Landing a highly sought after R01 grant from one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—such as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)—is hard enough for a young rheumatologist. But doing it on the first shot?
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Say hello to Martin Kriegel, MD, PhD, an immunologist/rheumatologist at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and last year’s recipient of a $1.29 million, five-year NIH/NIAID grant for a study on the “Human Gut Commensal Cross-Reactivity in Antiphospholipid Syndrome.”1
“As a young investigator, I think it cannot be stressed more how important it is to establish the right collaborations to demonstrate feasibility of all aspects of the proposal,” says Dr. Kriegel. “It is often impossible to be an expert in all areas, which is why well-chosen collaborators are key to success. I wish I could have more specific recommendations for a successful application, but I would argue there’s no entirely right or wrong way to do it, after having followed some general points the NIH has posted on its website.”
Still, Dr. Kriegel has a few tips for those looking to score a major grant. They include:
- Apply for pilot grants as soon as possible, because they hone the writing process and force physicians to think early on about specific aims and best approaches;
- Tailor proposals to specific agencies, announcements or study sections; trying to anticipate what a funding agency is looking for can make all the difference;
- Generate enough preliminary data for each aim to make the grant proposal more attractive; and
- Work with senior faculty and colleagues to review the entire proposal or, at least, get feedback on the specific aims page.
“Developing a logical proposal that builds upon aims that are connected, but are at the same time not dependent on each other—that is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles for young investigators,” Dr. Kriegel says. “Even if the hypothesis is novel and the preliminary data promising, if the proposal is written in a way [in which] the reviewers can criticize or cannot even understand fully what you’re trying to work on, that itself could be a reason why a grant doesn’t get funded.”
Lastly, he adds that scientists should never become discouraged by the rejection of a grant. Most grant agencies will provide written critiques by the reviewers. Those critiques can be a roadmap to a successful 2.0 version of a grant.
“With each grant, one can improve the proposal,” Dr. Kriegel says. “The advantage with NIH grants is that one receives detailed comments on all strengths and weaknesses of the application. It’s very important to take those as an opportunity and incorporate any suggestions for improvement into future applications.”