Leah E. Robinson, PhD, an Associate Professor from the School of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan, participated in the NRMN Proposal Preparation Program (NRMN-P3), one of the NRMN Professional Development Core’s Grant Writing Coaching Groups, Directed by Dr. Anne Marie Weber-Main and hosted at the University of Minnesota (UMN). As part of the program, she attended a kick-off event at UMN in late Spring/ early Summer of 2015 and met with peers and faculty in the program virtually thereafter throughout the Summer. The group returned back to UMN in Fall (late August) to receive the final peer review of their grant applications.
The R01 grant proposal she prepared while in the NRMN-P3 program received an “Outstanding” score upon its review after being submitted, and in late August 2016, she received final notice that her grant proposal was selected to be funded.
In this interview with NRMN’s Andrew Simenson, Robinson offered the following reflections on her experience as a participant in NRMN-P3.
Pictured: Leah E. Robinson, Ph.D., FACSM, Associate Professor, University of Michigan
Photo courtesy of Dr. Leah E. Robinson
Describe your personal journey as a scientist: What inspired you to pursue science? Where are you in your career?
My main introduction to science came when I chose my major in college. Inspired by my love of sports, I chose to major in biology and exercise science because I wanted to learn more about how the body worked.
As I considered the next transition after college, physical therapy school seemed like an interesting field and an appropriate one for learning about the connection between exercise and science. However, I proceeded to pursue my Masters in Exercise Science. During my Masters studies, I was exposed to the research side of science through more and more interactions with faculty who were involved in research, and determined this aspect of science was more what I liked.
After I finished my Masters, my advisor recommended I take some time off and not rush into a PhD program so I could take some time to work in the field and to figure out what I truly wanted to pursue.
I took my advisor’s advice, accepting a position teaching at a Junior College in Philadelphia that involved running activities for a preschool. It was through this work that I recognized my passion for children’s activity and motor skill development, and that there was a lack of research in this area that could represent an exciting niche for me to pursue as a researcher.
People often think children just naturally learn how to run, catch, etc. But I realized children need some type of instruction, feedback, guidance and practice to develop these motor skills. This realization came at a time when a lot of attention was focused on childhood obesity. The literature and data from my lab, the Child Movement Activity and Development Health Laboratory, supports that motor skills are a contributing factor to physical activity participation now and across the lifespan.
How did you get involved with NRMN?
I received an email from a listserv I subscribe to, about a training workshop for individuals who are in the granting process. I had been working on this grant application for a while at that time, and thought this would be the perfect program to offer me the support to complete and submit the application.
What was it about NRMN that initially caught your interest?
I tend to put off my grant application submission to “the next cycle.” NRMN-P3 seemed like the perfect opportunity to push me to get it in and add some “fire” to motivate me to submit it for the pending cycle’s deadline.
NRMN-P3 held us to a tight deadline to get the grant application submitted.
Describe your role in the program, and tell us a little about your experience in that role.
I received training as part of the cohort. It was great because you get excellent feedback from your peers. There were about 14-16 of us in the program cohort from different academic areas and disciplines. We had peer evaluations from other participants, so every time we would submit a draft of our application we would get both a peer review (by our cohort members) and a review from one or two of the expert faculty. Different reviewers would often each provide feedback on something different… from grammar, to sentence structure, to how well the writing tied back to specific aims and the drafting of the specific aims themselves, etc.. As the researcher, you have to make the decisions about which feedback to incorporate, but regardless the results strengthened my proposal and kept me accountable to submit it.
Can you think of a word or phrase that best describes your relationship with NRMN? Why that particular word or phrase?
“Foundational.” NRMN-P3 established a strong foundation for making their participants stronger researchers and grant writers for the future.
How has your experience with NRMN changed the way you approach your career in the sciences?
I will apply the tools that I’ve learned from NRMN-P3 to future grants. I hope that this will help me hold myself accountable.
It’s great to have someone to hold you accountable to get that next piece of the grant completed, and this program provided that support. As a faculty member, you have a number of commitments that can distract you from the grant writing process. Here, I knew if I didn’t get that next piece in to Anne Marie, I would be in trouble!
The program also reviewed and stressed elements of writing and semantics that reviewers like to see, which was helpful.
The feedback and curriculum that I incorporated into my application I believe contributed to my application (which I did submit this cycle) receiving an “outstanding” score from the reviewers, and ultimately receiving funding. I will be using what I learned when I approach future grant proposal applications, as well.
Have you participated in other similar programs in the past? If so, how was your experience with NRMN different or unique?
I have attended the PRIDE mentoring program with the National Institutes of Health. It is quite similar to NRMN-P3. But the latter was designed for individuals who were planning to submit an application for an upcoming deadline. A requirement for NRMN-P3 was that you had to have a draft of a grant ready for submission. The PRIDE mentoring program was a residency program that was more hands-on and face-to-face. Both were extremely beneficial.
Why might you recommend NRMN to someone else?
I definitely would recommend NRMN-P3, because the life of any faculty member is chaotic and this is something to help hold you accountable. Any kind of grant writing program will make you a better grant writer over time, and receive tips and feedback from those who have been funded. There’s always something that you can learn from someone else.
Anyone trying to break out of that rut of applying and not getting funded, I would strongly encourage them to engage in this type of training program.
If someone called you and asked, “Why should I become involved with NRMN?” how would you respond?
I think the faculty that are part ofNRMN-P3 are truly interested in helping all faculty succeed. They have a range of individuals who are part of their panels and cohort. It’s not just basic scientists; there are behavioral and social scientists.
Sitting with scientists from other paradigms helps give you a different perspective to your science. There is always something to be learned that you can incorporate into your research.