When should I start working on an application?
Contact your prospective Government Program Official at least one year before you would like to receive an award. Remember that your application may not be funded in its first round of review and note that the summary from your review might not be available in time to resubmit by the very next deadline. Also, the approximate start date given in the receipt, review and award schedule may be overly optimistic, depending upon budgetary factors that cannot necessarily be anticipated.
Are there any general grant writing tips?
For general grant writing tips, go to http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/extra/extdocs/gntapp.htm. Note that these tips apply to all grant types and some of the advice may not apply directly to postdoctoral applications, so read them carefully and check with your Program Official if you have questions about what you find there.
Is there a glossary of NIH terms?
Yes. You can find a glossary of NIH Terms at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm.
Is there an NIH acronym list?
Yes. You can find an NIH Acronym List at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/acronym_list.htm.
Where can I find information on stipends?
You can find information on stipends at http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm and http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-10-073.html.
How do I address the NIH Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement?
Type in bold a heading entitled Plans to Meet the NIH Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement. Describe the ethics course designed to meet NIH responsible conduct of research requirements that you will take during each year of the period of the award with a list of topics (the course title or topics must change each year). Refer the reader to a syllabus you will attach in the appendix if possible. NIH does not require a specific curriculum, but instruction may include conflict of interest, responsible authorship, the protection of human and animal subjects, and institutional policies for ethically handling data management and data sharing and the issue of scientific misconduct. Detail how often you will meet with your sponsor and the content of the ongoing instruction, monitoring and interaction with your sponsor on ethical issues that you will have as these issues come up during the course of your research. As a guide to the kinds of issues you should address, see the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not92-236.html.
If I would like to have my grant application assigned to NIDA, what do I need to do?
Indicate your preference in a cover letter attached to your application and mention if you have been working with any particular institute's Program Official. Also, since the cover letter is not the only information used to determine assignments, be sure to include terms associated with drug abuse research in your title, abstract, career goals, and possibly your aims.
How do I describe my goals for fellowship training and my career?
Tailor your career goal description to show the relationship to your fellowship goal. In the ideal situation, your fellowship would prepare you fully for research independence in your field. Your sponsor's description of his or her research interests/areas may give you some ideas.
How do I write the abstract?
The abstract should describe your proposed research and training. As you write, ask yourself if your description is in harmony with your application title and your goals for your career. In addition, if you are targeting the grant for primary assignment to NIDA, ask yourself if you have included terms associated with drug abuse research in your field here in the abstract, as you should also do in the title, which will help guide the referral to NIDA.
What do I need to know about writing my aims?
Do not make later aims contingent upon the success of earlier aims. Show the relationships among experimental aims, that is how they work together to address your research questions and goals. Tailor your aims to your unique training needs. You may also find it helpful to consider the effect of the terminology and other choices you make in writing the aims as to whether it will help guide the referral to NIDA.
How do I figure out how much time to ask for?
Make it clear what year of training you are currently in and how long you expect your postdoctoral training to take. State the number of years of Kirschstein National Research Service Award or NRSA training for which you are eligible. The total NRSA eligibility period for a postdoctoral trainee is three years.
What do I need to say about my research experience?
In describing your research experience, be thorough yet succinct. Describe previous work and training in terms that reveal the current research training sought as a logical extension. For example, sleep and food studies may both represent appetitive research if that is the direction you are now pursuing; or, dopamine transporter function may tie the two earlier paths of inquiry together for you; or perhaps, you have now moved from animal to human research, or from clinical to epidemiological research, but are working on the same general topic. If the link between previous research training may be seen as less obvious, or if the skills and knowledge required of previous and current work may seem very different, briefly explain any apparent deviations from a clear career path, and work to tie up any loose ends. In describing your previous research, you want to convey that you are focused and committed to your proposed research. If you are changing direction too drastically, reviewers may question whether you have asked for enough time for your training; address this directly, if it applies. Write your description of your research experience so it is in harmony with your fellowship proposal, your career goals, and your research training plan.
What do I need to show concerning my grades and Graduate Record Examinations (GREs)?
Postdoctoral applicants will need to address any deficiencies and include provision for additional training and supervision in the research training plan as necessary. Make certain to cross-refer the reader between the listing of your grades and any consequent additions to the training plan. If you are sending transcripts, make sure they are sent directly by the registrar under separate cover from the proposal itself. If you are writing a revised application, remember that you cannot use your previously sent transcripts. Rather, you must arrange for the registrar to submit a new set and it must arrive under separate cover from your revision.
What do I need to do about my letters of reference?
You will want to consider what the research experience is that you have with each person you have asked to provide you with a letter of reference. Reviewers tend to try to fit each person giving you a letter of reference into the story of your research experience. Be certain that each person you have asked to provide you with a letter of reference provides his or her job title and describes his or her relationship to you. It is often a good idea to cite, for each person from whom you've requested a letter of reference, all publications, abstracts, and presentations that you have co-authored with them or to which you contributed. Reviewers also may consider whether you have left out a critical person as one of your letters of reference. If you think reviewers may get that impression, you would be well advised to directly address the reason, for example as a note in the Research Experience section of the proposal. Remember that an exceptional letter of reference from an important source can be one key to overcoming what reviewers may otherwise perceive as deficiencies, for example, if you have a less than stellar academic record.
What do I need to know about presenting my publications?
Publications are taken as evidence of past productivity. Plans for additional publications and the sponsor's rate of publication productivity are taken as indications for future productivity. Together, these are an important key to an outstanding proposal. Preparation for this aspect of the application should begin as soon as the potential applicant is aware they may apply for an NIH grant. Relative to whether you are seeking a PhD or an MD/PhD, and the standards in your field, your productivity goal is to have a high number of first-authored publications in well-regarded peer-reviewed journals. You should work to increase the number of such publications. In thinking about what to include in your current list of publications, note that while publications on the topic are most important, in general it is best not to omit publications on other topics. While publications are important, it is best not to omit papers in preparation, those that have been submitted, those that have been accepted with revision, and those that are in press. Also, please include abstracts and presentations. All of these give evidence of the applicant's level of commitment, productivity, and potential. In writing your proposal, you should address your plans for publications. Make your plans concrete by listing possible titles, target journals, and expected publication dates. It is recommended that you incorporate this plan into a milestone chart along with your other research and training activities.
What are the most important things I need to say in the research proposal section?
Clearly state your hypotheses. Show it is feasible by providing preliminary data, whether it is yours or your sponsor's, if at all possible. Write the research proposal section in painstaking detail. Avoid extraneous arguments. Resolve inconsistencies.
In the research proposal, do I need preliminary data?
You are strongly advised to include preliminary data. The lack of inclusion of preliminary data is a fairly common factor in applications that require revision. You should use preliminary data to demonstrate the feasibility of your proposed methods and approach. Carefully evaluate the statistical significance, magnitude and direction of the preliminary findings. Make certain that your preliminary findings are consistent with your hypotheses. If you cannot conduct your own preliminary analyses in preparation for the application, check with your sponsor to see if he or she has relevant data and analyses you can use to demonstrate the feasibility of your approach and methods. If you are using data from your sponsor's laboratory, be sure to document your own contribution, where relevant.
What if my preliminary data is not available in time for my application receipt date?
If your preliminary data won't be available in time for the receipt date and your application gets assigned to NIDA for possible funding, the NIDA-K Scientific Review Administrator, Dr. Mark Swieter, might (depending on timing) allow you to send him up to two pages of supplemental information for reviewers to consider. Check with him on timing as you get closer to your receipt date. Please note that there is no guarantee that your grant would be assigned to NIDA. Dr. Mark Swieter can be reached at:
Mark Swieter, PhD
Scientific Review Administrator
Office of Extramural Affairs
6101 Executive Blvd
Bethesda, MD 20892-8401
How should I describe my research methods?
Strive for clear descriptions of your research procedures. Give the rationale for each measure you propose. Give rationales for the linkages among the measures you will use. Clearly describe how each measure will be taken. Make certain that the procedures outlined are feasible. Make sure that measures will be valid and reliable. Preliminary data are often the best indicator. The research proposal should be orderly and it should be possible to accomplish the research according to the schedule outlined.
Should I mention any limitations of my research design?
Yes, mention and address the limitations of your experimental design. For example, if you are doing experiments, describe appropriate experimental controls. If you are conducting epidemiological research, advise the reader of population and sampling issues and the impact these may have on the analyses. Cite caveats to the research approach. A discussion of limitations and caveats is taken as evidence of the thoroughness and maturity of the candidate and the research proposal overall. It also gives assurance that you will be able to evaluate the importance and generalizability of your research findings. You will also need to suggest monitoring strategies for problematic issues and you will need to say how you will handle the potential problems you identify.
In the research proposal section, do I have to state hypotheses?
Reviewers tend to prefer clearly hypothesis-driven research, although that is not always possible depending upon your area of research and investigational questions. It is strongly recommended that you speak with your prospective NIDA Program Official to discuss this issue if you do not plan to test any research hypotheses. It is a good idea to propose experimental controls for hypothesis-driven research. Address the choice of research subjects, the controls, and the experimental design and analytic strategies that you have proposed. Check to see if they are adequate in light of alternative hypotheses you may need to consider, for example if they are salient hypotheses in the filed or if your data do not turn out as planned. Make certain that you know about and control for effects of animal/human subject testing, monitoring or data collection procedures that you employ.
In the research background section, how recent do the citations have to be?
Make sure that most of your key citations are as recent as possible, although pertinent fundamental older citations may be necessary to anchor them.
In the research background section, how should I limit the material I review?
Your argument should be detailed and thorough, but also succinct. Cite all of the important papers of important researchers which others in your field would consider particularly germane to your specific area of research. This applies even if you have chosen to go in a somewhat different direction, since reviewers may in many cases look for an acknowledgement of such research in order to place it in context. You and your proposal readers should check all of the manuscripts you cite carefully to make sure they absolutely say what you understand them to say and that you have used them properly to support your argument.
If I am administering drugs of abuse or other substances, is there a preference for dose-response rather than single point data?
If your data includes substance administration, consider that reviewers often prefer dose-response rather than single point data. This is desirable even in preliminary data.
If I do not have all of my required letters of reference, may I submit my application and afterwards select one or more of the individuals who will submit the letters of reference later?
Do not submit an application without the required number of letters of reference, or it will be considered incomplete and will be returned. If one or more of your preferred reference persons are not available to give the letters of reference (which must be sent under separate cover) at the time of submission, be sure to include other substitute letters of reference so that the application is considered complete at the receipt date. This does not mean that letters of reference that arrive late will necessarily be accepted. Check with the Scientific Review Administrator (SRA) for your study section, most likely Dr. Mark Sweiter (see above).
What do I need to know about constructing my tables and graphs?
All tables and graphs need to be able to stand alone. However, if appropriate, make sure they can also be easily compared with one another. Make certain that all tables are interpretable. Be aware that reviewers might not receive charts in color (i.e. their copies may be in black and white) so it is best not to make charts using color. If you have no alternative, contact the SRA (see above). Provide an analysis in the text, for example a statistical assessment, of any figures or tables presented. Use footnotes to clarify definitions, study populations, and other details. Cross-refer the reader between the table, pertinent text and appendices. Use titles that are thorough and brief.
What do I have to know if I plan to use human subjects in my research?
For guidance on dealing with human subjects in your research, see Code of Federal Regulations, Title 45, Part 46, Protection of Human Subjects: http://www.dhhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.html. See also NIH Grants Policy Statement, Part II: Terms and Conditions of NIH Grant Awards, Subpart A: General - Part 2 of 7, Requirements Affecting the Rights and Welfare of Individuals as Research Subjects, Patients, or Recipients of Services https://archives.nih.gov/asites/grants/07-09-2015/archive/grants/policy/nihgps_2003/NIHGPS_Part5.htm#_Toc54600079. If your research involves human subjects, review the regulations and determine whether you need to have a data safety and monitoring plan in place (see the NIH Policy for Data and Safety Monitoring http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not98-084.html and https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-00-031.html). If you are administering substances, you will want to include a clear description of physician coverage. Be certain to include a description of subject monitoring for any side effects of substance administration. If side effects are known, state them clearly. In all cases where human subjects are involved, read relevant sections of the Instructions for PHS-416-1, and if you are instructed to include women and minorities, and/or children in your research, address these areas rigorously in your research plan. Be aware of any particular vulnerability of your population, for example to suicidal ideation, and make certain to address it appropriately in terms of the protection of human research subjects.
What do I have to know if I plan to use vertebrate animals in my research?
If you are using vertebrate animals in your research, you will mark Item 10a on the Face Page of the application "yes." In a section with the title, "Animal Subjects Five Points," address the following.
- Provide a detailed description of the proposed use of the animals in the work outlined in the Research Design and Methods section. Identify the species, strains, ages, sex, and numbers of animals to be used in the proposed work.
- Justify the use of animals, the choice of species, and the numbers to be used. If animals are in short supply, costly, or to be used in large numbers, provide an additional rationale for their selection and numbers.
- Provide information on the veterinary care of the animals involved.
- Describe the procedures for ensuring that discomfort, distress, pain, and injury will be limited to that which is unavoidable in the conduct of scientifically sound research. Describe the use of analgesic, anesthetic, and tranquilizing drugs and/or comfortable restraining devices, where appropriate, to minimize discomfort, distress, pain, and injury.
- Describe any method of euthanasia to be used and the reasons for its selection. State whether this method is consistent with the recommendations of the Panel on Euthanasia of the American Veterinary Medical Association. If not, present a justification for not following the recommendations.
You will also want to address any animal species/strain factors that may affect the design, methods, analysis, interpretation and generalizability of your research findings. For example, if you are bridging two lines of research inquiry and the one uses a rat whereas the other uses a mouse model, make it clear how this affected your choice of species and what the implications are for the methodology and findings from your research. Address how any such variability will be handled. Consider whether you have documented experience in working with a particular species or strain. Publications would be one source of documentation of such experience. If reviewers might not consider you to have sufficient experience, this should be addressed and paid special attention to as a potential training opportunity and included in the training plan. An example would be if you previously only worked with mice and will now be using primates.
What do I need to know about writing about statistical analyses and interpretation?
Give thoughtful consideration to experimental predictions, possible outcomes and alternative approaches. Address in detail the means by which the data will be analyzed and how you will interpret possible outcomes. If you are weak in a relevant area, consider taking a course before you get to that portion of the research. For example, you may need to learn non-parametric statistics before you analyze epidemiological data. However, it is not enough to take a course in an area in which you are weak, you must also have supervision in that area. In your statistical plan, assess potential pitfalls, means of monitoring progress, and how you will address possible unlikely, negative, or otherwise problematic study results. Recognize competing hypotheses and address them relative to their importance. Justify your analytic choices. Provide contingency plans if necessary. If applicable, conduct a statistical power analysis to make certain that the number of subjects you propose will be adequate to perform the planned analyses. If the research plan involves a protracted subject recruitment and/or data collection period, build in a provision for secondary analyses of related data so that you can continue to make progress in developing your skills while you wait for your own data to become available.
Do I need to address the potential value of my expected findings?
Yes. This is an often-overlooked aspect of research proposals. Identify the potential value of your expected findings in your field. In addition, state explicitly how your research bears on questions concerning drug abuse and addiction. If you have preliminary data that goes to the generalizability of your findings, be sure to present these data in relation to this question.
Does my research need to be innovative?
No. On the one hand, research that is innovative garners high praise and may therefore have a greater chance of funding. However, innovative proposals also require greater attention to preliminary data and other evidences of feasibility. The strengths of the candidate, laboratory, and sponsor will also need to be carefully delineated because they will contribute to reviewers' assessments of whether the research is doable. Additionally, innovative research is often viewed as risky. If the research may be seen as risky, you and your sponsor need to take extra care to address how you will fully attain your training goals. For example, you may need to substitute commercial reagents if you may find you cannot produce them in time. You may need a consultant for aspects of the research in order to make the project more clearly achievable. In general, if any particular part is risky, provide alternative strategies to allow you to still meet your training and research goals.
What general things do I need to know about writing the research training plan?
This is a critical section of the fellowship application. Both you and your sponsor need to identify where you are now, and where you need to be when you have completed your fellowship. The research training plan should not be generic, but rather individualized to the meet your needs. That is, both you and your sponsor should compare your record (grades/Graduate Record Examinations (GREs) and other indicators of where you are at in terms of your knowledge, skills and training at this point) relative to your fellowship and career goals. For example, suppose you need to be able to do nonparametric statistics, but you received a C in that course. What do you propose to do to attain the necessary competence level at the right time in your training (i.e., before the research has to be done in that area)? Do you have any potential weaknesses and how will you and your sponsor address them? An individualized training plan allows reviewers to assess whether you will be able to meet your stated goals. Honestly identify potential problems. Set a standard of performance. Devise a means to assess it, a monitoring process, and give potential solutions. Also, address the logistics of your training plan: How often will you meet with your sponsor? How often will you meet individually with your sponsor? What will you and your sponsor plan to do at these meetings? How will the sponsor offer you direction? It is up to the sponsor to make sure you will have sufficient consultation time to obtain necessary direction and your sponsor should logistically detail how he will do that.
What are the most common mistakes in writing the research training plan?
Guard against over-ambitousness, which reviewers may see if the training plan requires too much work, is extremely difficult to do, is unfocused or too broad, if the laboratory does not already have established techniques, models and preliminary data relevant to your training and research goals, or if the sponsor's experience in the topic or procedures is relatively new. Counter-balance any deficiencies or counterbalance their effects. In a very strong laboratory, an otherwise very ambitious proposal might still be accepted by reviewers. In this case, thoroughly demonstrate that your proposal is doable because of the people involved, their expertise with the techniques involved, and their outstanding commitment to you as the applicant. On the opposite side, if you are an applicant who is far along in your program, make it very clear and concrete exactly what and how much you have yet to learn from the proposed training so that reviewers do not think you do not need the fellowship. If you are revising your grant, pay special attention to identifying the remaining gaps in your training.
Be aware of the impact letters of reference may have on your training plan. Look at the criteria on which the persons you list as references will rate you. For example, if you think you may be rated as less than outstanding on written or oral communication skills, you and your sponsor may wish to address any deficiency in your training plan.
Be aware of the cohesiveness of your training plan presentation. Be careful if aspects of the training plan are discussed in other places in the proposal to make sure to refer the reader so that reviewers are sure to take the entire training plan into account when they evaluate its merit.
Make sure your training plan is advanced enough to meet your goals. Reviewers will look for plans for obtaining research support for after your postdoctoral award. This process should begin at about the midpoint of completing your individual postdoctoral award (F32).
Assess the level of detail in which you present various training areas and associated techniques. Consider the balance among your various research and training tasks. Make sure that amount of time and other indications of the importance you give these tasks are appropriate. Ensure that this is reflected in the length and detail of your write-up on these tasks in your proposal. This is particularly important when you are bridging disciplines because you may have less experience in one of the disciplines. Be sure to provide detail regarding the schedule by which you will receive training in various research skills.
Consider the brevity of your training plan. Reviewers will appreciate a training plan that is not too brief. For example, past reviewers have indicated that a plan of only two paragraphs is not sufficient. This is true even when the quality of the laboratory and the quality of the training available is otherwise well known and highly regarded. A training plan that is considered too short may also be judged as not individualized enough to meet your specific training needs.
Must my proposal include a plan for further research or mentored career training?
Yes. The ability to become an independent researcher is a key outcome on which reviewers will rate your proposal. Reviewers will look for plans for obtaining research and/or mentored career award support at about the midpoint of your completing postdoctoral work. (see Transition section)
Are there any particular pitfalls for applicants writing multi- or trans-disciplinary proposals?
If your training will bridge two or more fields, be particularly careful to make sure to be equally rigorous in each of the substantive/methodological areas in all aspects of the application. Applicants with multi- or trans-disciplinary proposals should be aware that reviewers might not be multi-disciplinary themselves. There can be differences in fields ranging from study populations used through presentation of data. For example, drosophila may be used by certain geneticists, whereas, certain psychologists may use rats. In that case, you will need to convince both of them that you have made the correct choice. Also, as a multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary field gains acceptance, certain jargon and other regularities begin to evolve. However, persons working in the primary areas may not yet be fully aware of all of these developments. Therefore, you should have experts from each area read your application to identify possible sources of potential confusion so that these can be remedied before submission. It is recommended that applications be read by at least five readers before submission.
I am changing fields. Should this be addressed in the training plan?
If you are changing or have recently changed fields, your grades and other indicators of your abilities and performance may point to a steep learning curve in the new field. If so, it is recommended that your sponsor address this directly in your training plan. Determine and directly address any need for additional time to complete your course of training. Obtain a commitment from your sponsor and/or your department chair to fund any additional training needs beyond your period of eligibility. Make sure you document your institutional commitment.
How can I determine the remaining period of my eligibility for postdoctoral funding?
Identify a NIDA Program Official who can lead you through this process. The individual postdoctoral awards (F32) and postdoctoral training on an institutional research training grant (T32) both count towards the total three years eligibility of for a postdoctoral National Research Service Award, also known as a NRSA.
In the training plan, how should I determine what courses I should take and how should this information be presented?
In addition to your required and elective courses, if you have weaknesses in areas for which you could take a course, etc., this is an important addition to your training plan, but be careful that the timing allows you to remedy the weakness before you will need to use what you have learned. You should identify specifically any courses, workshops, and symposia you will take by title. Refer the reader to specific documents (such as a seminar schedule) in the appendix.
Do I need a course in substance abuse?
It is strongly advised that you plan to take a course in substance abuse during the period of your award. Reviewers of NIDA grants tend to look for a course not just in pharmacology, but specifically a course in "substance abuse" and/or workshops/symposia on drugs of abuse. This is true irrespective of your discipline, although the type of course proposed may take your training and level of current expertise into account.
In the training plan, should I address any collaborations or training in other laboratories or environments?
Yes, especially if these collaborations are six months or longer. Collaborative activities could extend outside the applicant's institution, and some reviewers have encouraged this. Obtain letters of support from any proposed collaborators. Include participation in scientific meetings. Collaborative activities are regarded as conferring opportunities for professional research development outside of those directly associated with required coursework and the research project itself.
In my training plan, what do I need to explain about a period of time I plan to spend in another laboratory, clinic or department?
You need to explain what techniques you will need to learn or what training you will receive at this other site. You should address the amount of time you will take and justify that it is sufficient for you to learn the new techniques. Include a letter of commitment from the on-site supervisor in the additional location.
Where in the proposal should I present my plans for publication?
Learning to publish and developing a solid record of publication is a task of the training plan and should be specifically addressed in the training plan. However, it should also be addressed in your description of your choice of sponsor and other supervision. Your publication plan can be included in a milestone chart. Be sure to cross-reference all of these so that reviewers can easily evaluate your entire training plan.
Are there issues of timing that I should address in my research training and research proposal?
Make certain that the timing of coursework or other preparation is appropriate to ensure that you will be sufficiently prepared to carry out the research you propose at the time you propose to do it. For example, if sampling statistics will be used during the first year, it would not be appropriate to take your first course in sampling statistics during the second year. Or, if you need to be able to conduct a particular clinical assessment, you should complete training in that method before you conduct the assessment.
Do I need to provide a milestone chart?
No, but it is strongly recommended. While you do not need to provide a milestone chart, it will greatly enhance the application and some reviewers expect a detailed timeline. Be sure to cross-reference, and anticipate reviewer's cross-referencing of all text and tables, including the milestone chart. In designing the milestone chart, think not just in terms of specific training opportunities, but also in terms of the timetable for the entire project, including the analysis, writing and publication of the data. Make sure that activities that are actually ongoing are portrayed as such on the chart so that reviewers can see how various tasks overlap and the plan for their completion. It is strongly advised that you include a detailed publication plan as part of the milestone chart. This should give possible titles, targeted journals, and expected dates of publication.
How do I determine what expertise my sponsor should have, relative to my own expertise?
Your proposed sponsor's expertise should complement your own and should be sufficient to assure adequate supervision. Be aware of a particular pitfall. If your proposal concerns a particular area of expertise, but does not provide for supervision in that area, reviewers will ask whether you have enough knowledge and experience to work independently in that area. Since this is a training grant, a claim that you can work independently in any area of the grant is very difficult to establish. Therefore, going without supervision in any area is generally not recommended. Also, taking courses in a major area (for example, microarray technology) of the proposal is not sufficient, but rather you must have a plan for supervision by someone familiar with that area.
How do I determine the level of expertise a potential sponsor has?
Levels of knowing about a specific subject or method can be assessed in increasing magnitude: can do it; published in it; and peers recognize the sponsor as an expert in the specific subject or method. The expert level would be, for example, where peers invite the sponsor to speak or write on the topic to an audience of knowledgeable peers or where the sponsor serves on advisory boards on the specific topic. Irrespective of your own expertise, if the sponsor is not at the top level of expertise as described above, consider whether you might identify additional sponsors or consultants in the application who do have those qualifications.
What additional questions do I need to answer in order to choose an appropriate sponsor?
In addition, you will want to consider the applicability of your sponsor's area to your own. If there is a significant difference between the area of your proposal and the area of your proposed sponsor, consider adding other mentors or consultants. A further reason to potentially identify additional mentors or consultants may be if your proposed sponsor may have only trained a few persons at the postdoctoral level. Reviewers will expect details indicating how long people have remained in training with your proposed sponsors and where they have been placed and whether they went on in research. You may also consider whether your sponsor's publications at this time are fewer than those of others in your area of expertise. If so, you may possibly wish to find an additional sponsor or consultant who can advise you or your sponsor so your sponsor can better provide you with this aspect of your training.
Whenever additional mentors or consultants are proposed, you and your sponsor should make it clear that the person identified as the sponsor is overseeing all of your training. The sponsor is, in a sense, making these additional resources available to the trainee. The sponsor, therefore, coordinates and participates periodically in joint meetings and this would be detailed in the training plan. Do not omit co-sponsor CVs and be sure to identify any research funding they will use to cover their costs of supervising you, for example, if not your actual research, and make it clear how the funding is being used.
Reviewers will want to see the availability of research support for your research training during the entire proposed period of award. They will assess how well funded the sponsor is. If there is a possible gap in research funding during the period of award for your training grant, it is recommended that you obtain a strong letter from your department chair indicating that the department will fund the research for your training if any gap occurs. You must take steps to avoid a gap in funding if your sponsor's relevant grant will come up for renewal, that is if it must recompete for funds, at any time during the expected period of your award. This is very common, so you should find out exactly when your sponsor's relevant grant is being recompeted. If your plans to avoid a gap in research funding are not addressed or are handled poorly, it may actually detract from your score.
Does my sponsor's relevant research grant need to be funded by NIDA?
No. However, while drug abuse-related funding is not a scoring issue, reviewers often question it. Therefore, it is recommended that if your sponsor's relevant research grant is not funded by NIDA, that you address the research grant's relevance to NIDA's mission so that the reviewer is not left to conjecture. Reviewers will appreciate this extra effort on your part. Make it concrete, if possible. For example, perhaps the sponsor has previously published in drug abuse related journals. Or the papers may have included authors who are well recognized in the field. Or perhaps the idea to explore drug abuse-relevant research questions is your own. If you are exploring the drug abuse-related questions somewhat apart from the other questions being pursued in the laboratory, clinic, or department, it is suggested that you take extra care to show how you will obtain drug abuse-relevant supervision, introduce adequate controls, publish in drug-abuse relevant journals, and obtain any additional instruction in drug abuse topics and related methods.
What kind of information do I need to present concerning my institutional environment?
Reviewers seem more comfortable with a laboratory, clinic, or department where other students at or above the applicant's level are being trained. This can include other trainees of the sponsor. If the number of trainees may appear to be large, the reviewers may question whether the applicant will be able to be mentored individually. If this may be a concern, the sponsor should address this question directly in his or her section of the training plan. Praised institutional environments are rich and diverse and afford a great deal of opportunity for scientific interaction.
Reviewers appreciate a strong letter of support from the department chair on behalf of the applicant indicating the intention to commit departmental funds and laboratory access to support the research and training of the applicant. The institutional support documented by such a letter should not be to the sponsor, but rather offered directly to the applicant.
What kind of information goes into the appendix?
Reference specifically any appendix listings at the outset of any text to which it will refer. Any statements in the text or in the tables that refer to the appendix should nonetheless be able to stand alone. Cross-references need to be explicit and specific.
What kinds of edits should I do?
Check for spelling and grammar errors. Then, you and your sponsor and any other readers should check for inconsistencies. These can arise when the student and sponsor write different sections, or when a research proposal has been through revisions or has been edited by several people. Check especially numbers and descriptions. For example: drugs used or dosages; numbers of animals; or descriptions for the minority populations to be studied. Check both within and between various sections of the proposal, including those written by the student or by other parties and the appendix. It is a good idea to have all readers cross-check the tables and graphs and any other figures to make certain that an incomplete or misleading picture could not arise from these comparisons.
How closely should my sponsor review my proposal before I submit it?
Although philosophies differ as to the level of involvement the sponsor should have in the development of the research proposal, reviewers tend to take points off for supervision if the sponsor does not seem to have reviewed and corrected obvious mistakes in the research proposal. Of course, typographical, spelling and grammatical errors should be caught by the applicant, but sponsors may wish to give this a second review as well so that confusion does not unintentionally arise, for example when interpreting tables. Errors that introduce confusion seriously damage scores.
How many readers should I have read my proposal before I submit it?
You should have at least five well-chosen people, other than you and your sponsor, read the proposal before you submit it. If your proposal is multi- or trans-disciplinary, be certain to include readers from each of the primary areas. In addition, contact your prospective NIDA Program Official and request a read through before you submit your proposal.