Written by Clinton Parks
“I think this program is the most valuable for early stage investigators and people of color,” Dr. Ana Quiñones says about the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN).
Quiñones is an Assistant Professor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Public Health. She saw an announcement about NRMN online and then decided to apply. Having already started writing a grant, she took part in a NRMN-P³ (or NRMN Proposal Preparation Program) coaching group based at the University of Minnesota. When she started the program, however, she had some reservations that it wouldn’t suit her needs. “I don’t think I really had a lot of mentors or peers who had expertise in my work,” she says. Without that expertise Quiñones was afraid that the NRMN cohort wouldn’t be able to help her write a successful grant application. She studies health disparities between Latinx, blacks, and whites among U.S. populations, and comparative analyses of international health care systems, especially among the aged. That work involves complex mathematical modeling.
What Quiñones had thought would be a weakness, however, proved to be a surprising strength. Presenting to those unfamiliar with her research and the advanced analytical techniques she uses pushed Quiñones to better explain her work. The result was a clearer, more concise application.
But what really stood out about NRMN to Quiñones was its intensity and duration. NRMN was not the first grant-writing program in which she had participated. Previously, she took part in a two-day session from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The extra time spent at NRMN ensured everyone’s grant application was read in depth by mentors and peers alike. That level of in depth discussion caused Quiñones to consider questions she hadn’t otherwise.
For Quiñones, the NRMN experience paid off. The regular, long-term sessions “standardized” the NIH grant-writing process for her, making it “easier to tackle,” she says.
The National Institute on Aging scored Quiñones’ R01 grant application, meaning it was good enough for the reviewers to comment on. She was encouraged to pursue a process called rapid resubmission by mentors from her NRMN-P³ cohort, academia, and her Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant-writing session. Rapid resubmission allows early stage investigators — those who have received a terminal degree within the past 10 years — the chance to have their grant evaluated by its original commentators and not a different group of reviewers as would typically happen.
Dr. Quiñones is one of many who have benefitted from NRMN’s grant writing coaching group programs as a mentee. Dr. Leah E. Robinson, another participant in the NRMN-P³ grant writing program, received R01 funding last year after her proposal received an “Outstanding” score upon review. Having never received formal training for grant writing, Dr. Brandy Piña-Watson gained the confidence to begin writing proposals after completing the NRMN STAR grant writing program. After participating in the NRMN Northwestern University coaching group, Dr. Tanecia Mitchell earned her first K01 grant, which has laid the foundation for many more in the future.