Destination First Grant Want to launch your research career but not sure how to navigate the road to funding? Heed these 10 key mileposts on your grant-application journey. Features
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Features  |   October 01, 2014
Destination First Grant
Author Notes
  • Christopher A. Moore, PhD, is dean of Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College. His previous positions include Scientific Program Manager for the Sensory Systems and Communication Disorders Program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Scientific Review Officer at the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. sardean@bu.edu
    Christopher A. Moore, PhD, is dean of Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College. His previous positions include Scientific Program Manager for the Sensory Systems and Communication Disorders Program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Scientific Review Officer at the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. sardean@bu.edu×
Article Information
Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2014
Destination First Grant
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 46-48. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19102014.46
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 46-48. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19102014.46
For early-career scientists interested in pursuing research funding, the greatest challenge is often “starting to start.” The amorphous complexity of the tasks associated with grant applications is often enough to deter even the most talented young researchers. Fortunately, as with many dauntingly large tasks, securing grant funding can be parsed into a series of less-imposing, more manageable steps.
To thine own self, be true.
Careful and realistic assessment of your career stage and research trajectory is essential. Research applications are evaluated competitively, and the investigator’s credentials can be a decisive element.
For example, a new doctoral graduate with strong training and a stage-appropriate number of publications may be very competitive for a postdoctoral fellowship supported by NIH, but would be far less likely to be competitive for a Research Project Grant (R01), which is the mainstay support mechanism for established investigators.
Similarly, a postdoctoral fellow wanting to expand his or her research capabilities and prepare for a tenure-stream academic position may be optimally positioned for a coveted NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00), but might be less competitive for the Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21). To identify an appropriate support mechanism, carefully read the agency website, consult with agency Program Managers, and speak with experienced mentors.
With an eye to longer-range career planning, it is vital that you review your eligibility for important career advantages so you can use them before they expire—for example, there is a 10-year post-graduation window during which the Early Stage Investigator’s application receives special, advantageous considerations.
Guidance from Willie Sutton.
According to legend and as reported by Wikipedia, Willie Sutton, in response to queries about why he robbed banks, replied “Because that’s where the money is.” In the research grant world, applicants also need to be alert to “where the money is.” Each agency supporting health research (such as the National Institutes of Health, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education) and non-clinical research (the National Science Foundation, for example) has its own series of funding mechanisms that “fill the pipeline” from early training through sustained programmatic investigation.
Identification of the funding agency and mechanism that best match the researcher’s career stage is imperative to securing federal research support. For example, training grants are designed for pre- and postdoctoral researchers; small grants, like the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders’ R03, are for new investigators; and investigator-initiated project grants, like the NIH R01, are for established researchers.
Don’t be shy.
Funding agencies are eager to receive strong applications from well-qualified applicants. Ten minutes on the phone with the right agency representative can save months of wasted effort. Mine the agency’s Web resources to identify the appropriate Program Officer, Training Officer or Program Manager, and then send that person a very short, courteous, introductory e-mail requesting a brief phone appointment.
Read the instructions. Some assembly required.
Each funding mechanism is described by a formal document (a Program Announcement or Request for Applications). This online document is dense, dense, dense, and contains all of the eligibility requirements, special submission guidelines, funding limits, agency contacts and many other critical elements. If you don’t comply with every requirement, the evaluating panel may return it to you unreviewed, a tragic outcome that is easily avoidable. Sadly, there is no “quick-start guide” available.
Assemble a team.
An application’s appeal lies fundamentally in the associated personnel. The research or advisory (for training mechanisms) team must evince comprehensive expertise (supported by records of publication) across all elements of the proposed project including, for example, clinical expertise with the target population, methodological knowledge and laboratory resources.
The strengths and interests of the research team will also help to narrow the focus and scope of the research project. Evidence of an established and formalized relationship (for example, through joint publication) solidifies this critical aspect of an application. More important, an experienced team will help the early-stage investigator prepare an application that is free of the grant-writing errors that first-time applicants are most likely to make—such as proposing Specific Aims that are neither “specific” nor “aimed.”
Walk the fenceline.
There is no substitute for knowing the boundaries of your research area. Reviewers will see pursuits that are too far from the more commonly addressed questions—especially by less-experienced researchers—as inappropriately risky, tangential or unsupported by current models. Conversely, questions that echo work that has already been published will not evoke reviewers’ necessary enthusiasm. A strong research team will hone a research project to extend scientific boundaries, but will be aware and respectful of the meaningful accomplishments of preceding work. Placing your work in this narrowly bounded region improves its potential impact on the more general field of study, even as its feasibility is demonstrated by your and others’ extant efforts.
Establish feasibility.
How do you know if you’re ready to apply for federal research funding? One factor is the confidence inspired by preliminary data and feasibility from preliminary studies. There is no faking the voice of authority and detailed description that stem from a principal investigator’s experience with the proposed techniques. Attention to the appropriate details is key and will inevitably appear “between the lines” of the proposed methods and predicted results. The close-contact familiarity instilled by preliminary studies allows you to determine reasonable timelines and budgets.
Scope: Be Careful About Bad Breadth!
Perhaps the most common and most damaging concern a reviewer can express is that the proposed research is overambitious. The application must provide evidence (from preliminary studies, feasibility studies or published work) that the work can be completed in the time proposed, within the budget proposed and by this particular research team. You must have letters of support. For example, if the project’s success depends on access to a study population that has a predictable patient flow, then a letter is needed attesting to the availability of these patients.
And, of course, regarding the scope of the application process itself, be constantly aware that the research grant application occupies a unique place in the space-time continuum. This place can be located using the Application for Research Grant Heuristic (the time necessary to submit a well-considered grant application), which is driven by the Carefully Reasoned Estimate of Grant Application Preparation Time, the relation of which is described as:
ARGH = 3 × CREGAPT
It is important to note that the units in which CREGAPT is expressed (for example, weeks) are always determined to be the next higher order unit of time in ARGH (for example, months).
Celebrate!
A career in research means recognizing success when you see it. No champagne just yet, but acknowledge all that you’ve accomplished by submitting a competitive research application: a masterful, up-to-the-moment literature survey; an outstanding collaborative team; a successful creative process culminating in a series of interesting experiments; and the rejuvenation of your energy in the research process. Even if the application is not funded on this particular submission, it is likely that many of its ideas will come to fruition. The well-reasoned formulation of a research plan is an invaluable exercise that is likely to provide a better informed direction for your work regardless of the funding outcome.
If at first you don’t succeed …
In many cases, a successful application for research funding includes resubmitting a revised application. This extremely common step in the process facilitates something of a conversation between a review panel and the research team. Of course, your part of the conversation entails a respectful, responsive, more-or-less submissive answer to the panelists’ questions, but it also provides a clear opportunity to receive careful and thoroughly considered guidance from some of the leading scientists in the research area.
The path of a federally funded researcher is likely to hit some seemingly impassable obstacles—but when you conquer them, the scientific achievements will be that much more satisfying. The process may be onerous, but only external research support provides enough funds to permit experimentation on a scale that can address many of our greatest challenges in human health. The essential mission of federal funding agencies is discovery, and it is the excitement of forging new knowledge that fuels researchers.

ASHFoundation Opportunities for Early Researchers

Every year, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation awards approximately $500,000 in research grants and student scholarships to support the advancement of knowledge in communication sciences and disorders. Several of the research grants are available to early-career researchers:

  • Clinical Research Grants ($50,000–$75,000) support investigations on the efficacy of treatment and assessment practices.

  • New Century Scholars Research Grants ($10,000) support new research ideas and directions for investigators not currently funded in the proposed area of investigation.

  • New Investigators Research Grants ($10,000) are for investigators who have received a research doctorate within the past five years for activities with clinical relevance.

  • Speech Science Research Grants ($5,000) are for investigators who have received a research doctorate within the past five years pursuing research in speech science.

  • Student Research Grants in Audiology ($2,000) support research in clinical and/or rehabilitative audiology by doctoral students.

  • Student Research Grants in Early Childhood Language Development ($2,000) support research in early childhood language development by master’s and doctoral students.

For more information, visit www.ashfoundation.org.

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October 2014
Volume 19, Issue 10