“Why?” is Rizwan Hamid’s favorite question.  Why does one sibling get high blood pressure while another with the same genetic background doesn’t?  Why do people respond so differently to the same treatment for leukemia?

As a clinical geneticist, Dr. Hamid asks his why questions of the TGF-β and BMPR2 pathways.  He calls them “a small piece of the puzzle” why some patients with acute leukemia do much better than others despite having the same therapies, and why some people develop pulmonary hypertension while others do not.  Because “it’s essentially the same pathway, as we look at both of these models, we provide parallel insights” into both diseases, using information gained from one pathway to investigate the other, he says.

Hamid received a $454,000 R01 award last year, but he started preparing for his application more than two years before the deadline.  Once he had a good idea of where his project was headed, he says, he “spent an inordinate amount of time trying to identify the right study section.”  He researched different NIH study sections by examining their rosters and reading the NIH Reporter to identify the types of grants specific study sections tended to fund.  When he started writing his grant a year out from the funding cycle he targeted, he could tailor the proposal’s focus and language to that particular study section.

Eighteen months from his February deadline, he received a small pilot grant to generate more preliminary data.  Based on his results, he “actually wrote a proposal, essentially a full, complete proposal,” and used a VICTR Studio to get feedback.  “We could’ve sent it [to the NIH] six months earlier” than the deadline, he says, but instead he spent the time polishing every sentence, reference, and figure, as well as sending it to an outside editor to make sure no errors slipped through the cracks.

hamid-central“The other thing I did for my grant, which I think is going to be very important going forward,” Hamid says, “is to not propose to do everything myself.  My grant by design…was a collaborative effort.  I identified other investigators at Vanderbilt who were experts in the techniques I was going to use, and in my grant I had them as co-investigators…even though my lab could do some of those techniques.”  Though he is the PI of the project, he explains that having other investigators with effort in his grant demonstrated his ability to collaborate and seek out expertise, which “my reviewers indicated that they liked.”

In addition to collaboration on project work, Hamid touts the virtues of national conferences for networking purposes.  Even three or four years before your potential deadline, he advises, “you need to be out there presenting your stuff in meetings…even if you have to spend money out of your own pocket to go.”  Senior investigators at conferences will be the ones reviewing your grants and articles, “so if they can say not, ‘Who is this guy from Vanderbilt?’ but, ‘Oh, I remember this guy, I met him at the meeting last year in San Diego,’ [then] even though your grant is still going to be reviewed on its merit, if you make a reasonable impression on these people, you get some subconscious benefit from that.”

Thanks to his thorough preparation and expert networking, Rizwan Hamid will be asking his why questions for many years to come.

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