Nutrition 2018 is fast approaching and apart from diverse didactic programming, they will also be offering Connect with the Fed – one-on-one sessions to help students, early career, and established researchers get questions and concerns addressed regarding grant funding. Connect with the Fed will take place on Sunday, June 10th and Monday, June 11th from noon-3:00 PM in a designated area of The Hub – look for it in on the exposition floor, and sign up for an appointment there.

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What can I gain from making a meeting at Connect with the Fed?

Attendees from all levels of experience with writing federal grant applications can benefit from signing up for a one-on-one meeting with representatives from a number of federal agencies – with a little preparation. Nutrition 2018 attendees will be able to sign up for meetings with representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NHLBI, NCI, NIDDK; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) NIFA; and the Department of Defense (DOD).


How can I prepare for Connect with the Fed?

First, to get in the grant application mindset, do a little homework. Disentangle grant acronyms (What are FOA’s, ROA’s, PA’s, RFP’s, NOT’s? What are F, K, T, or R grants?). Familiarize yourself with the federal agencies and find out which of them offer grants (DOD, EPA, NIH, NIDDK?). Get an overview of the process of how to apply for a grant. To give yourself more time to plan your application, check for any upcoming forecasted (i.e. planned future opportunities) grants you can apply for. Think about the goals of the project you are considering and ask yourself – does your mission match that of the granting institution? Are you eligible to apply? Keep up with and look at the funding forecast to see if your subject matter aligns with the institution’s funding priorities. Different agencies may be looking for proposals that highlight either specific topics, or aspects like collaborations vs. independent work.


Grant Writing 101 – Students, too, should practice writing grant proposals

Andrew J. Henderson, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine, recently organized grant-writing workshops for graduate students and their faculty advisors at Boston University School of Medicine. I chatted with him to hear his thoughts on how students could prepare for a conversation with program or scientific officers at federal agencies. As he is in the process of designing a full course on grant writing for students, Dr. Henderson sees great benefits for students to learn grantsmanship skills during graduate school that will prepare them to later become productive independent investigators. Dr. Henderson offered some excellent suggestions to help students considering writing a grant get familiar with the workflow, and with priorities in writing an application.

  • Get to know the process and work flow

NIH grant proposals are submitted to the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) that assigns it to a matching study section. >> A study section Scientific Review Officer (SRO) assigns your grant to up to three reviewers >> Reviewers score the proposal from 1=exceptional; 9=poor on five criteria: significance, investigator, innovation, approach, and environment >> There is also an Impact/Priority Score – only proposals in the upper 50% make it to the study section meeting. >> Based on discussion in study section, each member of up to 25-30 reviewers votes an integer score from the range 1-9 >> overall grant score is an average of individual scores multiplied by 10.

  • Get to know the right people you can contact should you have questions.

Scientific Review Officers (SROs) coordinate the efforts of the study section. Prior to submission, you can contact the SRO if there is any conflict with reviewer assignments, or if a paper is accepted and there are other complications. Program Officers manage the portfolio of applications and set the priorities for funding, depending on the priorities of the institute. When you get your review sheet back, you may contact the program officer who has experience seeing how your application fits within the priorities of the institution. Establishing a relationship with the Program Officer can be helpful – they synthesize what reviewers recommend.

  • Grant applications are a balance of two strong components: science and training.

Spend most of your effort writing the science. Grantsmanship does NOT overcome bad science. Your goal is to express your science in a high quality way. To be competitive, don’t neglect key training aspects can include assets like journal club, professional development activities, the infrastructure to train students, and a commitment from the graduate program for funding for these activities.

  • For students applying to F grants: don’t get overwhelmed by the pieces that go into the proposal.

You can adapt aspects like equipment and resources and budget from examples within the research group that are already completed for the PI. Your personal statement should include your career goals. Remember, reviewers are from academia and scientific careers. They are evaluating your application in the hopes of training future scientists. Emphasize the science, and what you do, of course, is ultimately up to you once you graduate. The abstract and summary are a version of your specific aims. The significance section should be a lay description and highlight how you will incorporate rigor into your design, and the scientific premise of the study based on the data and scientific questions.

  • Use your peers and mentors as resources to talk about the process, and ask for feedback.

  • Grant Writing 101 – keep your proposals simple.

People reviewing grants will be reviewing 5-9+ of them so don’t use long, complex sentences. If you can capture their attention while their kids are bouncing around them, students coming in and out, and while they’re commuting, you’ve done a good job.


3 Guiding Principles for Writing Grant Proposals

I sat down with Andrea V. Ferreira, MPH – the Director of Foundations Relations and Research Advancement for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Network –a proficient grants professional with decades of experience in the nonprofit sector, and asked her for tips and thoughts to write a successful grant application. She shared with me three of her top guiding principles when applying for grants.

  1. Write a proposal, not a grant. You may be applying for grant funding…but in reality you are writing a proposal for an idea and including convincing data, compelling stories, and measurable outcomes.
  2. Follow the instructions. If the instructions ask for a specific font or margins, abide by the regulations. So many grant proposals get thrown out for administrative reasons.
  3. Program officers are people too. There is nothing wrong with picking up the phone if you don’t understand something after you’ve followed the instructions. Check for webinars that the agencies offer that specifies what they are looking for in applications.

Now that you have hopefully gotten an idea of how federal grant applications go, you can begin to make a plan for how you can apply for a grant. Consider the resources you have available to you to write a successful application.


Gather your resources

  • Your organization’s office for grants – many universities have an Office of Proposal Development.
  • Grant Preparation Workshops and Workbooks online – The Grant Application Writer’s Workbook
  • Ask mentors for examples of strong proposals or training plans from successful proposals. Make sure examples are current to what is required today!
  • Colleagues – get their feedback
  • Bookmark – follow their Twitter updates for up-to-date resources, #FundingFridays, and funding opportunity announcements, check out their Community Blog for topical insights on the application process, download their new mobile app for on-the-go access, read their Grant Writing Basics Blog Series.


Thank you very much to Andrea Ferreira and Andrew Henderson for their valuable insights on grantsmanship. Both offered similar career advice related to grant proposals: even if you’re early-mid career, the best experience to equip you to write successful future grants is to volunteer (keep up a relationship with a SRO in your subject matter) to review proposals. Reviewing others’ proposals offers a rich experience that can change the way you write.


See you at Connect with Fed on Sunday, June 10th and Monday, June 11th, 2018 from 12-3:00 pm at The Hub!