Friday, July 31, 2015

Annual Research Planning: Start the Year Off Right!

Summer is starting to wind down, and researchers are starting to look to the fall, which for many brings teaching and running their labs. It is also a good time to consider your annual research development plan. Now, creating this sort of annual plan assumes that you do have a 5-10 year research plan that outlines your goals and benchmarks, including when and where you need to apply for funding, produce publications, and continue your research work.

To develop your annual plan, you want to assess your previous academic year and summer. What did you achieve? What didn't go the way you expected? Do you need to update/revise your 5-10 year plan? What are the goals and benchmarks you hope to reach in the upcoming academic year?

At ORDE, we suggest that researchers plan along three threads: publications, project development, and funding. Certainly these three threads are intertwined and support each other, but each deserves focused and intentional planning.

Publications:
Certainly, as researchers and scholars, your publications are crucial, but they are also crucial to the development of your research plan. To be competitive for many grants, reviewers expect to see a solid list of publications related to the direction in which you're headed. They look for evidence of expertise and independence in these publications, so if your mentor is first author on all your publications, you may need to start thinking about how you can take the lead on the next publication.

Project Development:
You may be in the throes of completing your last funded research project, or perhaps you're focused on developing new courses or preparing for a fall teaching load. But, don't make the mistake of only looking at what's right in front of you. You don't want to wait until these things are complete before starting to think about developing your next research project, or you will likely find yourself playing the waiting game (for funding) later on. The most productive researchers have a constant stream of next projects in the works, so that they can submit their grants and hopefully have their next grant ready to go as they're finishing the last.

Funding:
As I mentioned, if you wait to develop a project and apply for funding right when you want to get going, you'll find yourself in a lull. Many agencies can take six months to a year to review your grant, make a funding decision and get you the funding you need to get started. Thus, most researchers can't afford to wait to start grant writing when they have a little more time. Certainly, in ORDE, our mantra might as well be "The time is now for grant writing!"

But, all kidding aside, we do realize that our faculty researchers have a huge load on their plates, and although we don't want to add any additional stress to your lives, we do know that this sort of planning and consistent focus on research and research development is something successful faculty researchers have in common.

But, we're here to help! If you're a faculty researcher at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campuses or one of our affiliates and you haven't had a fund search conducted in awhile, please contact us to set up a meeting so that you start off the year aware of what funding opportunities are upcoming.

Resources:
ORDE Fund Search

Friday, July 17, 2015

The research development process

Laypeople don't tend to understand what the research develop process entails. Even researchers can be a little murky on the research development process, so this week I offer clarification on how we at ORDE define this important process.

I start with the following chart and offer some clarification on each stage of the process. You see that this diagram is cyclical and that's intentional. Whether you are working on a resubmission or continuing to develop your research agenda, you should be constantly working in some part of this cycle, and often in multiple parts, depending on how many research projects you have in the works.



Search literature & funding landscape: Around the time you are combing the literature to identify gaps that your research can address, you should also be getting a lay of the funding landscape. Faculty at CU Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus can contact ORDE to have us conduct a comprehensive fund search.

Develop project & research sponsor: As you begin to develop your research idea and have identified which sponsors might be a good fit to fund your research, you should do background research on the sponsors to which you're considering applying. It's important to understand the ideology, approach, as well as preferred topics funded by the sponsor.

Develop concept paper: A concept paper is a one-two page document that gives an overview of your project and why it's important. This can be used to shop your idea around to get feedback and generate interest around your research amongst funders, collaborators, and/or mentors.

Review program announcement: This may seem obvious, but in our experience, some PI's miss this vital step and can end up with their grant rejected when they have not followed the instructions in the program announcement.

Work with Program Officers: PO's serve as the liaison between a sponsor and an applicant. PO's often have influence over the review process and even some funding decisions. It's a good idea to reach out to a PO to get their thoughts on your research project before you apply.

Draft grant proposal: Based on the feedback you get on your concept paper, and considering what you've learned from your sponsor research and the program announcement, you can begin to draft your grant application.

Seek feedback: Once you have a working draft of your grant, you should vet it with colleagues, mentors, and even laypeople to make sure that your case is clear and compelling and accessible by different audiences.

Revise and Resubmit: We find ourselves in a competitive grant-funding climate where getting a grant rejected is a reality for many researchers. The biggest difference between those investigators who ultimately are funded and those who don't is whether or not they keep submitting grants.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Got a Research Idea - Sell It!

I sat in on a webinar by Morgan Giddings last week where she offered some different ways of thinking about grant development that I thought were valuable. One important point Giddings made was that most investigators are uncomfortable with the idea of "selling." This rang true; many faculty I encounter are slow to honk their own horn much less really sell their ideas.

Yet, as Giddings observed, many investigators have the wrong idea about what selling should be. Years ago, I found myself responsible for selling customized educational programs to universities and colleges. As the Director responsible for developing this new branch of programs for my organization, I was not excited about this task. I was not a salesperson after all. Yet, I was also responsible for conducting the needs assessments and designing the programs that we offered, so I knew them inside and out. Thus, when I found myself in a conversation with a Provost or VP, I could clearly describe what we were offering and answer the questions they had.

To get past my nerves around selling or even having conversations with top leaders in higher education, I reminded myself that I wasn't trying to trick an institution into bringing a customized workshop to their campus.  I just wanted them to understand what the workshops were, what their value was, and then for them to make the decision that was best for their institution. I knew that if any institution was cajoled into bringing a workshop, we might make a bit more money in the short-term, but it would cost us far more in reputation in the long run.

So, in applying my experience, along with that of Giddings and Daniel Pink, below I identify what good selling should and should not include.

Selling should not trick anyone
As you're writing a grant or a concept paper, your goal isn't necessarily to persuade an agency to give you money, but more so to give them a clear sense of your idea and the value or importance of that idea. If it's right for them, they will be persuaded without you having to persuade them.

Selling should focus on listening to the "buyer's" needs
Daniel Pink cites researcher, Adam Grant, saying the best sellers are "ambiverts." They are not too introverted to talk to folks about whatever they're selling, but they're also not too extroverted to listen to what the buyer is saying they need. In grant development, it's essential to know what an agency is looking to fund before you decide whether or not to submit or before you start talking with a Program Officer.

Selling should clearly articulate your value
When you have a great research idea or project, your goal should be to clearly communicate it to possible funders. As mentioned, you're not trying to trick anyone into funding you.  You're trying to help them understand your project, why it's important, and why it's a good fit for them.

Hopefully, as you start to rethink what selling can be, you can begin to be more intentional in selling your research idea.

Resources
Morgan Giddings Blog 
Daniel Pink on Selling

Friday, June 26, 2015

Your Data Management Plan

This week, Karen Markin had an excellent article on Data Management Plans (DMPs) in the Chronicle of Higher education. As many federal agencies are requiring data management plans for large grant projects, and policies are being developed, it's not surprising to find that these DMPs are often times a core part of the criteria on which grants are judged.

Part of the push behind DMPs is the call for data that has been collected using the taxpayer money to be accessible and usable for further analysis. This, of course, excludes data that is classified to protect personal information or data where there is a justifiable reason for its confidentiality. Unfortunately, trying to maintain your edge as the PI who has collected the data is not seen as a justifiable reason by most agencies.

Agencies will often offer templates or checklists that spell out exactly what they're looking for and the criteria for which they will judge a DMP in review. These resources should serve as your guiding document. However, good DMP's tend to include the following, as recommended by the NIH:
  • Description of data
  • Schedule for data sharing
  • Format for DMP
  • Documentation that will be provided
  • Details on any analytic tools
  • Details on any data sharing agreements
  • Mode of data sharing
As you put together a DMP, below are some resources to help you...
Resources
Where Should You Keep Your Data - Karen Markin
Data Management Planning Tool - University of California

Friday, June 19, 2015

Program Officers: Face-to-Face Meetings

This week, one of our faculty members received a fundable score on a grant resubmission. She sent us a note to let us know that key to her success was a meeting with her Program Officer (PO). She had attended our Grant Resubmissions seminar this Spring, and after our discussion around working with PO's she decided to fly out to meet with her's at a conference. She reported that she ended up sitting down with a Program Officer for an hour and that he gave her feedback on her grant and invaluable career advice. Although she had been on the fence as to whether she should spend her own money to fly to the conference at the last minute just to see her PO after he had suggested their meeting, ultimately she decided that the investment was well worth it

In fact, more and more, researchers are prioritizing face-to-face meetings with their PO's. Some make a trip out to DC as they're starting to think about submitting, going to their first meeting with just a concept paper to introduce themselves and their research idea. And, some request meetings with their PO at large national conferences or in an annual trip to DC.

Dr. John Swallow, at an ORDE seminar on Grant Resubmissions this Spring stressed the importance of developing an ongoing relationship saying, "By the time I got my grant funded, [my PO] knew who I was and was excited for me." He goes on to describe how he makes a point at his national conference to sit down with his NSF PO to not only discuss his current application, but to get her advice on new ideas, see if they're a fit, ask what panel they should go to, etc. This not only gives Dr. Swallow important feedback, but also does the work of building a relationship and a familiarity for him and his work with his Program Officer.

Of course, this does not mean that if you can't see your PO face to face, you should give up on reaching out. Phone, email, and even Skype can be great starting off points to get you and your work in front of your program officer.

Resources:
Resubmissions: Seeking Feedback - ORDE Video
Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers - Robert Porter

Friday, June 12, 2015

Avoiding Red Flags in Your Grant

A couple of weeks ago, one of our faculty and an experienced reviewer for the NSF talked about things to avoid when putting together a CAREER grant application. He explained that as a reviewer, he was given a short orientation before the review meeting where they identified red flags in proposals that might signal to the panel that the grant was not in line with the NSF's goals or preferred approach within the particular directorate in which they were reviewing.

NSF Red Flag Words:
  • Develop
  • Characterize
  • Evaluate
  • Optimize
The reviewer explained how the NSF liked to fund research projects that are hypothesis driven and that make clear contributions to their particular field, driving it forward. The trouble with the red flag words is that they get away from the NSF's goals of good, hypothesis-driven, science. They aren't necessarily interested in a research project that is applied, and might use words such as "develop." In the same way the NSF is not interested in its researchers characterizing, evaluating, or optimizing in their project objectives, they want the researcher to pose a solid hypothesis that gets at a core question in the field and then they want to understand how the PI will conduct an experiment(s) to answer that question. It's also important that researchers not suggest a "test and see" approach where there is no clear hypothesis and the researcher seems to propose to throw things at the wall to see what sticks, in a manner of speaking.

To broaden this conversation, although some agencies may not identify particular flag words for reviewers, many agency reviewers go into grant reviews with some in mind.  Your job, as the grant writer is to research the sponsor, including understanding background and goals, and to talk to a Program Officer. This can allow you to intuit what the red flags are and to not only avoid them, but to incorporate the language the agency wants. In doing this, you can show that your project is closely aligned with what the agency is looking to fund.

Resources
What are potential red flags when you are reviewing proposals? - Grant Space
5 things you should not do in your grant proposal - about.com

Friday, June 5, 2015

Abstracts: The Movie Trailer for Your Grant

This week, Dr. Chris Yakacki, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, spoke to a group of faculty about grant-writing. In his talk, he compared a grant abstract with a movie trailer. It's a good comparison - you want to include the most exciting pieces of your project right up front for reviewers and other readers to see. Yet, where the metaphor breaks down is in the full disclosure. A movie trailer, by its very nature, includes a bit of suspense. Producers don't want you to know how it ends - even if it's a romantic comedy.  Grant abstracts, on the other hand, should not hold back in sharing the full case for your project. All of the PI's most compelling points should be incorporated into the abstract. As Dr. Yakacki said, "Don't make your grant like the Shawshank Redemption!" alluding to the idea of keeping your reader in suspense till the very end where you reveal what is happening and the conclusion. Instead, tell them right up front in the abstract.

A grant abstract should include the following:


What:
Describe your project.

Why:
Explain the problem or potential impact of your project. Why is it important that you do this work?


How:
Briefly describe how you will conduct the work.

Make sure, however, that your abstract doesn't come across as too formulaic. You want to maintain the excitement and vision for your project in your abstract tone. Remember, the abstract is often the first thing a reader sees; you want to get him/her excited about your project and entice them to read on in your application.

So, like a movie trailer, you want to get your abstract reader really excited about your research project and in some ways leave them wanting more. But, don't create that desire by holding something back.

Resources
The Elements of a Good Proposal Abstract
Abstract Killers: How Not to Kill a Grant Application