As a first time AHA Scientific Session attendee, I was thrilled with the diversity of topics covered in today’s program. As I learned about topics ranging from structural racism in science and healthcare to the difficulty associated with diagnosing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I had the opportunity to see some of the major challenges that prevail in cardiovascular health and was in awe of the advances being made to address them.
As a researcher constantly striving to write better grants and fellowships, I would highly recommend checking out the recording of “My first grant writing breakthrough — tips and tricks for early career researchers” by Lifestyle Council’s Early Career Committee. In this Zoom hosted chat, Dr. Alain Bertoni (Wake Forest School of Medicine), Dr. Norrina Allen (Northwestern University), and Dr. Kara Whitaker (University of Iowa) shared their secrets for grant writing success. Below are a few points that I took away with me.
Give yourself time to write
I was surprised to learn that some of the panelists had spent years working on a research idea and crafting it into a successful R01 grant. While most of us don’t have the luxury of years to write a grant, the panelists made it clear that writing a solid specific aims page (the backbone of any NIH grant) is a long process that requires many drafts and critical feedback from close colleagues. Thus, a theme repeated throughout the panel was time. Give yourself a lot of time to write and start your grant writing process as early as possible.
Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are
Don’t be shy, reach out to others for help. A constant theme of this session was the sense that our peers are our strongest asset. As the grant will be read by experts in the field, the panelists emphasized that it is likewise important to get feedback from knowledgeable peers to ensure that the science is exciting, the approach is solid, and that the ideas you are presenting are fundable.
Read other grants and try to gain the first-hand experience with the NIH peer review process
In a final tips takeaway, the panelists noted that one of the best ways new faculty members can learn how to write excellent grants is to expose themselves to excellent grants. This can be achieved through reading successful grants written by peers. Alternatively, the NIH has an Early Career Reviewer Program that allows early-career scientists to participate in the NIH peer review process to help them understand how grants are evaluated.
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Jennifer Kong, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the Biochemistry Department at Stanford University. Her research interests include developmental signaling pathways and the genetics of congenital heart disease. Outside of the lab, she is a grant writing coach. Her blogs are available at betteratthebench.com and you can follow her tweets @JennKong07.