Career Development Webinar: NIH Individual Pre doctoral Fellowships for Graduate Students

Career Development Webinar: NIH Individual Pre doctoral Fellowships for Graduate Students


MODERATOR: Welcome
to this presentation by the National Research
Mentoring Network in partnership with Columbia
University Medical Center. We are proud to welcome
Dr. Jaime Rubin, who will be presenting about
NIH individual predoctoral fellowships. Specifically, this webinar
will be discussing the best practices for effective
grantsmanship, different approaches
to submitting competitive applications,
common mistakes that junior investigators
make when approaching this, and some tips to increase
your success for submitting your application. Dr. Rubin will be focusing
on individual graduate predoctoral fellowship
funding mechanisms, as well as content
that you should include when
completing the required components of this application. And so without further
ado, I will pass this along to Dr. Rubin, and
thank you so much. Before you begin, I
just want to mention that we will be holding a
question and answer session at the end of the presentation. At which time, attendees– you will be able to click on
the “raise your hand” button that you noticed in the Go To
Webinar pane to be called upon to be unmuted for questions. So we will be holding
that at the end. And please hold any questions
you have until that time. JAIME RUBIN: Thank
you very much. And welcome to
all the attendees. I’d like to thank the
National Research mentoring network for inviting me
to participate in this. And thank you for
everybody joining us today. So as you can see
from my first slide, I think it’s always important,
as with any grant application, is to start with an outline
and to give yourself an idea of what
items to be covered. So these are the four
main items that I’m going to be covering today. The overview of the
fellowship funding mechanism, an overview of the
grant review process, because it’s very
important in terms of increasing the
competitiveness of your grant application to understand how
the grant is reviewed at NIH. And then, what are the
different key components of the fellowship
application, and then general approaches for
any grant application in terms of making
it more competitive, highlighting specific aspects
of the fellowship application. So I’ll start at
the top in terms of an overview of
the fellowship. So one of the things to
mention is nationally, a lot of thought leaders,
and government agencies, and leadership are
looking at the support of graduate students. And what are the best ways
to support graduate students? As some of you may know,
a lot of graduate students are supported not through
individual fellowships, but through their
mentor’s research grants. And there’s now
a general feeling that maybe we should get away
from this funding mechanism and work more towards
funding individual students, and their mentors, and their
individual research projects through this individual
fellowship mechanism. So I think this mechanism
will grow in importance in the coming years. And this is an example
of a recent paper that was published in PNIS
that addressed this issue. Another publication
that came out looking at the support
of graduate students as well as postdocs
was a very large paper by the advisory committee to the
director of NIH, which looked at biomedical workforce issues. And they looked at
different aspects of the funding of
graduate students and how to make their graduate
experience more effective. So in terms of the Individual
National Research Service Award individual predoc fellowship,
which in NIH speak is called the F-31– and how it differs from
other funding mechanisms is that it supports a
particular individual, a particular graduate student. And it provides a stipend
compensation for the student, health fees, the
student’s tuition, or a portion of the tuition, and
travel to a national conference to allow the student to present
their research results, network with other scientists,
begin to form collaborations with their peers, and
hear other people’s work. One of the things you’ll
notice that is not funded by the fellowship
is research costs. There’s no money for reagents,
animal costs, or whatever. It’s expected that the mentor
has extramural research support that will cover the research
costs that the student will need for their
dissertation research. Now what are the
four main criteria that reviewers use when
reviewing these grant applications? One is the individual
graduate student and a feeling that this student
will continue to be a success in academic research. That the mentor is
appropriate, and we’ll get into the details
of this, in terms of providing the correct
scientific environment, helping to launch the
student on to the next stage of their research
career, and so forth. And we’ll go into more detail. And that the research project
is interesting, exciting, and being approached
in the appropriate way. And the institutional
environment, both research-wise– does
the institution have core facilities and so forth
that the student will need– as well as career
development opportunities. Going to meetings,
workshops on grantsmanship, or how to give presentations,
those kinds of things. Just to give you an idea of the
competitiveness of this funding program, this is
a graph from NIH. It’s their most current graph of
the success rate of the F-31– sorry, predoc fellowship. The green is the
number of awards, the blue is the number
of applications, and the red is the success
rate, which is really just the number
of awards divided by the number of applications. So you can see that the success
rate is in the mid 20% or so– 25%. So this is a chart of NIH’s
different funding mechanisms and what are the deadlines. So to realize that
the F-series– and for graduate students,
it would be the F-31– there are three
deadlines a year. And this is very unusual
in the funding world. Most funding agencies have one,
maybe two, deadlines per year, and NIH has three
funding cycles. There are two types
of F-31 fellowships. One is the F-31
Diversity Fellowship, which has a deadline date
of April 13th, August 13th, and December 13th. And the other F-31– April 8th, August
8th, and December 8th. And it’s very important to
remember these deadlines. And so how long does
it take from when you apply to when you get funded? So, sorry. If we go back and look at this
light-bluish green cycle one. If you apply, let’s
say, on April 13th, your grant will be reviewed
in June or in July. It will then go to
the NIH’s counsel for final decision
August through October. And then, perhaps, you’ll be
funded sometime in September to December. So it really is a nine month
process from application to award, if you will. You apply, then there’s
the review committee, then is the institute’s
council agreeing with what the review committee
says, and then an award of about three months later. It’s a very long process. So this is sort of what the
first page of the funding announcement looks like. National Research Service Award
individual predoc fellowship to promote diversity in
health-related research. And here you can see a list of
all the different institutes at NIH that support that fund– this funding mechanism. There’s the National Cancer
Institute, the National Eye Institute, and so forth. They’re listed in
alphabetical order, meaning that all
of these institutes will accept applications
for the F-31 program. And in terms of
the diversity F-31, this slide here
shows what NIH says that they’re looking for
in terms of eligibility criteria for the F-31. And this would be
for individuals from racial and
ethnic groups that have been shown to
be underrepresented in health-related
science and research. Many times, you’ll see that they
refer to the National Science Foundation, which is a
completely different agency, but they sort of keep
these demographic records. And the second
category– that was category A– and
the second category is individuals with
disabilities who are defined as those with
physical or mental impairment that substantially limit one
or more major life activities. Somebody who doesn’t meet these
criteria for the diversity F-31 are welcome to apply for
the other F-31 program. Has exactly the same
review criteria. The application is exactly
the same, the same deadlines, the application kit
is exactly the same. It’s just a question of meeting
this eligibility criteria. All right, so what
is the NIH fellowship grant review process? So one of the things is to
understand what NIH looks like. It’s the National
Institutes of Health– there’s an S at the
end of Institute. So there’s the National
Cancer Institute– you’ll see that many of
these are really focused on different disease areas. The National Heart, Lung,
and Blood Institute. The National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And then at the
bottom of the slide, you’ll see the Center
for Scientific Review. And I’ve circled
that because I wanted to highlight to you that
one of the things that many people don’t realize is
that, while the National Cancer Institute might accept
the grant application, might fund the
grant, the award, it is, in fact, not reviewed at
the National Cancer Institute. The grant is, in fact, reviewed
at a completely separate entity within NIH, called the
Center for Scientific Review. And it’s very critical
when you apply to make sure that your grant
ends up at the correct review panel or study section,
as some folks call it. That your grant end up
at the correct study section for its review. If the grant ends up
at the wrong review panel within the Center
for Scientific Review, those reviewers will not have
the appropriate expertise to review your grant and
there’s a very good chance that you won’t get a great
score just because they don’t understand what wonderful
things you’re proposing. So this is another
slide just representing how the Center for
Scientific Review, or CSR, receives your grant,
reviews your grant, and then sends it out to
the different institutes for funding– National Cancer Institute,
National Nursing Research, so forth. This is a picture
of a review panel. And one of the reasons
I like to show it is, remember that there are human
beings at the other end that are going to review your grant. It’s a very impersonal
grant review, or grant admission process
is all done electronically. But remember that there’s
a panel with human beings at the other end that are
giving up their time, basically, voluntarily to
review your grant. The reviewers are peer reviewers
from across the country– faculty at research institutions
from across the country. They are not employees of NIH. While employees of NIH
might manage the process, they don’t offer a scant score. It’s peer reviewers
from across the country that come of their own
time to review the grants. And this is just a listing
of all of the different study sections. And hopefully your grant will
end up in the appropriate study section. You’ll see that
the study sections begin with their numerical ID– begins with the
letter F, meaning that they are for fellowships. And there’s F01A, F01B,
and so forth all the way through to F-17. This is a listing of the
fellowship committees that one can find on the web. And one can continue to get
information as one drills down to make sure that this is the
right study section for you. So, for instance, if
we looked at F-13, which is for infectious
diseases in microbiology, it will give you two
or three sentences overview on the
research areas that are seen by this study section. And so you can have
an initial idea whether this is the right
study section for you or not. But I think you should
continue to explore this because it is so critical
that your grant end up in the right study section. Many times that could
be the deciding factor on whether your grant gets
reviewed properly or not. And, in fact, one
can even go further and get a listing of who are the
members of the study section. You are not allowed to contact,
nor should you contact, any of the peer
reviewers who are members of the study section. But because this is a
public agency funded by taxpayer funds,
because of transparency, it is up on the web who are
all the members of the study section. And you or your
mentor, or advisor, should recognize one or more of
the names on the study section. That tells you that you’re
probably in the right place. If you don’t recognize anybody
listed, then, perhaps– not definitely, but perhaps– this is not the
right study section. So it would be good to review
the membership of the study section with your
mentors or advisors to see if they recognize
any of the names as being their colleagues. And then, most likely, it’s the
right study section for you. If it’s not, NIH also gives you
a list of other study sections that have similar research
areas of interest. One can even go further. Some of you might be
familiar with NIH Reporter. This is the online
grants database for all of NIH’s funded grants. It’s an incredibly
powerful database with a lot of usability and you
can learn a lot of information. So as an example here, I– if you look at the bottom
right around the red box– you’ll see that I selected
the F-13 study section that we were just discussing. And then I hit Enter. And what came out was a listing
of 145 different fellowships that were reviewed successfully
by this study section. This database, NIH Reporter,
is only for funded awards, it’s not the unsuccessful
applications. It’s only for the
successful applications. So here you’ll see a
mix of F-31 for predoc, and F-32 for postdocs. But this will give you an
idea of the grants that were successfully reviewed
by this study section and you can get an idea
whether what you’re proposing your research areas
fall within similar research areas. If all of the research titles– and if you click
the research title, it’ll bring you to abstracts– really look like
areas of research unrelated to what
you’re proposing, then this is probably not the
right study section for you. You should do all of this
research before you apply. And why should you do all this
research before you apply? Because now, within the
application, there’s a form– an optional form, not required– where you can request a
specific study section. So you need to do that
within the application. You can’t apply, find out
where your grant ended up, and say oh, sorry,
I’m in the wrong spot. Can you move me? It needs to be done as part of
the grant application process. This is the form and
I’ve highlighted a couple of the different sections. One is the awarding component. So that would be– please send my grant to the
National Cancer Institute. Please send my grant to the
Heart Lung and Blood Institute, if you will. But what we’ve been discussing
is that second section, the study section,
assignment request. And that was where
you would list F-13, F-8, F-1, whatever it is. The second page of the form
even includes an area– identify specific
areas of expertise. Well, the study
sections are large. They can have members, as you
can see, of about, maybe, two dozen individuals. So they have a wide
range of expertise. You can drill down even
further and, discussing this with your mentors, pick
up to five different areas of research, areas of
expertise, if you will, that you are requesting
that the reviewers have so that they can adequately
review your grant application. And this is to make sure
that your grant ends up in the right place and
in the right hands. All of which will increase
your chances for success. The second section in
the grant review process is to understand the
scoring system, which NIH calls impact scores. And the impact
scores are from 1-9. They are whole integers. Usually I would say that
the successful grants get in the range of 1-3 or so. And the final impact
score that you receive will be the mean of
all of the reviewers’ scores times 10. Which means that,
let’s say there are 20 people on
the review committee and these 20 people give a
range of either 2.0 or 3.0. Twos or threes, remembering
that it’s whole integers. They will then calculate
what the mean is. Let’s say, the mean is 2.2– multiplied by 10, then your
final overall impact score is 22, which is a
pretty good score. Basically, this, perhaps,
is kind of obvious, but what determines, finally,
which grants are funded? The scientific merit, the
programmatic considerations of the Institute and what
they’re interested in funding, and, of course, how
much money there is. And what are the
fellowship review criteria? This is also a very
important section because part of grantsmanship
and learning to write grants is to write the
grants addressing what the review criteria are. The reviewers are looking
for specific points, and so it’s beholden on the
grant writer to then make sure that they, more than adequately,
address the individual review criteria. This is your overall impact
score that we just discussed. And what are the things
that they’re looking for? That there’s an integration
between the research project and the training plan. And that it’s the right
environment, and having this fellowship and being
in this mentor’s lab really will launch the individual onto
a successful and independent research career. And this is the form that
the reviewers will fill out– bullet points of strengths and
weaknesses in these five areas. The fellowship
applicant, the sponsor where, at some
institutions, you might call it the mentor or the adviser. And your collaborators
and co-investigators, the research training plan,
what you’re proposing to do, the training potential of
you and the institution, and the environment where you’re
doing your graduate studies or your dissertation research. And then I’ve cut and pasted
what the review criteria are in each of these sections. Because I think it’s important
to see what the reviewers see and not to paraphrase what
the review criteria are. And what I’ve highlighted
and underlined what I think are some of the key points
in each of the sections. In terms of the applicant,
what is their academic record? Have they had previous
research experience, perhaps in undergraduate? Convincing the
reviewers that you have the potential to succeed
in a productive research career. Do you have a commitment
to that research career? These are the things to get
across in the application, OK? What about the mentors, or
the advisors, or the sponsors, and your collaborators,
and your co-investigators– what is their research
qualifications? What’s their track record
of mentoring individuals like you at your career stage? Do you have overlapping
research interests? Is there a match? Does the mentor understand this
very junior investigator’s need for mentoring and training? And what is the
mentor’s commitment to meeting those mentoring
requirements, if you will? Does the mentor– we
mentioned this a little bit before– have adequate
research funds? Do they have money to support
your research expenses? If you have more
than one mentor, and you’re sort of being
mentored by a team– does it make sense? What are the roles of the
different members of the team? It has to really make sense. And who are the co-investigators
and the collaborators? What do they bring
to this project? What is their background? The research training
plan, of course. It has to be great science,
asking and answering an important question, and
it has to be well integrated in the training plan. And it has to be– I think the bottom two
bullets are very important. It has to be consistent with
this stage of a research career. It has to be appropriate
for a student. It can’t be appropriate for
a postdoc or a junior faculty member. The project has to be
appropriate for a student. And the time course has to
be appropriate for a student. Student ones have graduated. It can’t be a project that will
take eight years to finish. So the project has
to be appropriate for a student in terms
of the type of project, what’s involved, as
well as how long it will take to complete the project. And what will you learn
in this research project? Will you gain new, and exciting,
appropriate research skills and experiences? What gaps need to be filled? What do you need to learn? Do you need to learn
more techniques? Do you need to learn
some bench research? Do you need to learn
statistics and so forth? And are those things addressed? So to recognize what the
students need for their career development and how the
training plan and potential will address those needs. Will you learn to
give presentations? Will you learn how to network? Will you learn more
about writing grants so that you will
develop the skill set for the next stage
of your career and, hopefully, a future career
as an independent scientist. OK. Is this the right place
for you to do this project? Do they have that right
specialized piece of equipment, or the animal facilities, or
the other core facilities? Is there somebody to help
with imaging or statistics and those kinds of things? What is the
institution’s commitment to this particular
research project and to their graduate
program as a whole? So the environment for doing
the project is very important. So what are the
different components of the fellowship application? There’s new forms– Forms D that were
released early this year. Make sure that you’re not using
one of the earlier versions, that you’re using
Forms D, as in dog. Make sure you take into
account all the different page limitations. Each of these sections have
specific page limitations. For instance, the
Specific Aims page is one. The application
will not go through the electronic
submission process if you’re over the page limit. So be very cognisant of
these required page limits. So this is sort of what the main
body of the grant looks like. And, as you can see, there
are different items– Specific Aims, Research
Strategy, and so forth. And basically what you do is
you write your document in Word, convert to PDF, and then
you add that attachment. The final document that’s added
to this form, if you will, must be in PDF. Otherwise, the grant will not
be electronically submitted. So we’re going to go through
these main components. The first thing to
realize is that you don’t submit the introduction. That is to be used for
the second submission if you didn’t get funded
the first time where you would address the
reviewer’s comments. You don’t do the renewal because
there’s no renewal of a F-31. So automatically I’ve
eliminated two of the sections. So one of the most
important sections is the fellowship section– the fellowship
applicant section. And this is where you literally
sort of talk about yourself and your background,
and research, and what your career
aspirations are. So you would talk about any
other research experiences you had, maybe as an undergraduate. Maybe you rotated through
different faculties’ labs in your first year
of graduate school. And then a preliminary
description of your doctoral thesis. And then what are
your career goals? What are your
career aspirations? And then how will
this fellowship, how with this training program
help you reach those goals? And be specific. Discuss specific skills
that you’re lacking or other things that you want to
learn or conceptual approaches. What do you need to help you
to move on to the next stage and to be an
independent scientist? And what will you do during
this period of training? How will this fellowship
help you reach those goals? So, for instance, maybe
you’re at the point where, let’s say, you’ve taken
all your required courses but then you realize you
need to learn statistics. So you need to learn
more about imaging, or you need to learn career
development skills about, let’s say, writing
journal articles, or giving oral presentations. You would include this as
part of the different skill sets that you will learn during
the course of the fellowship. And facilitating your transition
to the next career stage. So, also, you should begin
to become more independent because, certainly,
a postdoc is more independent than a
graduate student. And so as your graduate
career progresses, you should become
more independent. And then be specific
about what activities you’re going to do
year-by-year in the fellowship. Are there any specific
courses you’re going to go to? Or workshops? What meetings or conferences do
you hope to attend and present? Be specific about what
the activities are. Do you have any teaching
responsibilities? Are you going to mentor anybody? Let’s say, a high
school student that’s in the lab for the summer
or something like that. Be specific. And then create a timeline
for this activity. So usually it makes
sense to take courses at the very beginning
and not at the end. If you need to use statistics,
then it would make sense, let’s say, to take
a course statistics in the first year
of the fellowship and not at the last year. Now this next section is
number three and number four– Specific Aims and
Research Strategy. This is the part that
you should work on very closely with your mentor
because this is the more technical section of the grant. I will say that the
specific aims are one page, and this is sort of a
general bullet point outline of what’s
good to approach– how to approach the specific aims. It can only be one page. It’s always good
to clearly state what the hypothesis
of your project is. “The hypothesis
of my project is.” The reviewers will look
for that statement, so it’s best not to have it
buried some place on that page. Clearly describe what are
the goals of the project and how you’re going
to meet those goals. And also, the impact of
your research on the field– why it’s important. If you look a little bit
down the third bullet from the bottom, the challenging
and existing paradigm or clinical practice. What is new about
what you’re proposing? Why should it be done? The research strategy–
there are defined sections. And you should work on this
very closely with your mentor. You’re allowed six pages total. The significance
of the project– why is it important? How will the field change? What is missing
or not understood right now in the field
and how will your work address those issues? You don’t do section
B, innovation, but section C, the approach. How are you going to answer the
questions that you’ve posed? And I would mention not
only what kind of data are you going to collect and
how are you going to analyze it, but also to address potential
problems or challenges that you might meet–
technically or otherwise. And then how will you
address those problems. It shows a lot of
maturity on your part if you recognize that there
are particular challenges that could come up during, let’s
say, the three or four years of the fellowship and
how you would address it. Some folks will use the
phrase, alternate strategies. And then what are your
benchmarks, or milestones for success? Or how will you know
that you’re progressing? What are you looking for? What are your benchmarks
and milestones? Another aspect that is becoming
more and more important for NIH grant applications is
rigor and reproducibility. So the statistical
design of the study and the statistical
analysis of the results. And if you look at
the second bullet from the bottom, preliminary
studies or results. This is very important and
would strengthen any grant application. It addresses feasibility by
saying that you’ve already done some of the work. It shows to the reviewers
that the project A, is doable, and that you can do it. So it’s not so hypothetical
that the work can be done. In fact, you’ve demonstrated
that the work can be done. And just importantly,
that you can do the work. So respective contributions– This is where you would write
down– it’s only a page– about how you and your
mentor developed the grant application. So it’s not supposed to be that
your mentor wrote the grant application or that you wrote
it all and then showed it to the mentor the day before. But rather, it was a
collaborative and learning exercise for you. That you would write
a draft and then discuss it with your mentor
and how to improve it, what sections to
include, and so forth. And then you would
go back and write it. Selection of Sponsor
and Institution– so you probably wrote
something similar to this when you applied to graduate school. Why did you choose this mentor? Why did you choose
this institution? And what exciting
research is going on in that mentor’s lab that
drew you to that mentor’s lab? Training and the Responsible
Conduct of Research– this has been a
requirement for about 20– almost 25 years I would say now. All institutions offer a course
in the responsible conduct of research. And then you would describe
that course in detail. The subjects that are covered,
how often the course meets, who teaches the
course, and so forth. This is a required component
of the grant application. And section 9 is where your
sponsor or mentor, however you call it, sort of talks about– what they talk
about is what they will do for you, in essence. Or what their lab
will do for you. It’s not about them. It’s not about their
research project. It’s really what they can do for
you and your graduate training. Section A is what
financial support that they have to
support your research? Do they have any other
NIH grants and so forth? Because if you remember, I said
that the F-31 doesn’t provide any money for research costs. So it’s up to the mentor
to be able to provide that. Their previous
fellows– have they mentored previous
students who have then gone on to be a success? Have successful
careers in research? So they want to know how many
predoc and postdoc fellows they previously mentored. And then talk about five of
them and where are they now. So they really want to know that
this individual not only has money to do research, but
also would be a good mentor. So being a scientist
and being a mentor are not always the same thing. OK Section C– the training
plan, the environment, and research facilities. So what resources are going
to be available for you during this fellowship? The technical
facilities in terms of the core facilities
and so forth. What do they plan for your
professional development for you to learn to give
presentations, to write grants, to be a mentor yourself? And how will all of
this help transition you to a more independent stage– the postdoc stage. How many other people– students or postdocs– are
being mentored by the mentor at the same time as you? So, for instance, if there’s
15 other students and postdocs in the lab at the
same time as you, you’re probably not going
to get very close mentoring. And that’s a concern
to the reviewers, OK? And then, finally,
section E, their review of your qualifications
and potential for a research career. Letters of support
from collaborators– this is up to six pages. So this would be
anybody else that’s involved in your
research– another adviser, another co-investigator, the
director of a core facility that maybe is helping you out. A statistician that’s helping
you out, and so forth. And they would talk
about their expertise and their role in the proposed
research plan up to six pages. Then the Institutional
Environment and Commitment to your training–
and this is two pages and it would just sort of be
a description of the research environment that you’re in. Are there journal clubs? Seminars going on? Appropriate facilities, and
resources, and so forth. A new requirement
that’s coming up is instruction in rigor
and reproducibility. This responsible
conduct of research is now going to be
a new requirement in the training of
junior investigators at NIH-funded institutions. So what kind of
resources, let’s say, your office of graduate
affairs or student affairs offer in support of
graduate students? A relatively new requirement
is this document additional educational information. So there was a feeling
that graduate students were taking too long to graduate. And that the graduate
programs, perhaps, were not keeping a keen an eye on them. So there is this
other document which should be completed
by the director of your graduate program which
asks about time to degree over the past 10
years for students in this particular
graduate program. What kind of
milestones do they have to keep an eye on students? Are there yearly
committee meetings? When is their qualifying exam? How often does the
program director meet with the graduate students
to see how they’re doing? What’s the typical timeline of
a graduate student to graduate? And this is usually written
by the program director or department chair. And the aim is– this is going
back to what I showed you at the beginning– this document on the
biomedical workforce is to reduce the length
of graduate training. This section is not yet
required for fellowships, I just thought I
would tell you that. I wanted to also highlight
this other section on another page called
Facilities and Other Resources. This section does not
have a page limit. So many times, you can
add information here that you wouldn’t be able to
add in the other sections, which have very strict page limits. And you can talk
about in more detail of the resources
in your mentor’s lab or any core facilities
at your institution that are relevant to the
research that you’re proposing. You can make another section
called Career Development Resources and talk more
about the different programs that you’re going to go to in
terms of career development. May be offered by your
office of graduate affairs, or the postdoc office
also offers it. Maybe your department
offers it or maybe when you go to a
national meeting, your professional society
also offers programming for junior investigators. You can talk about any
courses you’re going to take, or workshops, or
webinars, or so forth. Like this webinar would
be perfect to describe in any fellowship application. And this way, in
this section, you don’t have to worry about
space too much, because there’s no page limit. Other attachments– for
those that are filling out the F-31 for
diversity candidates, there’s another document
that needs to be added. And it’s just an
institutional letter certifying that the individual
is eligible to apply for the diversity fellowship. Many times, you
would get the letter from your office of graduate
affairs or your sponsored projects or grants
office and it just needs to be on
institutional letterhead. It’s really just an
eligibility letter. Cover letter– now you
need to also a requirement to include a cover letter. And one of the
reasons is that you need to say who your
list of referees will be. Because F-31
applications also require three to five confidential
letters of references. These are not included
with the application. You’ll never see them, but they
are submitted electronically individually by the
individual that’s submitting this letter of reference. Three to five– I recommend four. And these would be in from
individuals who know you, know you well, and know you
from a scientific perspective. It could be somebody on
your thesis committee. Could be one of your advisors. It could be somebody
from undergraduate that you did a
research project with. It cannot be your mentor or
somebody else in the main body of the application. And they should talk
about how they know you, whether as a research
experience, your successes in that research
experience, and how they feel that you
will continue to be a success in the
scientific workforce. Just to give you a
heads up I did earlier, that there’s going to be,
in the near future, required training in rigor
and reproducibility. And so look for
that when you are completing your
applications in the future. It’s not a requirement right
now, but, as you can see, NIH has given us
advanced notice of that. I’ve just concluded all the
reference points on the NIH web page to help you find
all this information, because it’s a
very large web page and it would be very difficult
to find this information. So, in the closing
minutes, general approaches for competitive
grant applications. So one of the
things, I feel, folks don’t do is to take enough
time before they begin to write the grant
application, is to think about what would make
the grant application more competitive. It’s not the will to win, but
the will to prepare to win that makes the difference. So what are some of
the things to think about before you start
to write the application? Well, talk to the
program officer at NIH. Talk to colleagues who
received similar applications. Ask, if possible, to look
at their successful F-31 application. Read the review criteria
over and over again and think about what would
make the application more competitive. Is there a core facility
that should be involved? Is there somebody else
that’s an advisor who has an expertise that’s
lacking elsewhere? Is there any preliminary
data or pilot data, or whatever
you want to call it, that will strengthen
the application? Think about who’s going to be
those three to five individuals that are going to write
those confidential letters. Perhaps, you should have
more than one mentor, called co-mentoring. Think about that. What are the other collaborators
and co-investigators? Who should be involved? How can you make the grant
multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary? And then, as you get closer
to writing the grant, begin to meet with all
of the individuals– your advisers, the
co-mentors, directors of the core facilities. There’s always
research administrators at institutions and so forth. Think about if there’s
any regulatory issues if you’re using human subjects
or laboratory animals. And then, finally, complete
the grant application. Read the instructions
more than once. Identify all the
different components that need to be completed. I would suggest
having a checklist, and not only having a
checklist of all the items to be completed,
but also a timeline of when you hope, or should,
have that item completed. Create an outline. And not only an outline
listing the different content areas, if you will, but how
long should each section be. This section’s a paragraph. That section’s a
page and a half. Practically every section
has very strict page limits, you don’t want to go over. Think about who might have
responsibility beyond you for all the different sections. There’s an administrator
that will work on the budget. Maybe your mentor will help
draft some of the letters and so forth. Keep in mind the page limits. Create a schedule for
yourself of when you’re going to meet with individuals. These are just technical
areas of what font are you going to use and so forth. You’re going to be collecting
sections from different people. Just make sure that
everything can go together. Make sure you set a firm
timeline for completing all of these different sections. Read the instructions. I can’t say it more than once. Never assume that the
reviewers know what you mean. It’s not your PhD
defense, they’re not going to be in
the room with you. If it’s important for them
to know it, tell it to them. If it’s important in
more than one section, it’s OK to say it in
more than one section. They might not review the
grant all the way through, so they might not
remember what you said five pages before
because, in fact, that was two weeks earlier. Refer to the literature
thoroughly and thoughtfully. You want to demonstrate
to them that you know exactly where this
field is and how your work is going to advance the field. You would do that by referring
to the literature thoroughly and thoughtfully. Explicitly state the
rationale of the project. As I said, “the hypothesis
of my study is.” I mentioned this before– discuss any areas or challenges
and how you would address it. It demonstrates tremendous
maturity on your part. It’s always important, I
think, helpful to include tables and figures. Imagine the reviewers reading
page after page of text. If something can be represented
in a table or figure, then do it. Remember, start with an outline
so that what you’re presenting comes off in a very
organized fashion. And always ask colleagues or
friends to review the grant and to offer comments. So you have to give it to them
not the day before, because you want to give them time to read
it and to make good comments and then you need
to give yourself time to implement any of the
changes that they suggest. With regard to
tables and figures, think about how to
make it as readable as possible for the reviewers. Make sure the figure caption
and the figure are together. Not that there’s a
figure on one page and the description of the
figure is two pages later. Don’t make the figure
too complicated. They should be able
to look at the figure and understand the point
that you’re trying to make. Many times, the reviewers– some reviewers are
still printing out grant applications to read
them and they take it with them on the plane or whatever. And they are not, many times,
printing them in color. So make sure that that
great picture of cells doesn’t come out to be a gray
shmear when they print it, or that the pink
line and the red line don’t look any
different when it’s printed in black and white. And make sure that it’s
easy for the reviewers to read that it’s not too
small font that they really can’t tell what’s going on. It’s got to be informative. Maybe put in a timeline like
this in terms of your project, relating it to the specific aim. So here’s an example of
a three year fellowship. And you’re sort of laid out
the progress of the project over the three-year period. I just did it in six month
intervals, if you will. But if you do
something like this, it also demonstrates
to the reviewer a lot of maturity when
you’ve thought things through at such a level. Remember, you’re not in
the room with the reviewer, so think of every possible
question that they could have– even if it’s obvious to you– and answer the
questions in the text. Because if they have an
outstanding question that’s not addressed, you probably
won’t get as good a score than if you totally
covered everything that they could possibly
have a question about. Seven bullet point elements
of a good proposal. As a junior
investigator, you want to come off as competent,
enthusiastic, thorough and professional. And it really will come through
in your personal statement. I’ve read hundreds of that
and, believe it or not, even though they are
a few pages long, you really feel like the
individual and their enthusiasm and their commitment
to science and research at the end of those
couple of pages. So what are some common
problems with grant applications some new investigators? It doesn’t address
the particular funding program, or funding
mechanism, or the agency, or the amount of money that’s
available, or the timeline. It’s a three-year fellowship and
the project is five years long, that’s not a good fit. This is very common. It’s overly ambitious. It’s proposing too
much for the resources and the time that’s available. You want to show near
the end that you’re becoming more independent at
the end of the fellowship. It can’t be a fishing
expedition where you just do a bunch of experiments, you
look for some outlying points, and then you figure out why
they are outlying points as opposed to having a
hypothesis-driven project. You’re asking a
question and then you’re answering the question. Also, you want to
make it mechanistic. You want to not just
be collecting data, but trying to understand
why something is happening. You don’t want it
to be unfocused. Well, the research projects,
they’re all involved, they’re all related to
diabetes, but they’re not tied together by a common
theme or a common hypothesis. I think it always helps to
have preliminary or pilot data. It shows the feasibility
of the project as well as demonstrates that
you’re able to do the project. The budget, or your
mentor’s research funds, have to match what’s proposed. And if the methodologies are
beyond the expertise of you or your mentor, then
bring in collaborators and co-investigators. It’s good if a project
multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary, so
bring in colleagues that have the appropriate expertise. So one summer, I was working
at a study section at NIH. This is when the grants were
still in hard copy form. And I asked to see the mailroom. And the mail room was the
world’s biggest copy machines and piles and piles of
FedEx boxes and so forth. And I think, even though
grants are now electronic, I think it sort of demonstrates
the fact that there is a lot of competition out there. And, in fact, your
grant application is, in fact, let’s say
all the way back there and you’ve got to make
your grant stand out head and shoulders
above all the rest. So this is my little
cartoon about this. And to realize that reviewers
don’t get all these grants, don’t go into their office
and pull down the shades and lock the door and are
now dedicated the next four hours of their life to
reading their grant– reading your grant. In fact, it’s a lot of work
and they have a lot of grants and they have to somehow
differentiate all these grants. So this is my sort of schematic
representation of grants. So there are some grants that
are just absolutely great and will definitely get funded. And then some not so great and
they probably won’t get funded. But the vast majority of
the grants are in the middle and they’re fine. And if there was an
unlimited amount of money, they would all get funded
because they’re fine. But there isn’t an
unlimited amount of money. So it’s just human nature
for what the reviewers do. All these fine grants,
they have to somehow find something wrong with that. So, for instance,
these grants didn’t address rigor and
reproducibility and had very poor study design
or statistical analysis. So they’re gone. And maybe these grants
involved some unique cell line or transgenic animal
line and didn’t discuss where they were getting
this research resource from. So they’re gone. Or, as a fellowship should
have a very strong career development plan– seminars, and webinars, and
workshops, and so forth– and these grants did not do it. And then there are these grants
where the reviewer really couldn’t make out what was
going on in the figures just because the figure
captions were so small. And they really couldn’t
understand what was going on, so they lost the point
of these great figures. So those applications are gone. So in the end, you want to
be sort of the last person landing– standing, if you
will, because you’ve done everything possible
to make the application as strong as possible. And so finally, good luck. And I hope this information– I know there was a
lot of information, but I hope this information
was informative. Thank you very much. MODERATOR: Thank you
so much, Dr. Rubin. At this point, we will be
opening up for our question and answer portion. JAIME RUBIN: OK, great,
I look forward to it. MODERATOR: The series. So we have one
hand raised and we have received a couple of
questions in written format. JAIME RUBIN: OK. MODERATOR: With a question
that came in in written format during the presentation. JAIME RUBIN: OK. MODERATOR: And
this is a question from Lindsey, who says, I am
working under a newer faculty member. She has only two other students. Will this negatively affect
my application with regard to my mentor’s history? JAIME RUBIN: So, Lindsey,
that’s a great question and I’ve heard it frequently. Where someone has a new
faculty member who’s probably great and doing
really exciting research, but doesn’t have a track
record of being a mentor himself or herself, just
because they’re starting out. And so, many times what
folks do in such a case is to have a mentor– a co-mentor– a more
senior faculty member who is in a related or
complementary area of research who’ll also mentor you. And this more senior
faculty member will have a longer track
record of mentoring students and postdocs and
launching students into the postdoc stage. So there, you have the
benefit of a junior faculty member and a more
senior faculty member. And this usually
works very well. I hope that answers
that question. MODERATOR: All right. Our next question, we have
a question from Fatima, who has submitted
a question via– who has her hand raised. So, Fatima, we will,
in fact, unmute you so that you may ask
your question verbally. I see it in the chat as well. So we’ll confirm. All right, Fatima. FATIMA: Thank you. So what are the chances
for international student to get NIH grant funds? JAIME RUBIN: So
the F-31, one needs to be a US citizen or permanent
resident to be eligible. But, there were other
funding mechanisms, other funding non-government
agencies where citizenship is not an eligibility criteria. So for instance, the
American Heart Association has a predoc fellowship. And students on visas– and I was a graduate
student on a visa– are eligible to apply. And the general concepts
that I discussed earlier, in terms of what makes a
competitive application, are appropriate for all of
these types of agencies. Realizing that faculty, who
are peer reviewers for NIH, are also peer reviewers for
the American Heart Association or whatever. But in terms of the
NIH fellowship F-31, one needs to be a US citizen
or a permanent resident. So one needs to think about
other funding agencies. FATIMA: Thank you. JAIME RUBIN: OK. Good luck. MODERATOR: All right, we will
move on to the next raised hand question from Nancy. JAIME RUBIN: OK. And, Nancy, I’ll let you
know when you’re on the air. You are on the air. NANCY: OK. Thank you. I actually submitted
mine as well. At what point in the doctoral
program should students apply? I’m assuming this would be
before they receive candidacy. JAIME RUBIN: So one obviously
needs to have chosen a mentor. I think to have a good
amount of preliminary data, I think, perhaps,
as one is just sort of past one’s qualifying exams. If that sort of makes sense
for your graduate program, because I think
at that point, you have a well-defined
project that you can discuss in the application. Does that make sense for
your graduate program? NANCY: Yes, thank you. JAIME RUBIN: OK, good. Because different
graduate programs will use different terminology. MODERATOR: Very good. So our next question– let me just make sure– all hands raised
have been answered. But we have a couple of
questions in the chat. JAIME RUBIN: All
great questions. MODERATOR: This is sort
of a housekeeping one. So [? Opsahn ?] asks
whether we will have these slides available online. So we will be following
up with all of you who were in attendance to share
the video from today’s session. And we will also be posting the
full recorded session online on our website NRMNet.net. We can certainly– if Dr.
Rubin is amenable to it– share the actual
slide deck as well. JAIME RUBIN: Sure. MODERATOR: leave
read that to you. JAIME RUBIN: No,
I certainly will. And I also post all
the slides on my– I have a course on
funding and grantsmanship and I post all the
slides up there. And I certainly plan
on doing that too. MODERATOR: Wonderful. Perhaps we’ll circulate
that URL to folks as well. JAIME RUBIN: OK. MODERATOR: Great. And the next question we had
here was already answered. That was our question
about international student eligibility. The next question here comes
from [? Vasti. ?] [? Vasti ?] recently had a shift from being
a master’s student to now being a PhD student, causing
[? Vasti ?] to fall behind in schedule and is now
a fourth year student. Will this impact
[? Vasti’s ?] application negatively and in a
significant manner? JAIME RUBIN: Well, I
think one should still apply at the same stage
when one has a mentor and a research
project and, perhaps, passing the qualifying
exams or the equivalent that you have at your school. But there are different parts
in the application where you can sort of tell your story. And so there are nontraditional
paths through graduate school. And I have worked
with such students. So there is a
personal statement. There’s a part of
your bio sketch where if there were
nontraditional paths to graduate school,
then just explain them. And then also, have
others explain it if you’re not
comfortable doing it. There are all there– the statement from your mentor. There are letters from advisors,
or the confidential letters that I mentioned. So there are different
points in the application. It’s a very personal
application. It’s very different
than a research grant where you can discuss
different aspects of your life and your path
through graduate school, and how you got to this
point in your career. So even if it took you
know a little bit longer, you just need to
explain what happened. Hello? MODERATOR: Yes, so just
looking for the next question. JAIME RUBIN: I just wanted to
make sure you were still there. MODERATOR: Yes, yes, I am, I am. So let’s see here. I believe at this
point we have gone through all of our
written-in questions, and hands no longer raised. We do have a hearty, thank
you, from both Hassan and from [? Vasti ?]
for those responses. Looking at the
time, attendees, we do have plenty of time
for additional questions. So no need to be shy. If you do have one that you’ve
been considering submitting, feel free to raise your hand
or use the question section to submit a written question. JAIME RUBIN: While folks
are formulating questions, let me just say that
the skills that you gain in writing an F-31, or
any fellowship application, are skills that you will
take with you forever in your research career. You’ll be writing grants
as a faculty member. And a lot of the
points that I mentioned in terms of organizing
the application and approaching the different
sections are sort of universal. And the skill sets that you gain
here you will take with you. And when you become
a faculty member, having had this
experience, it will make it a little
bit easier when you begin to write that
first research grant. MODERATOR: We’ll just leave
a few more minutes for folks to submit any final questions. If none, we will go
ahead and adjourn. But looking for any
additional hands raised or questions in the chat. Yes, we have one. JAIME RUBIN: OK,
all right, great. MODERATOR: So Liz asks
via written question– do previous unsuccessful
submissions of a fellowship grant by your mentor for
a different grad student negatively impact
future submissions? JAIME RUBIN: Thank
you for the question. No, absolutely not. The reviewers
probably have no idea unless they happen to
be on the same panel. It has no impact. This the application
is really about you. And so the reviewers
don’t have an idea. I will say, and I did mention
that in the NIH world, you sort of get two chances to
submit the grant application. You submit an
initial application. You will get comments back on
each of the different sections that I went through, from
usually up to three reviewers. And then if you didn’t
get a fundable score, you then get to resubmit
the grant addressing the comments of the reviewers
in that initial round. You need to address
all of the comments. And usually when folks
comprehensively and adequately address the reviewers’
comments, they usually get a much better
score the second time. So it’s just not
a one-shot deal. In fact, you can
submit the grant twice. And it’s very important to read
those reviewers’ comments back and then to address them
in the resubmission grant. But previous applications
by your mentor should have no impact
on your application. That was a good question. MODERATOR: And we have
received a couple more. JAIME RUBIN: OK. MODERATOR: So Dylan says,
I haven’t definitively decided on academia
as a career path. Would this be a detriment
to my application? JAIME RUBIN: I think
NIH and the reviewers are realizing that
the reviewers are all NIH-funded investigators
from around the country. So it’s probably
to your advantage. This is who they’re hoping to– even though there’s talk now
of telling graduate students about alternate
careers in government, in publishing, in
industry, and so forth– realizing that the
reviewers are all NIH-funded academic scientists. The reviewers are not from
these alternate worlds. I hope that addresses
that question. MODERATOR: And just as
a clarifying question to that, would you then, Dr.
Rubin, say that Dylan listing, or are indicating that he’s
undecided about pursuing academia as a career path
would be, in fact, helpful? Because the reviewers want
to encourage this person to take that path? Or would it be a detriment? JAIME RUBIN: Well,
there is a lot of talk now about giving graduate
students information about alternate careers. But I don’t think we’re
quite at that point where it’s been incorporated into
these fellowship applications. So I think there is
this sort of expectation that they’ll continue
in academics. MODERATOR: That makes sense. All right, we have
one next question. Elizabeth asks, should
career aspirations be fairly limited
to within academia? I suppose this amounts
to a similar question. Can they be outside of academia? You may have just
sort of answered that by your last response. JAIME RUBIN: I mean I think
there’s more and more interest in informing students
about other things that they can do with
a doctoral degree in the biomedical sciences. But I don’t think
that’s filtered down to the fellowship. Realizing that
the reviewers have chosen careers in
academic research and have been successful at it. So it’s not like
anybody from industry, or government affairs,
government policy is sitting on the
review committee. They were all
academic scientists. MODERATOR: All right. Looking through,
we do not have– oh, pardon me we have just
received several more. JAIME RUBIN: OK. Great. MODERATOR: Liz thanks you JAIME RUBIN: Thank you. MODERATOR: For your response. JAIME RUBIN: Thank
you for your question. MODERATOR: Elizabeth would
like to make her question, perhaps, a little bit
more specific saying, stay in law school. But also said that your response
has been helpful thus far. JAIME RUBIN: OK, good. MODERATOR: All right and we do
have one additional question from Emily. JAIME RUBIN: Hi, Emily. MODERATOR: Is it more
important to identify specific, experimental
techniques to be learned? Or, cite more general skills
such as presentations, manuscript writing, et cetera? JAIME RUBIN: So I think both
categories are important. So in terms of the
research skills that would be sort of in
the research component part of the application. And then the other is the
career development skills– writing grants, writing journal
articles, giving presentations. Those are also very
important skill sets that academic
scientists might have. So it’s not an either/or,
it’s, in fact, both. And many times when folks
write these kinds of grants, they sort of focus on
the technical aspect– learning this particular
skill, learning how to run that piece of
equipment, and so forth. It’s just sort of human
nature to focus on that part. But realizing that
this is a fellowship to support somebody who is going
to be a faculty member, not a technician. And so also about
learning the sort of intellectual aspect of this. Learning how to
design experiments, learning how to ask
questions, learning how to answer the questions. So it’s also the intellectual
aspect of the research. Even though biology is
so technology-driven and whether you have good
hands in the lab and so forth, but try not to focus too much
on the technical aspect of it. But the research aspect and
the career development aspect are both important. MODERATOR: All right,
our next question here. We have a clarifying
question from Hassan asking, so if my career aspirations
are outside of academia, and I state these, will
these hurt my chances of obtaining an F grant? JAIME RUBIN: You
know I can’t answer that question definitively. But the mission
of the program is to support folks at this
stage of their career as they transition from
postdoc to assistant professor. And if you read the
review criteria, you’ll see that sort of
mission coming through. MODERATOR: We have a next
question from Jordan, who asks, is this fellowship an option
for students with less than one to two years remaining
in their degree program? Or are there other
fellowship options that may be a better fit? JAIME RUBIN: Right, so if you
have one to two years left, it this is probably not
the best funding program because, as I said
at the beginning, it takes about nine months
from application to award. So by that time, you’ll be sort
of on the verge of graduating, if you will. So it’s probably not somebody
with just one year left. You’ll probably get the award
as you’re sort of finishing up, and so thus, it
probably wouldn’t be a successful application. You would have to look for
specific funding programs that are for the most
senior students. NCI just recently
announced a program– a transition funding program– I haven’t seen it from
anybody else, which was for a senior graduate student. And so it supported those
final years of graduate school, and then the beginning
years of postdoc. I’ve only seen that
from NCI, so it’ll be interesting to see if
the other institutes also fund that transition
funding mechanism. So this is definitely
something to think about as you’re sort of nearing
the qualifying exams stage. MODERATOR: And
looking through, we have no further
questions in the queue. We do have several
more minutes if anyone would like to submit any
additional questions, either via the
chat or, again, you can raise your hand using
the hand raising function and we can unmute you to
ask your question verbally. We’ll just pause for a moment
and await any last questions. JAIME RUBIN: I will say that I’m
going to post these slides up on my grants course web page. They should be there
in a couple of days. MODERATOR: We do have
another question. JAIME RUBIN: OK, great. MODERATOR: Maxwell asks. JAIME RUBIN: Hi, Maxwell. MODERATOR: My program
only takes three years and I’m just starting. But I only have two
years left once I finish my qualifying exam. According to your previous
answer, does that mean I should be looking elsewhere? JAIME RUBIN: So your
graduate program is only three years long? That’s great, or three years
from the qualifying exam. I mean, perhaps if you submitted
it right around the time, you could perhaps
submit a grant asking for two years of funding. Or you could ask
for three years. And if you’re not there, then– if you graduate beforehand,
then the money’s sort of not lost, if you will. The grant will just have
been ended early because you had graduated and moved on. MODERATOR: The field
is epidemiology. I’m not sure if that’s. JAIME RUBIN: OK. All right. So, I mean, one could
ask for more time. And then if you
graduate, then the grant would just be ended in midstream
of the last year, if you will. I hope that answers
the question. It’s fine to graduate
before the grant ends. Your institution would just
end the grant when you’ve left and notify NIH. MODERATOR: And we’re
still open for questions. We’ll just wait another moment
and await any pending questions being composed. And, well, at this time,
seeing no additional questions, this may be a good time for us
to thank you all for tuning in. And thank you, Dr. Rubin, for
this wonderful presentation. JAIME RUBIN: My pleasure. I hope it was helpful
and informative. MODERATOR: We will
be following up just as a reminder to share the
recording of the presentation with everyone, as well as
the link to Dr. Rubin’s site where she will be
hosting the slides. And for those of you
who are interested, please join us for future NRMN
career development webinars. We actually have one tomorrow
about co-creating a health care system that works for everyone. So for those of you who may
be interested or know someone who may be interested, there
is an opportunity to tune in with us again
tomorrow afternoon. Find out more at
NRMNet.net online. And thank you so
much for tuning in. JAIME RUBIN: OK. Thanks for all the participants.

You May Also Like

About the Author: Oren Garnes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *