A wise person once said, “Research is a marathon and not a sprint.” Grant writing is the training for the marathon, and it requires discipline and fortitude to succeed. We are junior faculty members with mentored career development awards who are transitioning to independence. Below, we provide for our junior faculty colleagues some tips that have helped us train for our marathon in research.
Identify great mentors
We all understand that outstanding mentorship is critical to success. With that said, we often struggle to understand what a good mentor is. In regard to grant writing, you need someone who is willing to use red ink. While positive reinforcement may be good for your self-esteem, your mentor needs to be critical so that you can learn how to present the best possible product. In return, you must be an invested mentee who is respectful of the mentor’s time, is prepared for meetings, and responds appropriately to feedback.
Your home institution and professional societies hold outstanding workshops that provide didactic lessons on both the logistics and mechanics of grant writing and allow you to network with like-minded peers, potential mentors, and staff from the funding organization. One excellent example is the American Gastroenterological Association/American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AGA/AASLD) Academic Skills workshop.
Decide on a grant mechanism
There are many different grants available through the government, industry, foundations, and your institution. Each grantor may have a variety of mechanisms from pilot awards to larger multiprovider and institution grants. Deciding which grants to apply for can be more of an art than it is a science. Research the opportunities available to you and develop a long-term plan with your mentors.
Start early and have a plan
An effective grant application is prepared in steps, and every step takes longer than anticipated. About 6 months prior to the deadline, read the instructions and consider using something like a Gantt chart to identify all required sections, special requirements (font, spacing, page limits), and anticipated time of completion. Then, structure a reasonable timeline – and stick to it! Remember to allow ample time for all sections, including the career development plan and research environment. Your institution will probably request the documents early, anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks prior to the deadline so that it can be circulated for institutional signatures. Steady progress wins most races.
There is no grant without a great idea, but not all great ideas are funded. So, the first step is to polish your idea, which must be clearly described on the Specific Aims page, which is a one-page summary that lays the framework for the rest of the grant. For the primary reviewers, it should entice them to read the proposal. For others on the review panel, it may be the only section of your grant that they read. Make sure it is clear and concise. If possible, construct a visually pleasing and easy-to-follow figure that encapsulates your proposal.