Top Tips For Grant Applicants
Securing funding for your research can be a challenging process. Two successfully funded researchers Dr. Todd Druley, Washington University, St. Louis, MO and Dr. Will Parsons, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, share their advice on submitting a successful grant application!
“What are some of the most important strategies researchers should know when applying for an ALSF (or other) medical grant(s)?”
- Propose a project that excites you! It is important that the project is something that you would actually like to be working on over the next several years and not just something that you think might be potentially fundable.
Save yourself time and frustration by resisting the urge to force your proposal into an inappropriate request for approval. For example; submitting a proposal for studying adult cancer to a pediatric cancer research foundation but stating that the work “may overlap” with a similar pediatric cancer type may be true, but is not pediatric cancer research.
- Keep it simple! Maintain a narrow focus but keep the outlook broad. Making the rationale for the project crystal clear and the aims as straightforward and logical as possible is an important first step to pleasing a reviewer.
We all want to cure cancer; though a challenging feat, each step of your project is instrumental in achieving this. Be conservative in your proposal about the key point(s) you are trying to understand. Then, explain why understanding those points will serve as a platform for greater things. Many proposals get rejected outright for simply being too broad in scope.
- Leverage the strengths you have at hand. These points of strength might be personal, lab-specific, multi-disciplinary networks or at the institutional level. What can you bring to the table that most other people cannot? Apply these capabilities toward new, interesting and challenging applications.
- A picture (or figure) is worth a thousand words! Unless it is tiny, incomprehensible, and poorly labeled. A clear figure or table can go a long way toward making a complicated research strategy, method, or preliminary data understandable.
- Identify the “right” mentors. Don't leave writing the career development portion of your grant to the last minute. It can be easy to overlook these "accessory" portions of the grant as you are rushing to meet the submission deadline. A clear, well-thought out mentorship and career development plan is absolutely critical for convincing a reviewer that funding your grant (and career) is a wise investment.
Don’t just list certain names for the purposes of caché. Identify potential mentors who will challenge you when things are good, while still providing support when things (inevitably) stall. Staying focused through tough times is just as important as blazing a trail during good times and this is an important consideration when judging a proposal from a junior investigator.
- Find balance. Your proposal will be compelling if it tackles a specific question in a unique way. Too broad in scope and it seems too ambitious (see #2). Too many unfamiliar experimental models and it seems too risky (see #3). Not enough support and its unclear how you’ll work through pitfalls (see #4). You need to strike the right balance of novelty, impact and reality.
- Leave time for proofreading! Typos, misspellings and other errors leave a bad impression that even great science may not be able to overcome. Ask both a colleague and a mentor to review a draft of your grant as early as possible! This can provide invaluable (and complementary) feedback.
- Budget, know your limits. Carefully read the grant guidelines for budget criteria. You should be aware of limits on the types of expenses, i.e.; salary and equipment restrictions. Also, identify all the costs that are necessary and reasonable to complete the work described in your proposal. Reviewers will look for reasonable costs and will judge whether your request is justified by your aims and methods.
- Get feedback after your grant has been determined. If you have been declined funding, many funding institutions, including ALSF, provide you with comments from the reviewers. Share the comments with a colleague or mentor to discuss the results in depth and how to improve the application for next time. Often colleagues who have experience on panels will be helpful in resolving issues and giving insight to reviewer’s comments.
- When in doubt call the Foundation. ALSF, like most funding organizations, will be happy to talk through any questions and/or discuss if your research project is a fit for a specific grant mechanism.