Providing Insights into Grant Writing for Achieving the Best Results
A major component of research is acquiring funding to support it. The office of grant support seeks to provide researchers at all levels at Einstein and Montefiore with insights into preparing the best possible grant proposals, with an eye on the prize: an award notice from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or another funding source.
“Throughout the year, we’ve scheduled presentations on grant writing from a variety of speakers, and each has brought different expertise, ranging from how to find the best funding fit for your research to how to make sure you’re describing your work in a way that will garner support,” said Dr. Dhanonjoy Saha, director of grant support.
A Competitive Marketplace
Why take time away from lab work and important projects to learn about writing grants? “Einstein has a grant portfolio to be proud of, but the competition is tougher than ever,” said Dr. Gregg Tarquino, Einstein’s associate dean for administration and finance.
Though the NIH budget increased from $13.5 billion in 1998 to $36.5 billion in 2018, the number of researchers vying for funding rose at an even higher rate, bringing the current total to some 300,000 researchers. “While there is no doubt that Einstein research is worthy, it’s about how we craft our message,” he said. “Einstein’s grant applications need to stand out.”
Honing Writing for Best Outcomes
In May, Dr. Saha held a grant-writing workshop featuring Dr. George Gopen, professor emeritus of rhetoric at Duke University and former writing consultant for the NIH. More than 70 members of the Einstein community attended Dr. Gopen’s return to the College of Medicine; as with the well-received workshop he presented in 2018, his visit included one-on-one sessions with senior researchers in which he provided feedback on their current grant drafts.
Attendees at his initial workshop—who included faculty members, associates, postdocs, graduate students, and staff members—responded with enthusiasm, recalled Dr. Saha. Eighty-four percent of participants found the workshops beneficial, and 93 percent of faculty members who participated in special small-group sessions said they were extremely helpful.
“Stress Positions” and More
Dr. Harry Ostrer, professor of pathology and of pediatrics, came to Dr. Gopen’s May session because “despite the fact that I’m a very experienced writer, I’m always looking to improve my writing skills.”
Dr. Gopen’s “reader expectation approach” allows writers to predict with great accuracy how readers will interpret what they have written. For example, Dr. Ostrer was pleased to learn about a sentence’s “stress positions”—locations highly likely to have an impact upon the reader. Dr. Gopen cited research showing that readers are most likely to remember the last part of a sentence, followed by the first part.
“It was good to understand how to convey two or more important points in one sentence,” he said.
Dr. Gopen emphasized that readers like action; they want the verb close to its subject and become annoyed by wordy sentences with many clauses. He railed against long lists early in sentences—a great way to lose your reader, he said. “Almost everything is difficult to read, and it’s not the reader’s fault,” he said.
Attendees came away from the event armed with new “tricks” of Dr. Gopen’s trade, said Dr. Ostrer. “In immediate terms, I improved the Specific Aims page for a grant proposal that I’m writing.” His ultimate goal: “Funding my grant proposal on the first pass!” Dr. Tiwari said she “will apply these techniques in writing my grant to do research on tuberculosis as well as in papers.”
Introduction to Grant Writing
In June, the office of grant support presented a workshop geared especially to pre-doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty, titled “Grant Writing for New and Early-Career Investigators”—that was so well received it was presented again in November. Dr. Tanya Dragic, visiting associate professor of microbiology & immunology, returned to provide an overview of the types of funding institutions that exist, discuss the grant-review process, and detail the steps of writing a scientific grant application. The workshop also offered individual sessions for eight of the 37 attendees, who sought advice on a particular application they were working on, or who are thinking about submitting one in the near future. Dr. Saha kicked off the event with a discussion on how to prepare for grant submission using information gleaned from another grant-writing session held in October.
An Insider’s Perspective
At the October event, Dr. Margaret Bouvier shared grant-writing knowledge she acquired during her time writing policy at the NIH with 75 Einstein investigators. She offered a “from-the-ground-up perspective” of how to do the best due diligence to determine which office, center, or institute within the NIH would be best for your application submission, along with information on how to navigate working with the program officer where you plan to make your application submission.
“I found Dr. Bouvier’s grant-writing workshop extremely informative and valuable in explaining the key ingredients of an NIH grant, common pitfalls and how to avoid them, and the mechanics of the NIH review process,” said Dr. Yonatan Fishman, assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience. “I wish I had had the opportunity to attend such a session years ago. It would likely have saved me many failed attempts to fund my research.”
Following her morning presentation, Dr. Bouvier conducted one-on-one trainings with nine faculty members.
“In my session, Dr. Bouvier mentioned some offices and centers I hadn’t thought of for submissions,” said Dr. Anita Autry-Dixon, assistant professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “I’ve already implemented some of the techniques she discussed and am enthusiastic about using the templates and guides she offered.”
More to Come
“We plan to offer more grant-writing workshops like these in the coming year, featuring a variety of leaders,” said Dr. Saha. The first of these will take place next year, on January 16, 2020. The two-hour grant-writing session will feature Dr. Ramesh Nayak, a former scientific review administrator at the NIH. For further information, visit the grant support site on Inside Einstein.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2019