There you are, working steadily away on your next manuscript. The ideas are flowing. You’ve hit your stride. Nothing can stop you now—nothing, that is, except a colleague who shows up at your desk with a 20-page grant proposal. “Do you mind?” he asks.
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Explore This IssueAugust 2017
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Across academia the problem is the same—too few hours in the day, too many long grant proposals to review. Peter A. Nigrovic, MD, a rheumatologist and physician–scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, says, “There must be a better way.”
No Progress Without Research
“Rheumatologic advances evolve through research … and that research cannot be performed without adequate funding,” says Dr. Nigrovic, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But the process of obtaining grants is not necessarily familiar to many rheumatologists. Writing a good grant [application] is difficult. Often, the most substantial obstacle is roping someone into reviewing it in a thoughtful manner.”
While working in his lab, Dr. Nigrovic noted that his basic science colleagues tended to work on grants in isolation, even as trainees, and that even talented investigators with good ideas often had difficulty securing funding. “As basic scientists we are all in our little niches, and we don’t necessarily have overlapping subject interests. This creates an environment [in which] we don’t readily obtain external input. I puzzled over the question of how to get people to go over one another’s grants. This is typically a big ‘ask,’ because the process isn’t especially gratifying—especially if the grant proposal is in poor shape.”
Working from his own experience in grant writing, it occurred to Dr. Nigrovic that there could be a simple solution. The science section of every grant begins with a single page that serves as an outline of the proposal. Called the specific aims page, it introduces reviewers to the topic of the grant and how the investigator will proceed if funded.
In most cases, Dr. Nigrovic thought, fundamental problems with a grant proposal are evident in the aims page. By contrast, if the aims page is clear and compelling, then the rest of the grant proposal is likely to be so as well. Could group discussion of the aims page substitute for a review of the whole grant, providing the feedback that young investigators need to craft a good grant? The Aims Review Committee (ARC) was born.1
“This is a sensible, high-quality shortcut that is collaborative in nature,” says Dr. Nigrovic.