Friday, October 17, 2014

Grant Development - Guiding Questions

There are many questions that need to be answered in a grant application. The mistake that many grant writers make is to begin answering these questions when they are actually writing the grant. Without clarity at the front end, grant writers often find their writing muddy and must spend more time writing and re-writing. Now re-writing/revising should always be a part of the grant-development process. Remember the grad school adage, "write to re-write." However, when you go into grant-writing clear on your message, you can spend your revising time on making your grant clear and compelling, instead of spending your time just getting it to understandable.

Below are some guiding questions to use to build a clear case for your grant before you write. You may want to use the questions to draft an outline of your project. You might also consider sitting down with a colleague and having them interview you using the questions and expanding on them to draw you into articulating your story clearly.
  • What is your project?
  • Who benefits from this project and how? 
  • What are the human, financial, and ethical benefits to your project?
  • What will be the major costs to complete this project?
  • What is the timeline you anticipate for your project?
  • How could you scale this project down and up based on the funding you're able to get?
  • What is the long-term vision for your research that your project fits into?
  • How will you fund your long-term vision?
  • Why are you the best person to lead this project?
  • Who will be on your team and how will that be the best team to complete the project?
  • What funding agencies would be interested in this research?
  • Why is your project the best fit for the agency?
  • How will you prove that your project is the best fit?
Certainly this list could go on and get more detailed, but it gives you a sense of how you need to clarify and articulate your research and research project, as well as how you need to understand your sponsor(s) and how your work fits with their goals.

By doing this work first, you can identify gaps in your work early on so that you can begin to correct them. And, you set yourself on the path to developing a more focused grant.

Grant Writer Resources - National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sabbatical Funding

The word sabbatical refers to a time of rest - and certainly faculty need and deserve this time to recoup. But, of course, for most, this is also a time to conduct or develop research or work on the book or project that you haven't had time for.

When considering what work and exploration you will pursue on sabbatical, it's important to consider the costs for that work and your time and to explore what grant opportunities might be in line with your sabbatical research. In doing so, consider the following:

Start looking early
In all the hustle and bustle, many faculty researchers don't consider what funding might be available for their sabbatical until it's too late to apply for that funding. ORDE suggests that applicants give themselves six months to prepare a solid grant application, and review and award processes can take as long as a year. So, you want to give yourself at least a year beforehand to start grant-writing. Ideally, you want a one and a half to two years to seek funding for your sabbatical.

Figure out what's fundable
You may have a very cool idea or something brand new planned for your sabbatical, but is it something that sponsors will invest in?  As you begin considering sabbatical funding, take a look at the types of sabbatical funding that are typically available in ORDE's e-book on sabbatical funding opportunities.

Also, ask you senior colleagues where they looked for funding and what their experience was in attaining funding - what were their lessons learned and suggestions for you?

Consider the long term
Although faculty going on sabbatical often have just received tenure, it's important to consider how any projects you take on in your sabbatical fit with your longer term research career development. With tenure under your belt, what do the next five years hold for you? What are your goals and how can you use your sabbatical and sabbatical support to strategically position you to hit the ground running when you get back?

Being strategic in these three ways can provide you with a rewarding and productive sabbatical.

e-book on sabbatical funding - ORDE
How to enjoy a sabbatical - InsideHigherEd

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Entrepreneurial Researcher

Perhaps like many of you, I am an avid NPR listener. This weekend, I caught a portion of "This American Life," entitled "It's Not the Product, It's the Person," which focused on pitching business ideas and getting the right people to invest in you and your product or service. As I listened, it struck me that these tips from entrepreneurs and private business investors were directly relevant to researchers seeking investment from sponsors through grants.

As part of the segment, one of the producers of This American Life was tutored in pitching his business idea to Chris Sacca, a venture investor, known for his early investments that launched the likes of Twitter and Instagram,

Spoiler alert: although Sacca does not end up investing in the narrator's idea, he does coach him in what sells ideas as outlined below:

Sacca describes how when he was approached with the idea of Instagram, he thought that the idea of photosharing had passed. Although the idea didn't necessarily sell him, what did sell him was the conviction of the creators. Sacca describes that he got a sense from the founder that "He's actually looking through you to some spot behind you that's five years in the future and he just knows the inevitability of the success of his platform. And, by the end of the conversation, you're like, 'please take my money.'"

Conviction can make the difference between a good idea and a funded idea. You have to be so sure of your work and its importance that it is contagious. Sacca invested in Instagram because of the creator's conviction. It's worth noting that he did not invest in Dropbox or Airbnb when these businesses were pitched to him. These were also good ideas, as evidenced by these companies' later success, but the creators lacked the conviction at the time to persuade Sacca.

FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out
Successful grant writers have described the importance of describing one's research as a train that's leaving the station - work that is happening and going to be successful, sparking some urgency in the investor that they need to get on the train!

This urgency relates to what Sacca refers to as FOMO, or the fear of missing out.  Researchers must cast their research idea as too good to miss, making reviewers and sponsors feel like they will be kicking themselves if they didn't support the next nobel laureate when they had the chance.

Create a pitch deck
Whether you use it or not, those entrepreneurs looking for investors suggest developing a pitch deck to organize your ideas. Using the pitch deck outline can be a way to organize your message when preparing to write a grant.

This is the basic outline of the pitch deck
- What's the problem I'm trying to solve?
- How is my idea going to solve it?
- What will the return be for everyone who invests in this? What results can they expect?

A more detailed pitch deck outline can be found at Forbes.

What is your unfair advantage?
Chris Sacca advises those pitching ideas to identify their unfair advantage. What makes you the perfect person to start this business and make it succeed. Plenty of people have good ideas, but those that succeed with those ideas generally have an edge, a leg up on the competition. This is true in the grants world as well.  It's not enough to have a great research idea and have great conviction, you must also be the best person to do it.

For early career investigators (ECIs) going up against seasoned PIs, this should not deter you. For one thing, many major sponsors, such as the NIH, have a mandate to fund a certain percentage of ECIs. But, for ECIs who aren't immediately competitive for the largest grants (and most aren't), find smaller grant or career development competitions for which you will be.  Also, form strategic partnerships with senior PI's and participate in their projects to build your experience and essential connections that can help you build your edge. Being strategic in this way will eventually give you "the unfair advantage" in the external funding world.

By positioning your case for funding using some of these entrepreneurial strategies, you might find yourself communicating a more compelling grant proposal to investors or grant sponsors.

It's Not the Product, It's the Person  - This American Life
The Ultimate Pitch Deck to Raise Money for Startups - Forbes

Friday, September 5, 2014

Research Presentation Tips

Being able to write about your research is important, especially when it comes to writing grants. Yet oftentimes researchers overlook the power of being able to offer a compelling verbal presentation on their research. Having a presentation in your back pocket can allow you to introduce your work at conferences, guest lectures, keynotes, and even everyday conversations effectively and engagingly.

In various formats, you can use the following tips to engage and involve your audience instead of subjecting them to a recitation that closely resembles your latest academic publication.

Instructional Strategies:

I've seen faculty members who make a clear distinction between a "talk" and "teaching." Whereas in the latter, they are concerned with involving their students and focusing on their learning, in the former they're worried about delivering information and often forget about the outcomes for their audience.  Bringing solid instructional strategies into a talk can offer a more engaging and memorable experience for your audience. Below are some instructional strategies to consider:

  • Ask a question of your audience early on: When you engage your audience early on, you prevent them from settling into a more passive listening mode and encourage active learning and participation in your presentation.
  • Give participants a chance to consider or discuss what your work means for them: adult learners tend to learn and remember things that make a difference to them in their own lives and work. So showing how meaningful your research is to them or designing an exercise that relates your research to their individual lives can help capture them.
  • Use everyday parallels and metaphors to describe your research: When describing complex research and processes, it can be helpful to identify a familiar process that you can parallel to your work to better show what you're doing to laypeople in the audience.
  • Avoid death by bullet points: One of the biggest faults of presenters are using PowerPoint or Prezi as talking notes instead of the visual aid that is supposed to support learning.  This often manifests in bulleted list after bulleted list.  Often times a visual can communicate an idea better than a word or phrase.
  • Don't get text heavy: Another faux pas of presentations is filling a slide with a paragraph of text and then reading it aloud. You receive an additional strike if the text on your slide is too small to be read (you should try to stay at 20 pt or above). Remember, if you put a bunch of text on the screen, your audience will stop listening to you to read what's in front of them. And, if you're reading it to them, they could get annoyed, especially if it's more than one slide.
  • Keep it readable and simple: Visuals can be a better way to communicate than text, but be careful to keep your visuals easy to see and read and simple enough to communicate your message effectively.  If you present a very complex-looking model, you should not be surprised when eyes glaze over.
Edward R. Tufte's Presentation Tips - As noted by the University of Maryland CS Department
Talking the Talk - Tips on Giving a Successful Conference Presentation - American Psychological Association

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review - Essential Learning for Grant Development

Grant development guru, Robert Porter, Ph.D., at the University Tennessee, has said that serving as a reviewer is "like a graduate education in grant writing" (Porter, 2011). He suggests that although early career investigators often assume that they will not be good candidates for review panels due to their junior status, it's wise to engage with Program Officers (POs) by sharing an early write up of your research project and to offer to serve as a reviewer.  It is often a challenge for POs to find the right review panel for all of the grant proposals they receive, and to offer to serve in this capacity certainly can't hurt.

If you aren't asked to serve as a reviewer, it still behooves researchers to understand the review process as best they can and to let it guide the development of their grant. The NIH offers an extensive description of their review process, as does the NSF (see below for both). Many institutions host mock peer reviews with senior researchers reviewing the grants of their junior colleagues. This might happen at the departmental level, or for a particular type of grant.  For instance, the CCTSI that serves the CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus offers mock peer review for their NIH Pre K program and K to R program.

At the very least, it is essential to have a few diverse colleagues review your grant proposal before submitting to catch any points of confusion or areas where your grant can be strengthened.

Porter (2005) offers some tips from seasoned reviewers that can provide guidance to those who have yet to experience the review process for themselves.

Adapted from Porter (2005)
It's important that researchers always write their grants for their reviewers. But, the more experience and insight you can gain into what those reviewers want, especially by being a reviewer, will improve your grant development.

More Paper Out the Door: Ten Inexpensive Ways to Stimulate Proposal Development (2011) - Robert Porter
What Do Grant Reviewers Really Want Anyway? (2005) - Robert Porter
NIH Peer Review Process
NSF Merit Review Process

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tools for Grant Organization & Clarity

This spring, ORDE offered a seminar on Grant Writing Structure and Mechanics, and heard from Ritu Chopra, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Paraprofessional Research and Resource Center in our School of Education and Human Development.  The center is completely grant funded, and as its leader Dr. Chopra spends much of her time on grant development.

As part of her presentation, she offered up a couple of tools she uses to both organize her projects and to clearly communicate to grant reviewers. These are an Index of Priorities and a Logic Model.

Index of Priorities
Dr. Chopra began including an index of priorities in her grants to the Department of Education to explicitly show where in her grant proposal she was addressing each of the sponsor's priorities. She and her team would comb through the entire RFP, identifying all of the priorities and items that the sponsor was asking for and then outline those in a table of priorities. Under each priority, she would identify exactly where in the proposal (page number/section) her team had addressed it. This tool made it easy and clear for reviewers to see exactly where and how the center had responded to each of the things that were important to the sponsor.

Note: If you're thinking about using an index of priorities, make sure that your sponsor/RFP allows its inclusion in your grant.

Logic Model
Another tool that Dr. Chopra recommended was a logic model. A logic model is quite simply a table that identifies the following:
  • inputs: resources that will go into a project
  • activities: tasks that will take place in the project
  • outputs: direct results of the activities
  • outcomes: the benefits realized from the activities
  • impact: the broader effects of particular project activities

Below is a simple illustration of the logic model components from the Pell Institute's Evaluation Toolkit

These logic models can serve to help your team clarify and develop your project, but can also communicate clearly to a sponsor what you will be doing in your project and the implications for your project.

Use the resources below to learn more about using logic models and to see examples.

Program Development and Evaluation - University of Wisconsin Extension
Evaluation Toolkit - The Pell Institute
The Evaluation Center University of Colorado Denver

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Authorship, Impact, and Independence

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education offered an interesting piece on authorship which outlines one scientist's account of navigating an authorship system in her field. Dr. Cecile Janssens describes finding scholarly articles where she was listed as an author or collaborator without her knowledge and then offers clarifications on what constitutes an author or collaborator, honorary author, etc.

Authorship is significant, especially in a scholarly career, yet many researchers make various assumptions about the systems and implications within authorship. This week we follow Dr. Janssens' cue and work to clarify a few key issues around authorship across disciplines.

Whose on first?
Researchers are generally clear on how multiple authors should be ordered in a publication. But, as more and more interdisciplinary research is being conducted, it's important to discuss the variety of author order rules in each collaborator's field. For instance, in many of the health sciences, the last author position is most significant, followed by the first. In many of the Sciences and Education, it is the first author who is considered the greatest contributor. The rest of the authors are ordered by their contributions, where the 2nd author has made the 2nd largest contribution, etc. In fields like Mathematics and Engineering, authors are often ordered alphabetically.

Regardless of field protocol, the publication you're submitting to will usually dictate how authors should be ordered. However, collaborating authors should be aware of any differences in case they are evaluated using a different system. If you're not sure what the norm is in your field, the accepted system is usually that of your field's style guide.

What are the career implications of authorship?
Being first (or sometimes last) author on publications is important for researchers to show their growing independence to evaluators in the tenure process as well as those reviewing their grants. However, many sponsors are recognizing that with the growing diversity and collaborative nature of research and the corresponding publications, it is difficult to assume what one researcher's role is.  As a result, sponsors are starting to allow for explication of a researcher's roles in different projects and publications in their biosketch. This is true for the tenure process as well. Bob Damrauer, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Special Assistant to the Provost at CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus says that it's important for faculty going up for tenure to describe their role in each collaboration and project. In fact, Dr. Damrauer says that the tenure review committee will often ask the candidate for more information if they don't describe their roles in significant projects/publications.

Communicating authorship upfront and more than once
Given the close connection between promotion and funding decisions based on numbers of publications and author order, it's not surprising that contentions can arise when research collaborators wait until a project is underway or complete to figure out author order.  This is why experts in team science recommend agreeing on these sorts of things at the outset of a project. When reaching out to collaborators, it's important to have a candid discussion about what's in it for each person, and what their role will be. This helps to prevent a collaborative relationship from souring and/or a research project from ultimately failing.

In addition to this, Dr. Gerald Fischbach, a seasoned researcher at Columbia University recommends having these discussions any time there is a change in the research team or the project makes a shift and requires other types of expert who may take on a larger role that the original PI.  See Columbia's guidelines and a short video clip of Dr. Fischbach here.

Being clear on these distinctions and complexities of authorship can help you to navigate your research career effectively. Please see the resources below for even more information.

Let's Clarify Authorship on Scientific Papers - Chronicle of Higher Education
Author Ranking System: 'Impact Factor' of the Last Author - Blog: In the Name of Science...
Responsible Authorship and Peer Review -  Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning