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.

Lessons Learned from a Successful NIH Center Grant

I was hired recently by administrators at a medical center that landed a prestigious $20 million, 5-year NIH Center Grant (P30). They wisely created a Board of Directors (by their own initiative—they were not obliged to do so by the NIH.) The researchers at the medical center had completed their first year of the grant and the Board was meeting for the first time to evaluate the researchers’ progress. I was hired to write a summary report of the one-day meeting, notably to capture the comments and recommendations of the Board.

The research group made my job easy. They had had a very successful first year and the Board was clearly pleased with their progress. When the grant commenced they had “hit the ground running,” so to speak. What helped make them so successful?

One thing that stood out for me was the staggering level of institutional support in the years prior to applying for the grant. The medical center spent millions in seed money establishing the programs that went on to become the core elements of the center grant. This medical school was part of a state system, and the university system also had spent a substantial amount of money priming the research pump. This seed money launched research programs that helped the medical center go on to successfully land state money, SBIR/STTR funding, and company matches.

In addition, the medical center played to its strengths. The institutional money was not spread out thinly across many researchers. Instead, they targeted the few most promising groups with the money. This approach no doubt led to the impressive number of publications and R01 and R21 grants that were landed by these groups prior to applying for the center grant.

The take-home message seems obvious, whether we are talking about individual investigators are large groups: Research thrives when there is significant institutional support. I would go further and even say that research cannot be expected to succeed without significant institutional support. While this message seems obvious, I rarely see the level of institutional support that helped this medical center land a center grant and have such a successful first year. When I talk with administrators, I hear a lot about how the university or medical center is hoping to generate revenue from the indirects on the federal grants their researchers land. I rarely hear them talk about how they plan to invest up front to optimize the success of these grant proposals.

Clearly federal funding is the most desirable outcome for researchers and universities. But in order to compete successfully at that level, groups must stair-step up to federal grants with state and local funding and corporate and foundation money. But it all starts with institutional support, and I don’t mean $20-30K start-up funds, but real, significant, six-digit support. You can’t expect even the best research groups to succeed without first priming the grant pump internally.



The Importance of the “Approach” Criterion On NIH Grant Scores

Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of Extramural Research at NIH, posted data on her blog concerning reviewer behavior on proposals reviewed in 2010. Recall that with the new NIH grant format, NIH implemented scores of one to five (lower is better) in each of five categories: Significance, Innovation, Approach, Investigators, and Environment, as well as the overall impact score. Of 54,727 applications reviewed in FY10, 32,546 were discussed and received overall impact scores. The NIH generated some data on these scores. Among their findings:

*While reviewers used the full scoring range (one through five) for each of the five review categories, their scores were distributed more widely for the Approach category.

*Criterion scores are moderately correlated with each other and with the overall impact score.

*Of the five scoring categories, the one best able to predict the overall impact score was the Approach section (followed by significance, innovation, investigators, environment.)

The language surrounding the changes to the NIH grant format in Zerhouni’s efforts to enhance peer review stressed the importance of Impact, Significance, and Innovation. And in the new format, the length of the Research Strategies was halved, forcing grantees to compress “Approach” sections such as the exhaustive literature review and the detailed methodologies. However, from the data in Rockey’s blog post, we might surmise that reviewers still heavily weigh the Approach category. And based on my own experience with pink sheets in the new format, reviewers’ nearly-insatiable desire for preliminary data appears to continue unabated, despite the reduced page limits on proposals.

Multiple Regression To Predict Impact Scores Using Criterion Scores

Criterion Regression Weight