by Clinton Parks
“I’m hoping that [NRMN] continues for a while,” says Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre, believing it will increase the amount of tenured professors from under-represented groups in STEM.
Milligan-Myhre is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and was excited when the NIH scored the
R15 grant application she submitted in February to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. That enthusiasm paled in comparison to the feeling she had when she was informed in early December that the grant she had resubmitted in October had been awarded.
Milligan-Myhre credits NRMN with helping her write a much stronger grant. She was part of NRMN’s GUMSHOE (Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) group under program director Dr. Spero Manson at the University of Colorado Denver. GUMSHOE is designed to help those expecting to start work on a grant within the next year. NRMN coaches in the GUMSHOE program bring a lot of experience writing and reading NIH grant applications.
GUMSHOE helped by teaching the basics of grant writing. Starting with the first paragraph, Milligan-Myhre said, the coaches emphasized writing for a broad science audience and relating the research’s applicability to human disease. Milligan-Myhre found herself needing to write for an audience outside her field at the program’s outset since most of those in the cohort — coaches and trainees — were outside of her field. This outside perspective helped hone her approach to presenting and explaining her research.
Since trainees are applying for NIH funding, it’s important that they convey the applicability of their work to human health. For Milligan-Myhre, that meant explaining why she’s looking to determine how a person’s genetic background affects human disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, and explaining why she chose the stickleback fish to study how an organism’s genetic background influences its immune response to its microbiota. She developed using the stickleback, which has been proven to evolve quickly, as a model system when she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oregon.
The grant’s introduction established the thesis for the application and provided the common thread for the entire proposal. She and the other trainees in her cohort checked in every few weeks. “That long-term mentorship really helped,” Milligan-Myhre said. She also praised the group dynamics of having trainees critique one another along with the mentors, plus having a single mentor assigned to every trainee.
Milligan-Myhre discovered other benefits from the program, since discussions were not limited to securing NIH grants. One of her coaches, Carol Kaufman, was someone with whom she discussed balancing a high-powered academic job with family life. She also met another GUMSHOE coach, Dr. Denise Dillard, who helped expand her network of Alaska Native STEM professionals.
Now, with her funded R15 grant, Milligan-Myhre is uniquely poised for academic success and is a testament of NRMN’s effectiveness.