New Webinar: How To Write The Specific Aims– Register now!

I am pleased to announce that I have converted my popular workshop on how to write the Specific Aims document into a webinar.

The one-page Specific Aims document is arguably the most important narrative section of an NIH submission. Assigned reviewers usually begin with this section, and they start to form their funding decision based solely on this single page. For non-assigned, voting members of your review committee, it is likely the only section they will ever read. It is the first section I write, and the one that undergoes the most revisions. It must quickly convey what you are doing, why, and the impact your results may have.

If you learn to write a well-honed Aims document, it will open the door to success in writing other sections, and in writing persuasively about your work in general. Attendees will be given an example of an Aims document from one of my client’s funded applications, as well as a version into which I have inserted mistakes I typically see from grantees, in order for you to practice editing. I will also provide a practical checklist for you to use on a draft Aims.

Register today for the 2/25 webinar:

“I thoroughly enjoyed your webinar on NIH Submission Strategies. It was one of the most substantive and thoughtfully organized webinars I have ever experienced. I will certainly recommend your offerings to colleagues.”
–Mary Elizabeth Strunk, Assistant Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations, Amherst College

“Meg has perfected the ability to take the “mystique” out of the process of application writing! It is now, no longer a daunting exercise!…A great workshop and extremely helpful. Meg’s persona and energy were also appreciated! … Learned how to write a great Specific Aims and Significance section. Also the exercises were very helpful” … I appreciated the practical checklist.”
–Excerpts of anonymous evaluations from recent seminars and workshops

Who: For grantees planning to submit an R01, R21, R03, or K in an upcoming cycle, and the senior faculty and administrators who advise them.
When: Wednesday 25 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST or On Demand
Cost: $249
Takeaways: At the end of this 90-minute session, participants will be able to: (formatted for CME application)

  1. Write a high-quality one-page Specific Aims document
  2. Apply tips and knowledge from an experienced and successful grantwriter
  3. Evaluate and revise their own and other’s draft Aims

You still have a chance to view all three webinars. “NIH Submission Strategies” and “Mistakes Commonly Made On NIH Grant Applications” can be watched on-demand. Kickstart your grantwriting for the Cycle II deadlines in June and July for $499.

NIH Awards $31M To Increase Diversity in The Biomedical Research Workforce

Credit: Photokanok at

In late October, NIH issued a news release stating that it will award $31 million to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce in FY14. The award will go to over 50 recipients who will be part of the national Diversity Program Consortium, established to engage researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. Award recipients work at geographically diverse institutions across the country that serve underrepresented communities. Members of the consortium will develop, implement, and evaluate methods for encouraging individuals to pursue careers in biomedical research and remain in this field.

Research shows that economic, social, and cultural factors significantly influence the pursuit of science careers. Dr. Hannah Valentine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, asserts, “These awards represent a significant step toward ensuring that NIH’s future biomedical research workforce will reflect the unique perspectives found within the diverse composition of our society.”

The Diversity Program Consortium is part of a five-year plan with three major initiatives. The goal of the first initiative, BUILD, is to explore new approaches to attract students from diverse backgrounds to the biomedical science workforce. The goal of the second initiative, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), is to develop best practices for mentoring individuals from underrepresented groups. Finally, work carried out as part of the Coordination and Evaluation Center is designed to assess the effectiveness of the training and mentoring approaches developed by BUILD and NRMN. It will also establish short- and long-term methods for measuring the effectiveness of both training and mentoring programs.

Top Ten Things NIH Reviewers Should NOT Say In A Review

Credit: Ambro at

The Center for Scientific Review publishes their Peer Review Notes three times a year, and the most recent issue came out yesterday. The news items are always interesting and it is worth subscribing, if you don’t already. This issue contained an item about things NIH reviewers should not say. I repeat the list in its entirety here—I thought it might be fun for my grantees to see reviewers critiqued for a change.

What do you think of this list? Have you seen one or two of these on your Summary Statements? Me personally? I have seen variations on # 2, 4, and 10 in Summary Statements, and have strongly suspected reviewers of #1 and 5. I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read # 7, sometimes I think CSR is a little out of touch with what actually happens on Study Sections:

  1. “I didn’t read the application, but I scanned it and saw the applicant said XXX. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Damning statements like this can skew a review discussion over something that might be insignificant in the context of the overall application. It’s better for you to ask other reviewers who have read the application carefully what they think about XXX.
  2. “This New Investigator does not appear to be fully independent since he continues to co-publish with his fellowship mentor/department chair, or does not have designated lab space, or has not been promoted in the past several years.”  Academic research organizations have widely diverse policies for faculty advancements and lab space, and many PIs maintain productive and healthy collaborations with mentors for many years after establishing themselves as bona fide investigators. You should focus more on the investigator accomplishments, such as being the first or senior author on a significant publication or giving presentations at major scientific meetings.
  3. “This application is not in my area of expertise . . . “  If you’re assigned an application you feel uncomfortable reviewing, you should tell your Scientific Review Officer as soon as possible before the meeting.
  4. “I don’t see this basic science research affecting my clinical practice any time soon.” An application does not necessarily have to show the potential for clinical or timely impact—if the applicant doesn’t make such claims. Basic research often takes time to pay off, and you’re charged to assess the “likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved.” Absence of an effect on public health does not necessarily constitute a weakness in basic science.
  5. “I like this project but I’m giving it a poorer score because the applicant has too much money.” Other funding is not a scoreable matter. You should focus on the application’s scientific and technical merit. However, you can note an excessive budget request in the budget section for NIH to consider.
  6. “This application has 2 great aims and 1 bad one. I would recommend deleting Aim 3, and I can give it a 1 or 2.” You cannot trade aims with scores. The application needs to be evaluated as a whole.
  7. “This R21 application does not have pilot data, which should be provided to ensure the success of the project.” R21s are exploratory projects to collect pilot data. Preliminary data are not required, although they can be evaluated if provided.
  8. “The human subject protection section does not spell out the specifics, but they already got the IRB approval, and therefore, it is ok.” IRB approval is not required at this stage, and it should not be considered to replace evaluation of the protection plans.
  9. “This application was scored a 25 and 14th percentile last time it was reviewed . . . .” You should not mention the previous score an application got, because this could skew the review discussion. Focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the current application as well as the responses to previous critiques.
  10. “This is a fishing expedition.” It would be better if you said the research plan is exploratory in nature, which may be a great thing to do if there are compelling reasons to explore a specific area. Well-designed exploratory or discovery research can provide a wealth of knowledge.