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What you need to know about NIH grant writing (preview article)

By: Roche Life Sciences

Posted: July 31, 2015 | Career & Lifestyle

NIH grants are extremely competitive, and getting funded has become increasingly difficult over the years. While we would like to report that we have assembled a list of secrets to NIH grant writing, the truth is, there is no such thing. A successfully funded grant is a blend of thorough preparation, persistent hard work, scientific ingenuity, expert collaboration, strategic planning and just plain good fortune.

We hope that this article will provide sound advice for successful NIH grant writing, whether you are applying for your first fellowship as a pre- or post-doctoral trainee, establishing yourself as an independent investigator or simply looking to improve your grant writing skills. In the following sections we will walk through the key components of the NIH grant writing process from start to finish, including: the essentials of grant preparation; salient points in the NIH grant process, including understanding funding mechanisms and grant types; the basics of study section, the review process and how your grant is scored; and lastly, but most importantly, an essential breakdown of the critical components of the specific aims and research strategy of an NIH research application.

NIH grant preparation: Know your resources 
Start early. Like, really early. Even six to nine months ahead of an NIH deadline is a reasonable target to begin planning your proposal and to make sure you've completed the necessary preliminary data. Discuss your proposal with your mentor, department chair, colleagues and/or faculty to gauge level of interest, suitability of ideas, and preparedness ... read more.

Understanding the NIH grant process
We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take the time and effort to understand the NIH grant process from start to finish. This can include funding mechanisms, proposal components, submission and review. This will most certainly reduce stress and save you much needed time and energy as deadlines near. First, be familiar with the NIH and its types of grants and funding mechanisms … read more.

Study sections, peer review and the importance of a cover letter
All submitted NIH grants are sent to a central hub called the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The CSR is responsible for assigning applications to NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) and primarily manages more than 200 Scientific Review Groups (SRGs, or "study sections"). Importantly, applications are assigned to various study sections based on information you provide in your cover letter … read more.

Writing the science: Your specific aims and research strategy
Now that we've discussed everything we think you should know about preparation and the NIH grant process, let's get to the most important part about your application—writing the science. This must be done in a manner that is crisp, thoughtful and tells a great story. Your enthusiasm for your research should be reflected in your proposal—this is contagious. Remember, your job is to make the reviewer's job easy ... read more.

Now, let's get to writing the science. This is the Research Plan of your application, and it includes two major components: the Specific Aims and the Research Strategy. We will start with the Specific Aims. This is just a single page—and is arguably the most important section of your proposal. Reviewers will read this and likely form a strong opinion of the study. If done well, the reviewer will read the remainder of the grant through a lens of searching for confirmatory evidence that the grant is strong—if done poorly, they will likely be searching for fatal flaws, not redeeming components ... read more.


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