time after all.  Give them some times/days and ask if anything would work for a call.

If a week goes by and you haven't heard anything, send another brief email "checking in" on your last note. Be polite and friendly, refer to your previous message, and ask again to schedule a call. Even if a PO is slow to respond to your outreach, do not be slow to respond to them. When they ask for a one-pager, send it within 24 hours, and in your follow-ups, always thank them for their time and note next steps. Anything discussed or agreed to by phone, briefly restate them. For instance if the PO said they would put you in touch with another PO, in your follow-up email, say something to the effect of "Thank you so much for reaching out to Dr. X on my behalf; I look forward to following up with her."

I want to leave you with a caveat: there are no hard and fast rules to reaching out to PO's. You must adjust all of the advice above based on the agency you're reaching out to. When doing your homework on the agency, it's a good idea to find someone at your university who has worked with that agency before to give you some insight on their preferences. But, don't let the unknown keep you from reaching out. 

How do I approach a foundation...? -
What to say-and not say- to Program Officers - Chronicle of Higher Education


Friday, October 9, 2015

Flip the Script: Think Like a Reviewer

I've noticed that our more seasoned faculty researchers all seem to share one recommendation for early career investigators, and that is to serve on a review panel. This can be a bit tricky for very new investigators as some agencies prefer to have previous grant awardees on their review panels. If you are a bit green to be selected as a reviewer, volunteering to be a reviewer can give you another good reason to reach out to a Program Officer to introduce yourself and offer your service.

In the meantime, it can be a worthwhile exercise to practice thinking like a reviewer to get some insight into their experience and what they're looking for. Use the following questions to get started:

What excites you?
In your field, what would you be looking for in the next great project? And, where would you expect to find that information in a grant? Hint: You'd want the exciting stuff right upfront!

What makes a grant clear and easy to read?
Think about any grants or other technical documents you've seen in your field. In the ones that were clear and useful, what did the author(s) do? Was there a clear abstract or some sort of orientation to the document? Were the headings clear and consistent? Were the sentences straightforward and in active voice? All of these things can make a grant much easier to read and clearer!

What annoys you?
On the flipside, think of a grant or document that was terrible to read and perhaps irksome. Maybe this was a student paper or a report. But, why was it so annoying? Did they leave out key information when you needed it? Were things hard to find? Did you have to read two pages before you understood what the author was getting at? All of these can make a grant hard to read, as well as give you a negative perspective toward the PI.

What flaws would you look for/expect?
As a researcher in your field, what are the givens and inexcusable problems that you would make sure were not in a grant that you endorsed? What things about the PI would sway you one way or another? What experience should they have? How many pubs should they have? Of course, no one is a master at everything, so it's important to have collaborators for the areas in which you are weaker.

What would it take for you to advocate for a PI and their grant?
Going back to the first question, and considering the rest, what would it really take for you to put your reputation on the line to advocate for a PI and their grant? What would be exciting enough and what would make the project solid enough that you would want to build a case for that person and argue it with your colleagues?

Considering these questions and the experience of the reviewer can give you a new angle to consider for your grant. Are you capitalizing on what reviewers would see as strengths? Are you avoiding things that might drive them nuts? How can you easily convey the power and urgency of your project so that they are compelled to join you by advocating for your project?

Learning from Peer Review - The Scientist
What do Grant Reviewers Really Want Anyway? - Robert Porter

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Five Things to Know About the NIH Review Process

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the NIH offers a variety of resources for applicants trying to better understand the NIH peer review process.  Below, we offer five pieces of information to better familiarize you with the process, but encourage you to explore the CSR site and resources using the links below.

1. Levels of review
When you submit an application to the NIH, the CSR assigns it to a study section (which you can request in your cover letter). The second level of review conducted by the NIH Institute/Center Council looks at the application's alignment with the institute's mission and goals. See the CSR graphic below that illustrates the process.

2. Who sets priorities?
NIH priorities are set by the scientific community, congress, and other industry, patient, and public representatives.

3. Your Early Career Investigator status
For new and early career investigators submitting applications to the NIH, your status is formally taken into account for R01s and considered for other applications as well.

4. The core review criteria
The core review criteria that NIH uses to assess its applications are:
  • Significance
  • Investigator(s)
  • Innovation
  • Approach
  • Environment
5. Scoring
In the peer review process, reviewers score applications on a scale of 1-9 where the lower the score, the better.  Receiving a 1 means exceptional and receiving a 9 means poor.

Continue learning about the NIH peer review process through the CSR site and resources, accessible through these links:

Peer Review Site* - CSR
Insider's Guide to Peer Review for Applicants* - CSR

* When you click the links, you may be asked for credentials, but when you hit "cancel," you should be directed to the site.