Surviving a Tough Funding Climate - Tips for Junior Faculty
I just returned from a new faculty orientation hosted by our Office of Sposored Projects where I spoke about my experience working with the Dartmouth system. The following are some ideas I shared with the junior faculty in attendence to improve their chances of getting funded. As background reading, see the letter on page 189 in the Oct. 10 Science.
1) Be Flexible. I think the old mantra of keeping your science as focused as possible is outdated in the era of collaborative research. Don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone in the search for funding opportunities. Look at every RFA and think about how you might fit. Find collaborators in areas you know nothing about and go after the resources that are available. This has worked well for me and will allow you to survive in tough economic times.
2) Write More Grants. The letter in Science I mentioned above states that the total number of NIH R01 submissions has actually decreased. There were 13,659 R01s reviewed in 2006 but only 12,021 reviewed in 2007. This seems odd to me. I have been writing more grants than ever for a wide variety of different funding opportunities. Submit an R01 EVERY cycle and diversify your areas of interest as indicated in point 1 above.
3) Pre-Review Your Grants. Finish the science part of your grant three weeks before it is due and send it out for external peer-review. My previous department would pay a $1000 honorarium for an expert in the field to provide an NIH-style review of a grant that was ready for submission. Have your former mentors or other experts you know read and comment on your grant with enough time for you to make changes before submission. Having a fresh eye look at a grant can make a big difference.
4) Pilot Funding. Identify the sources of pilot funding at your institution and apply for as many as you can. Preliminary data and publications are very important for R01s. Sniff out as many pilot funding opportunities as you can.
5) Clean and Clear. Make your grants as easy to read as possible. Use clear consistent headings with wide margins and plenty of space between paragraphs. I even wrote my last funded R01 in 2-column format and made it look exactly like a Nature Reviews article. Reviewers are very comfortable reading published papers. Something to keep in mind is that NIH is moving to 8-page and 12-page R01 formats so you will need to learn to say the important things in very little space while keeping it easy to read and clear.
6) Multiple PIs. Don't be afraid to make use of the new multiple PI format for your next collaborative grant. When someone asks you to be a collaborator on their NIH R01 think about your role in the proposed work. If you are playing a major role (e.g. 10% effort or more) you should ask to be added as a PI. That way, when the grant gets funded you get credit for having an R01 and the original PI has a much more invested collaborator. A win-win for everyone.