Getting Your Ducks in a Row for that First Big Grant Submission
So you are sailing high with your K career development award ready to pounce on your next grant submission! But what do you need to reach that next milestone, i.e. “independent” funding such as a R01—the currency of academic medical research? Well, you better start thinking about it. You want to get that grant in as early as possible so that you don’t have a funding gap after your K award. And remember to take into account the resubmission time for additional data generation to strengthen your application. And you can’t forget about how long it can take from that point sometimes—beyond one year for fundable and/or borderline fundable scores depending on the federal powers that be.
So what do you need to be successful? Well of course, you need an awesome hypothesis and research plan. That’s your science, people, and hopefully you are all over that. Write it, live it, get others to read it. However, there is much more—are you independent, does your department support you, do you have space and equipment of your own? Funding is so tight these days that you need to convince reviewers that you have EVERYTHING to succeed on top of great science, even as a new investigator. Believe me, I have been there and done it. I fought the battle, and it was cumbersome. The smallest things can flip you from “sorry, so close” to “congrats on your funding.”
But as we recently discussed at COMPASS, a peer mentoring group at Vanderbilt, getting to that point can be very challenging. Priorities can change in departments, particularly with changes in leadership. Promises can be broken. Your requests can be lost in the shuffle. You can’t find the right people to work in your lab and are unsure how to even look for them. What we learned from all of this and others’ past experiences is that you need to take some chances, spend some funds, and most importantly advocate for yourself or have others do it for you. But how do you let your boss know that you need some help which will make you successful? There is a fine line between being the broken record and having that record being thrown out—you need to sing a slow and steady song about your needs.
But sometimes your song may not be heard. If you find your requests and concerns are falling on deaf ears, get some help. Recruit other faculty in your department and your research head to support your cause. If that doesn’t work or you need further evidence to make a case, turn to your mentoring committee. And make sure that committee is awesome—tough, tenured faculty that know the system inside and out and believe in you. I say this because they can be your best advocate. If they are sympathetic to your cause and support your needs to be successful, have them write a letter. Signed by all of them. Sent to whomever it needs to go to—Lab Director, Director of Research, Chair, Division Head, etc. And remind your bosses why you are an asset to your department and what you can provide to make it successful. And do your part as much as you can with early publications, positive grant reviews, talks at national conferences, and other measures of productivity.
You are on a long trek that can’t be done in isolation. Utilize those around you to help you be successful and advocate for yourself when you can. No one told you this job was much more than science . . .