Ease the pressure of NIH R01 grant writing by getting your lab to help (Part I)

The first thing I tell a new NIH R01 grant client is this: Stop working on your R01 alone.

Even if no one else in your lab understands your R01 research plan the way you do, that does not mean they can’t be enlisted to help you save time in preparing your grant. Let them relieve some of the meat-grinder pressure you’re under.

By using their help where it makes sense,  you can produce a better research plan in less time and be more likely to win funding. Even if your lab is tiny, with just one person to help you — a technician, a postdoc, a grad student, or even a pimply-faced undergrad — you should consider how they can be used to help you win funding.

Here are two ways to use their help. In Part II I’ll give you other ideas.

1. Have someone in your lab write rough drafts of the R01 Significance and Innovation sections

Many PIs start writing NIH R01 grants by focusing first on the Abstract, Specific Aims and the Approach section. Once you finish first drafts of these sections, instruct someone in your lab to use them as background material for writing rough drafts of Significance and Innovation. While they’re busy with that, you will have more time to write second drafts of Specific Aims and Approach.

Give this task to the person in your lab most capable of understanding your research goals. They need not be a great writer, because regardless of who writes a rough draft of Significance and Innovation, it will probably be a very long way from perfect.

But that’s ok, because improving their rough draft by editing will probably take you far less time than writing Significance and Innovation from scratch by yourself. As you edit you’ll see where they misunderstood and made mistakes, and this will stimulate your thoughts about what to say in what order, what to omit, and what to add. When you’re done you’ll have a good second draft produced in less time than if you’d written Significance and Innovation all alone.

Another benefit of having someone else write a rough draft of Significance and Innovation is that you’ll see how another person understands what makes your research proposal important and novel. If they’re confused about its importance and novelty, it may  be a warning that reviewers will be confused too.

2. To gather preliminary data faster, temporarily reassign lab projects if necessary

Lack of preliminary data demonstrating research projects are feasible is one of the biggest reasons NIH R01 grants are lost.

Obviously, your lab is already working on projects you hope will supply preliminary data for winning funding. But are their projects helping you get the preliminary data you need for the NIHR01 grant you’re applying for right now?

If not, then consider temporarily diverting your people from their usual experiments to experiments specifically needed to prove feasibilty for this grant. I understand this may be more easily said than done. You may have people who don’t want to set their regular work aside, or who lack the skills for particular experiments. You may have to negotiate to get their help.

Even so, where it is  possible to make temporary reassignments so preliminary data is gathered faster, my opinion is that it’s worth doing.

Because it might just be the difference between winning the R01 and not winning it.

Getting your students and postdocs to help is doing them a favor

Many moons ago when I was working on my PhD in microbiology, I was required by the University of Washington to write a grant application. It wasn’t a real grant; I was too young and inexperienced for a real grant. But it was required because they knew grant writing was a skill I’d need as a PI.

In the same way, by asking your grad students and postdocs to help you with your grant, you are beginning to teach them a skill they’ll need later on. I believe asking them to spend a short amount of time — a day or two or a couple of weeks — helping you win funding is doing them a favor. They know science has to be financed, but know little about how it’s funded through the NIH R01 funding mechanism. Letting them help you is a teaching moment they may be very grateful for in the years to come.

For Part II of this article, click here:

Ease the pressure of NIH R01 grant writing by getting your lab to help (Part II)




Leave a Comment