Written by Clinton Parks
“I’m not scared to apply any more,” Dr. Brandy Piña-Watson says, after having completed a coaching group session with the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). Piña-Watson is an assistant professor of counseling in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Texas Tech University. There she studies how the psychological and sociological factors that impact depression among Latinx adolescents and emerging adults, with an emphasis among Mexican Americans.
Until entering the NRMN STAR (NRMN Steps Towards Academic Research Fellowship Program) coaching group, she had minimal exposure on writing an NIH grant. She hadn’t received training on how to write an NIH grant application at Texas A&M University, where she received her Ph.D. in counseling psychology. The focus there was on how to obtain tenure, not how to write a grant, Piña-Watson says. And at Texas Tech there was a dearth of researchers winning NIH grants, leaving no one to mentor her on the process.
To gain that necessary mentorship, one of Piña-Watson’s more senior colleagues at Texas Tech alerted her about the NRMN coaching groups program. NRMN’s coaches have a proven record of garnering NIH funding. As a novice grant writer, Piña-Watson took part in NRMN STAR. Based at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, NRMN STAR is designed to help those who have not yet started writing a grant but who expect to do so within the next year.
Having mentors who’ve won NIH grants was invaluable to Piña-Watson. Besides helping trainees prepare their applications, mentors also offered advice on the best institutes for them to apply to, she says. Piña-Watson had her NRMN mentors look over her NIH grant application and provide final feedback towards submitting it to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in early 2017.
The NRMN experience not only provided Piña-Watson with knowledge and familiarity with grant-proposal writing, it also extended her professional network. Through NMRN she connected with a fellow social scientist and mentor, NRMN Star coach Dr. Lisa Barnes. Barnes is a professor in neurological sciences and behavioral sciences at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. And though her cohort ended in June, Piña-Watson still gets advice from those in her program, including about an NIH loan repayment application, which is unrelated to the cohort’s official duties.