Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Grant tips from the semester

Last week, with help from our dear student assistant, we posted videos from our Spring seminars on our vimeo site. Below, I share the links and a couple of tips from each of these seminars.

NIH K Grant Planning

  • K grants are about the wo(man), the plan, and the fan (the candidate, their integrated research/development plan, and their mentor/mentorship team)
  • The mentored K grants are targeted toward early career faculty and postdocs who need additional training/mentoring through the K to be ready to go after a major grant independently, like an R01.

Working with Community and External Partners
  • A good partnership requires good communication and a relationship that benefits all partners.
  • When reaching out to organizations, begin with someone you would work with and discuss how you might work together to build buy-in at lower levels before going to the decision-maker.

  • While candidates for the NIH K cannot have had a major independent award previously, many NSF CAREER recipients have had NSF independent awards previously.
  • For any career grant, it's helpful to start off by identifying where you want to be as a researcher in five years and to map out what you need to do to get there.
  • Understand who your audience is and what they want.
  • Keep your message simple.
  • Make your pitch conversational.
  • When developing your project, reach out to a Program Officer to get input.
  • Remember, the NSF is looking to fund good science, first and foremost.
  • Write these grants for the layperson.
  • Do not use jargon.
  • Explain your research and why it's important.
Those are a couple of quick tips from each of these seminars, I encourage you to check out the videos for those relevant seminars that you missed this spring.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Work/Life Balance

Summer may seem like a weird time to practice work/life balance. However, practicing work/life balance when you are not feeling overloaded, as you may feel in the fall, is ideal. With that in mind, I attended a workshop this week put on by the Colorado School of Public Health on work/life balance, presented by Dr. Gwen Fisher and Kelly Cave.

Work/life balance is achieved when you feel content in all areas of your life or feel like you have enough time to allocate to all the things that are important to you. If you don't feel satisfied with how much time and attention you have to spend on different aspects of your life including work, family, and personal time, there are some things you can do. You can increase resources or decrease demands. Below I offer some suggestions under both categories, gleaned from the workshop.

Increase resources:
When it comes to the resources that make the biggest difference in terms of work/life balance, the best resource to have is time. However, since we cannot create more time, it's important to look at ways that we can conserve time. This can mean things like finding an editor to review articles and/or grant proposals or finding and training a graduate student that you can delegate some tasks to. Another way to save time is to be judicious in the extra responsibilities you take on. It's important that you master saying no to things that are not necessary or worth the additional stress in your life. Make sure that you're not getting so busy that you're cutting into sleep, exercise, or family time. Other ways to save time are to avoid traveling during high-traffic times.

If you're not sure where all your time goes, try logging your time for a few days to see how much time you are spending on things. You may be surprised and realize areas that you could save time. Multitasking is a deceptively large time suck. Although most people think that multitasking saves time, research shows that people really can't focus on multiple things at the same time, and they actually lose time switching to new things and remembering/refocusing what they're doing. So, instead, prioritize and do one thing at a time.

Reduce demand:
Prioritizing can help you to get the work that needs to be done done and can alleviate some of the pressure that you feel in the short-term. Setting reasonable expectations with colleagues is another way that can reduce demand, especially in the near future.

In the workshop, one of the facilitators introduced the idea of telepressure, which refers to the stress or urge to continually respond to messages through email, text, social media, etc. This constancy of telepressure can create unnecessary stress, so consider finding times to turn off your technology, especially around bedtime.

When things get stressful, it's easy to kick it into overdrive in the short term. Problem is when this gets to be longer term, there are serious health repercussions. So remember, taking care of yourself makes you more productive during your working time. So make sure you get the sleep you need and consistently exercise. Also, take the breaks that you need. Perhaps go for walking meetings or on walks as a break to your work. It's important not to keep at it until you feel like you're banging your head against the wall.

6 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance - Deborah Jian Lee, Forbes
Work Life Balance - Mental Health America

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What's your plan for the summer?

As the semester begins to wind down, or heightens to a frenzy (based on what side of grading you are on), you should begin planning your summer. Certainly, make sure you spend some time relaxing and unwinding when that last paper is graded. But, also plan for how to be productive in your research over the summer, so that you feel you accomplished an appropriate amount come fall.

To decide what you will do, check in with your research plan. What research plan? Aha! If you don't have a research plan that is moving you toward your 5-10 year goals, spend the first part of your summer devising or updating your research plan to help keep you on track.

Below are items that your research plan should include:

Begin with the end in mind: Take a moment to envision where you want to be in 10 years. To do that, think about where you want to be in 5 years. Once you've dreamed a little bit and gotten excited about your opportunities, you can work backward to benchmark where you need to be at the end of each year.

Identify publications: To get where you want to be, where do you need to bolster your publications and what kind of publications do they need to be to best position yourself for grants and in recruiting partners and collaborators?

Identify funding sources: You will likely need funding to achieve what you're planning. What are those sources? What are those agencies looking for? When are their deadlines? How long will it take between developing your grant proposal and having the money, if funded? It's important that you account for things like rejections and planned resubmissions and alternate plans for when you don't receive the funding you were hoping for the first or second time.

Plan for preliminary data collection: Most sponsors expect applicants to have some preliminary data before they apply. This preliminary data demonstrates to the sponsor that the researcher can and will execute a successful research project if funded. So be sure as you map out your research plan that you have also planned for preliminary data collection or small projects that show you will likely be successful in your research.

An article in Science suggests that you should develop a 3-5 page research plan before you hit the job market to show your future colleagues that you are worth the investment you're asking them to make in you and your work. However, if you have secured a faculty position without a research plan, that's great! Now, go and write one. :)

Writing a Research Plan - Jim Austin (Science)
Charting a course for a successful research career - Alan M Johnson (Elsevier)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reviewers tips for writing a grant proposal

Earlier this week, we held a grant-writing seminar and had one of our internal grant review committees send us tips they would give to those applying for any grant proposal. Here they are:
  • Read the guidelines carefully, following all instructions in terms of font size, margins, spacing, and page limits and use the most current template.
  • Grab your reviewers’ attention immediately with a compelling abstract.
  • Summarize the importance and value of your project in the abstract and offer a brief description of your project.
  • Write clearly and concisely, explaining concepts and methods such that a non-expert/layperson will understand.
  • Spell out all acronyms and define technical terms on the first use, but severely limit this use
  • Describe the significance and impact of your work.
  • Identify the research question(s) you will be answering with this project and connect these to the overall impact of your project.
  • Use visuals that are clear, helpful, and readable (and explain when necessary).
  • Have a non-expert/layperson review your application before submitting.
  • When proposing to use questionnaires or surveys, please provide sample questions you intend to include.
  • Justify your chosen methods – why are the methods you have chosen the best for this project?
  • If you are proposing a small sample size, why is this approach appropriate?
  • Justify your budget, don’t just make it up.
  • In your budget justification, explain why you are requesting funding for each item and how it benefits your research project.
  • Carefully check for spelling/grammar errors in your application.

All in all,
  1. Don’t do anything that will frustrate your reviewers.
  2. Write an abstract that can standalone and give a compelling overview of your project.
  3. Don’t use jargon (technical language not accessible for a layperson/non-expert).
  4. Write a methods section that clearly describes how you will conduct your project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Know Your Agency: The Spencer Foundation

 The Spencer Foundation, located in Chicago, Illinois, was founded in 1962 by Lyle M. Spencer, a sociologist. Mr. Spencer was a life-long advocate of quality education, having started Science Research Associates (SRA) in 1938. SRA was best known for its SRA Reading Laboratory Kit found in most elementary and secondary classrooms in 1957 and after. Following Mr. Spencer’s death in 1968, the Foundation received its initial endowment, and agency personnel spent the next three years charting the Foundation’s vision and mission based on their Founder’s wishes concerning support of educational research. The first grants were made in 1971, and to date the Foundation has provided over $500 million in research funding.

The Spencer Foundation takes a broad approach to the subject of education, and funds projects worldwide. Educational improvement through research is the overall Foundation mission, and research efforts within a variety of disciplines have been supported including education, anthropology, economics, history, human development, literacy, psychology, public policy, sociology, and statistics. Investigators are expected to make a strong case for the importance of the proposed project in terms of educational improvement as well as Foundation needs and interests.

Specific Interests
Grant awards made by Spencer reflect a wide variety of topics within education including achievement, leadership, assessment, civic engagement, cognition, diversity, early childhood, higher education, human development, language, math and science education, organizational theory, race/ethnicity, literacy, special education, teacher education, and teaching with technology.

The Foundation is led by a President and Board of Directors. Current Board membership consists of six educators, primarily within higher education, and two

members from the business community. The current President, Na’ilah Suad Nasir, was selected in 2017, and is working with the Board toward evolution of the Foundation’s grants programs to ensure supported research efforts translate into educational practice more effectively among other priorities. At this time, a number of previously established funding priorities have been suspended.

The two largest grant programs offered by the Foundation are:

·    The Lyle M. Spencer Awards – designed to support large-scale research efforts with budgets between $100,000 and $1 million; the Foundation offers this grant competition once per year, and typically funds up to 10 awards
·    Small Grants – designed to support smaller-scale and/or pilot projects with budgets of $50,000 or less; there are four deadlines a year for this program

Last year the Foundation hosted informational webinars for both of these programs to outline expectations. Note that principal investigators (PIs) are limited to one active Spencer Foundation research award at a time; current PIs may submit another grant application set to start after their current grant project ends.

FY 2017 Awards/Success Rates
The Foundation provided 186 awards in 2017 including Conference Grants, Lyle Spencer Research Awards and Small Grants. Specific to the Small Grants Program, through which the Foundation makes the majority of its awards, they generally receive over 1000 proposals and are able to fund up to 10%. (Source: Small Grants Eligibility and Process web page)

Additional Funding Mechanisms

The Spencer Foundation also offers Doctoral Dissertation and Postdoctoral Fellowships, both administered through the National Academy of Education. The Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is open to early career faculty.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How to pitch your research

Many researchers cringe at the thought of marketing, selling, or pitching their research. This is in part due to folks being uncomfortable 'selling' their own work or themselves in a sense. Yet, I think this hesitation is built on a flawed perception of what pitching yourself and your work is. It's easy to understand how it happens. We live in a world where we are bombarded with people calling, emailing, or catching us on the street to pitch their product or cause. Yet, most of these folks aren't interested in what we need or think; it's sell by any means necessary.

But, that's not what pitching your research is about. You're not trying to trick anyone into investing in you or collaborating with you. Even if those tactics worked for you once, they would only work once. Instead, pitching your research is first and foremost about understanding your audience and their needs, and aligning your own needs and interests with theirs. For instance, when you're applying for a grant, you must first understand what the agency is looking for in the type of project they'll fund and then develop and pitch a research project that will further your research agenda and meet their needs.

Below, I offer some tips to consider when developing your pitch...

Have a hook
We're all familiar with hooks; that's the part of the story, novel, or pitch that piques the audience's interest enough to get them to want to learn more. To figure out your own hook, think about what is most intriguing or exciting about your work and start there. Is the problem you're solving really awful? Has your solution never been used before? Will the impact of your work change the world? Figure out what will grab your audience's attention best, and that should be your hook!

Make it compelling
Beyond an initial hook, think broadly about what your audience is interested in. If this is a conference presentation, think about what they came for and then respond to that. Also, think outside the box about all the reasons your research is important to different people. Are there health implications? economic implications? social or environmental implications? Make sure to construct your case to include all of these important points.

Keep it simple
Academic researchers are notoriously bad at gauging what is jargon and what is not, and unfortunately, there is no faster way to lose your audience than to throw a concept or word at them that they don't understand. This is particularly true when your audience includes laypeople, but also a danger when your audience includes people in your direct field. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a conference presentation in my same focus in my same discipline where the presenter uses a word or mentions a theory that I'm not familiar with. Next thing you know, I've abandoned listening and am looking the word or concept up on my phone...

Make the connections
Steven Pinker in his book, The Sense of Style, discusses the difficulty that experts have in conveying their craft to non-experts. Quite simply, experts forget how they learned and developed what they're experts in; those neural pathways seem like they've always been there. For our purposes, this means that researchers forget to connect the dots when they are pitching their work. For them, it's obvious that the problem is a problem or how their solution will indeed solve the problem. But for those of us outside their expertise, listening in or reading their proposal, we feel like we're in a haze and worse, we feel unintelligent. Since we can all agree that these are not the sentiments we want to leave our reader or listener with, go to great lengths to connect all the dots explicitly. Although it may seem too obvious, your audience will be grateful.

To close, as I hope you've noticed, all of these pitch suggestions are grounded in one thing, your audience. I don't think it can be overstated how important understanding your audience is for any clear communication but especially for pitching your research.

Elevator Pitches for Scientists - The Postdoc Way
Crafting a Sales Pitch for Your Grant Proposal - Robert Porter

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.