Friday, April 21, 2017

K's for the klueless: Components of the proposal

Ok, my second post on K grants discusses but a few of the overwhelming number of parts of the grant application.

I think the big picture thing I learned was to focus on the actual crafting of the application, as opposed to just the research aims. The scientist attitude is that this is a meritocracy, so good science will always win. But it needs to be well presented and address the goals of the funding opportunity: in this case, the goal is development of your career.

Getting your mentoring team together
This should be the first thing you do--it could take weeks to set up meetings with them and to draft their letters and get their biosketches.  In my case, the process involved bugging my PI to assemble some big names from multiple departments for my app. I think in the end this was one of the best parts of the process.  I got to pitch my research to a number of bigwigs who had never heard of me before.

To be perfectly honest, these were random people who I did not know and who had nothing do with my project (yet), but who I now have met and deeply respect, and who I attempted to gracefully shoehorn into my Career Development Plan. There are 6 pages for Mentor Statements, so I rustled up 3 co-mentors, on top of my mentor. Collaborator letters were a different page allocation, so on top of this, I roped in as collaborator someone I did know and I cold-emailed another professor at my U, shamelessly name-dropping all the people who had already signed on.

I’m SURE it’s not a quantity over quality thing, but I’m not totally sure.  As Omar says, all in the game, yo.

Advice I read said to name a specific commitment for each of these people, in terms of amount of time  (ie, meet once every 2 months) and area of mentorship.  Make sure that is prominent in their mentor letters, and make sure that this lines up with what you write in the career development plan.  This will make them look more committed to mentoring you.

Career development plan (CDP)
Apparently, this is the big underestimated section, and it is the lynchpin of the whole application. The great  presentations, that I linked to previously, suggest an unspoken goal of the K proposal.  It can't just be a great junior research proposal, but it has to mesh a research proposal seamlessly with your background, your current position, a few specific areas of learning, and your future plan. The CDP is where this integration happens.

Basically, make it clear how this award will unstoppably lead to your first R01, and even a vague idea of what that R01 will have in it. 

Make this as concrete as you can with a table timelining a plan for each award year including mentor meetings (integrated with the mentor letters), paper submissions, courses, grant submissions, and learning aims.  After working out the CDP, I then went back to the research plan and sprinkled it lightly with sentences suggesting how each research aim would be aided by the different mentors/collaborator, and would teach me something that was described in the CDP.

Demonstrating independence
The program officer suggested that since I was only a bit out of grad school, I needed to emphasize the independence of my line of work. The PO also said best place to do this is in the CDP and the mentor's letter.  This part probably varies a lot depending on your situation.  For me, I did my PhD work in a certain disease, and my postdoc mentor did not work in that disease, and had very different research methods. I wanted to use methods like my postdoc mentor, but on the disease I'd worked on in my PhD.  So this was my statement of independence, and I think it was well backed up by my PhD  background, my mentor's background and the research plan.

Research plan
Well, of all the sections this was the most terrifying, but I'm probably least qualified to give advice about it. All I will say is 1) get the level of detail right by looking at proposal examples and 2) really focus on the writing. Particularly in the background/significance section, you want it to be easy reading and inspiring. My advisor suggested having the computer read your writing out loud to see where things don't flow nicely. 

Pay attention to those piddly little throw-off sections
So... many... sections.  It became an endurance test. After a while it even felt comical... like oh really, NIH?  ANOTHER document?  What is it this time?  Must I certify that I will have appropriate office furniture?

I did read horror stories about submissions being sunk because of apathetically written Ethics sections.  So I took that seriously, but I actually did get dinged a little on a couple of those sections!  Apparently my letter of institutional support wasnt support-y enough and needed to be more customized to the rest of the application.  As a clueless first time grant applicant, I just took my institution person's word for it that this was an OK letter of support, but don't be like me.   It should be easy to get these right, so do that.

Any other suggestions? Please comment!

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K's for the klueless: Components of the proposal

Ok, my second post on K grants discusses but a few of the overwhelming number of parts of the grant application. I think the big pictur...