Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Applying for the NSF CAREER Award

If you're a faculty member in the Sciences or Education, you may be aware of the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award through the National Science Foundation (NSF). The CAREER grant is a prestigious award offered through all directorates of the NSF. The grant is meant to infuse early career investigators with funding to hit the ground running to develop them as researchers and educators.

ORDE offers a toolkit for those interested in the CAREER. Below is some initial information:

CAREER AWARD PURPOSE AND BACKGROUNDAll NSF directorates participate in the CAREER Program, designed to support junior faculty in their dual roles as teacher-scholars. CAREER Awards provide recipients the opportunity to enhance their professional career development, better integrate their research and education responsibilities, and build academic leadership abilities. While all NSF directorates make CAREER Awards, the number of awards varies significantly by directorate.

The CAREER Award deadlines for 2018 are July 18, 19, or 20 – depending on the NSF directorate to which you are applying. Specific deadline details are found in the CAREER Award program announcement.

Three areas emphasized by NSF program officers and CAREER awardees are:

·         Begin work on a CAREER Award proposal early. This is a very competitive program; NSF is estimating it will make just 450 new and continuing CAREER awards per year for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019. It is also unlike any other proposal you will submit to NSF because it involves planning your career objectives and illustrating how the CAREER Award will contribute to your professional development over the next 5, 10, and 20 years.

·         CAREER Awards represent a true balance between your faculty research and education roles. The required educational component may focus on any level: K-12 students, undergraduates, graduate students, and/or the general public. When planning this component, design innovative outreach efforts that go well beyond what you normally do in your faculty role and make sure your educational component is integrated with your research.

·         Partnerships, especially industrial partnerships, are considered a positive aspect, but keep in mind that no co-principal investigators are allowed on CAREER proposals (see discussion under Budget Details on page 5). International collaborations are also encouraged.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Working with External and Community Partners

Last week, ORDE offered a seminar that featured a panel of PIs who have done extensive work with community groups and external partners, including the federal and state government and tribal groups. The diverse panel was made up of Barbara Paradiso, Director of the Center on Domestic Violence in the School of Public Affairs, Timberley Roane, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology, and Ekaterini Vlahos, Professor and Chair of Architecture. Each of these PIs has also maintained an impressive record of funding in their work with external partners. It was a wonderful panel of experts and I wanted to share some of the nuggets of advice they had for other PIs looking to collaborate with external partners, particularly in funded research.

Discuss the needs and expectations of each group upfront
Key to developing a collaboration that is productive and benefits everyone is to begin by identifying how it can benefit everyone. When researchers swoop into a community to collect data and then leave, it creates a sense in that community that they were used for the researcher's own gains. But when a researcher begins the collaboration with an open discussion about what they need and what the community needs and all partners design the project to meet each group's needs, the results will be that much more robust and the relationship will be maintained.

Also, make sure that expectations are clear. What do you expect to publish on? Is the community comfortable with it? Do they understand that you will publish objectively even if the results do point to a problem within an organization? Do you understand what your partner is comfortable sharing/disclosing with you in your research? Having these conversations at the forefront can help you to better navigate the collaboration, holding each participant's needs and expectations in mind.

Build relationships and show up
As you are working with external partners, be sure to keep open communication. If you see something in your results that will concern your partner, share that with them sooner than later. Also, make an investment in your partnership by showing up. Go to community meetings. Invite community leaders to your presentations. Offer non-academic presentations on your work to better engage your partners.

Find the joy
Going into a partnership and seeing it as a burden, e.g., thinking, "I wish I didn't have to work with these people to do this project!" is probably an indicator that collaborative research or at least community research is not for you. There is great joy in working with community and external partners successfully. You are able to see and feel the impact of your collaborative research project as it goes. Collaboration can also make your research more dynamic, as you may consider practice and implications for your research in a very tangible way.

Many agencies are demanding more collaborative research, and that done in partnership with community and external groups. But the benefits of collaboration to your research go well beyond the competitive edge gained.

The Challenges of Collaboration for Academic and Community Partners in a Research Partnership - NCBI
Team Science Toolkit - NCI

Monday, February 26, 2018

Applying for the NIH K Awards

The NIH's Career Development Awards (or K awards) are a unique set of awards at NIH in that they are focused first and foremost on the candidate, as opposed to the research project, although research is a component. The Ks are mentored awards designed to move an early career investigator, in need of mentoring and career development, to an independent investigator, successfully competing for an R01 (or similar award) by the end of their K award.

The majority of K awards are mentored awards for early career investigators, including the K99/R00, K01, K08, K23, and K25. For these mentored awards, the following apply:
  • They require 75% protected time
  • The awards range from 3-5 years
  • There are no renewals
  • Success rates vary by mechanism from 20-50%
The NIH has K awards that are available at different points, but the idea for most of the mentored Ks are to facilitate and support an investigator in different points in their career, but particularly early on.

The chart above from the NIH gives a sense of the appropriate timing for applying within one's career trajectory. At the post-doctoral level, the K99/R00 is designed for postdocs looking to transition to independent or tenure-track positions at an institution usually different from where they did their postdoc.  The K01 is a mentored research scientist award. The K08, the mentored clinical scientist development award, is designed for MDs who want to become bench scientists. The K23 is the mentored patient-oriented research career development award and the K25, the mentored quantitative research career development award is designed for PhDs in Engineering who want to transition to the Biological Sciences.

One seasoned K reviewer once explained the NIH K as being about "the wo/man, the plan, and the fan," suggesting that it's first and foremost about the candidate and their promise. Next, reviewers are looking for a clear, integrated plan that includes your career development plan, your mentoring plan, and your research plan. Lastly, your mentor and mentoring network must have the track record and commitment to you that shows they can facilitate your success in becoming an independent investigator by the end of the award.

The important thing to remember when applying for the NIH mentored career awards is that they are for folks who would not be considered independent investigators. Those who successfully compete for an R01 or other major independent award are ineligible. But, the applicant must also show their need for mentoring and additional training, and show reviewers how a K investment in them will move them from a promising start to realize their full potential as an independent investigator after being mentored and trained during their K award.

Research Career Development Awards Page - NIH
NIH K Award Grant Planning Video - ORDE

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Buzzwords versus Jargon

One of the biggest challenges researchers face is how to rid their grant proposals of jargon that while common parlance to them is sometimes jibberish to their readers. Because researchers are experts and have spent decades focused on a particular topic, they're not even sure what constitutes jargon. But, to define it, jargon is the technical or conceptual phrases that your reader doesn't understand. Thus, to know what jargon is, you have to know who your reader is and what they will understand.

So, I've trapped you back into my rule on knowing your audience, which is the cardinal rule of technical writing. But what about buzzwords? As I'm defining them here, buzzwords are the language and concepts that your audience, and particularly, your funding agency uses to describe what they want to fund. Now, while using a bunch of jargon in your proposal is going to annoy people, using buzzwords in your proposal can catch your reviewers' interest.

To show you what I'll mean, I'll use an example sent to me by our wonderful Director of ORDE, Lynette Michael. The Waterloo Foundation recently put out a call for proposals on Child Development and Co-occurrence. They begin the call discussing Co-occurrence:

"In 2018, our funding will again focus on co-occurrences, and the fact that each child has one brain. We are interested in the common and co-occurring neurodevelopmental conditions of, Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and ADHD, along with Rolandic Epilepsy and Developmental Trauma, and have a particular interest in factors under parents’ influence such as diet, sleep and exercise."

Three paragraphs into the call, the Foundation highlights their use of the term co-occurrence as opposed to the more commonly used co-morbidity, saying

"The medical community often refers to this as comorbidity. We are steadfastly refusing to use this term and refer instead to co-occurrence, which is surely more cheerful for children and their families. We do hope you will join us in using this terminology1."

This is a very explicit call-out of the Foundation's buzzword, along with why they are choosing to use it. And, if this wasn't clear enough, you'll note the footnote at the end of this explanation:

"1 - Indeed, we will prioritise those applications which refer to co-occurrence rather than to comorbidity."

Although I'm grateful to the Foundation and Lynette for giving us this excellent use of a buzzword and demonstrating how and why PIs should use them, remember that agencies don't usually highlight which words they prefer you use in your application. You have to figure out their buzzwords by researching the agency and being crystal clear on what they're looking for. This research will pay off when the reviewers and agency think, "you know, they really know what we want in a funded project" when they read your proposal.

Child Development Call for Proposals - The Waterloo Foundation
Why Academics Have a Hard Time Writing Good Proposals - Texas A&M International University

Monday, February 5, 2018

How to write a Letter of Intent (LOI)

Last week we posted some suggestions for writing a white paper, and I wanted to continue this mini-series on different types of pre-proposals. This week, let's look at how to write a Letter of Intent (LOI). LOIs are generally brief pre-proposals that are requested by a foundation. The foundation reviews the brief LOIs and requests full proposals from those groups who submitted the best projects. This culls the best ideas and limits the number of full proposals the foundation needs to review.

Just like you must do for white papers, your LOI should respond to the needs of the funding agency to be most competitive. Also, if the agency offers you guidelines to use for the LOI, use them! Aside from this, as the name implies, the LOI should be short (letter length) and it should give a brief and compelling overview of your project. It should be written for the layperson and should be written in the first person and in active voice.

If the funding agency does not specify guidelines for an LOI, UMassAmherst recommends the following format:

Summary Statement: Give a summary of your project, what it is, what need it meets, and how much you're asking for.

Statement of Need: Why is this project important?

Project Activity: What will the project entail?

Outcomes: What do you expect to achieve?

Credentials: Why are you and your team the best team to do this work?

Budget: How much are you asking for and briefly what will the money be used for?

Closing: Briefly return to why this project is important and offer your vision. Give any final contact information and offer to answer any questions they may have.

Signature: Make sure you know who is designated to send LOIs on behalf of the university to a particular agency (sometimes an Advancement Officer is the liaison for an agency and LOIs must go through him or her).

LOIs are your opportunity to pique the interest of funders. Once you are invited to submit a proposal, you are already competing with a much smaller pool of applicants. So, always make sure your project aligns with the agency's needs and mission and pitches your project clearly and succinctly.

Guidelines for a Letter of Intent - UMassAmherst
How to Write a Winning LOI - Grant Writer Team

Monday, January 29, 2018

How to write a white paper

Some agencies do not ask for full grant proposals right off the bat. They narrow down candidates by asking for PIs to submit a white paper on their project first. So, what's the difference? Isn't a white paper just a mini-proposal? Well, yes, it really is. Think of a white paper as an introductory sales pitch on your project. You're trying to generate enough interest and excitement in your reviewers that they want the follow-up. They want the full proposal to know more about what you're doing.

So, now you have the gist. Below are some tips to bear in mind when crafting your white paper.

Follow agency guidelines:
There are some normal formats for white papers (see the resources below), but as always, if the agency for which you're writing the white paper has a required or even suggested format, use that. Reviewers who come across unique formats, when their agency has guidelines, find it annoying, not creative.

Respond to the agency's needs:
You have your research and, if you're wise, you're writing many proposals to many agencies. Yet, some PIs are copying and pasting one proposal or one white paper from one submission to the next. This practice ignores what agencies say they're looking for and renders proposals less competitive. Before you apply, make sure you understand and can show the fit between the agency's need and your research in the white paper.

Write for a lay audience:
Even if you're sure that the agency to which you're applying has folks with top-notch expertise in your area, you can't be sure that those are the only people who will read and weigh-in on your white paper. And remember, writing for the lay-audience doesn't mean treating your reader like they're less intelligent; it instead means writing clearly and using plain language.

Use images:
Okay, I'll spare you the "picture is worth a thousand words" cliche this time (oh wait, I just did it anyway!) Remember, images like conceptual diagrams can serve as an aide to your reader and help them get a sense of your project quickly. And, well-used images can help your proposal be more memorable.

Even if you're not required to submit a white paper on your project by the agency you're eyeing, it's a good idea to write one up. You can use it as a concept paper to run an idea by a program officer to get feedback before you develop a full proposal.

Grant Writing Tips: White Papers - Rochester Institute of Technology
Letters of Intent, Preproposals, WhitePapers, Requests for Information,Abstracts, and Logic Models: The Role ofthese Short Papers in Successful GrantApplications - NORDP

Friday, January 19, 2018

Timing is Everything

This week NPR interviewed Author, Daniel Pink, on his new book, When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Pink's research shows that most people follow a pattern where their peak time during the day is in the morning. They then fall into a slump or "trough" around the middle of the day and then come back up in a recovery period in the afternoon and evening.

What this means in terms of workflow is that we should do the work that demands focus, like grant writing, early in the day because that is when we are best able to do that sort of work. We should save work that is more administrative for the "trough" period, particularly right after lunch when, if you're like me, you're ready to take a nap under your desk, ala George Costanza from Seinfeld. In the afternoon you can return to some of the work that requires more focus or maybe schedule meetings.

Yet, even though these morning peak times are the norm, many people work on the wrong things at the wrong time. Many folks, including me, when they first get to their desk in the morning, turn on their computer and check their email. Given that many faculty members receive a large load of email, this can easily take up your whole morning, and thus your peak time.

Instead, if you rearrange your schedule to do your most important work or work that demands the most focus, and writing in particular, at the times that you're most effective, you'll be able to get more done and do it better.

Daniel Pink's 'When' Shows the Importance of Timing Throughout Life - NPR
Science says you should do your most important work first thing in the morning - Drake Baer