The National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) was created to address the unmet need for greater diversity in the biomedical and bio-behavioral research workforce. Grant writing Coaching Groups for Postdocs and Junior Faculty Actively Writing NIH-style Proposals is one of four professional development-training programs that is committed to increasing the number of people from diverse backgrounds successfully obtaining NIH grants.
Jeffrey Engler, PhD, Council of Graduate Schools
Kimberly Lawson, Morehouse School of Medicine
Rationale & Background
One of the last and most complicated skills a scientist must cultivate is the ability to develop and effectively present proposals to obtain funding for their research. It is so complicated because it is not just about effective writing, but rather the combination of identifying research questions that peer reviewers and funders think are worth studying; crafting an appropriate research design; obtaining preliminary data to establish feasibility; and flawless written presentation in a style that reviewers expect to see and compels them to view it favorably. Ideally, mentors provide the guidance to develop these skills, but too often they lack the time, interest or expertise to actually teach mentees the grant writing process. Workshops and short trainings abound, and many present valuable information, but in our experience, a more sustained coaching process is needed for weeks to months as research ideas evolve and writing is refined. This approach is what has been developed by Dr. Rick McGee over the course of his work at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, the NIH intramural program, and most recently Northwestern University (NU).
Pattern-based Group Process
Rather than approaching grant writing with “just do it” attitude, we have developed a novel approach that displays the typical writing or rhetorical patterns that are common to many NIH-style proposals and that are particularly effective for conveying what is being proposed and why. Knowing and writing to this framework has shown to be exceedingly helpful for early-stage scientists. Additionally, we have found that a group process across 2 to 3 months is far more effective for teaching and learning these skills than even individual coaching or mentoring by a single expert. In addition to getting real-time feedback from multiple perspectives, participants master writing skills more effectively and the camaraderie that develops among group members mitigates the isolation and sense of insurmountable barriers that early stage scientists can experience.
Size of Instructor Cohort: 1 NRMN faculty; 5 to 10 coaches in training
Size of Cohort: up to 50 individuals in the cohort; groups break up into subgroups after the kickoff sessions
Total Program Duration: 2 to 4 months depending on the needs of the subgroups
Competencies and Product Outcomes Gained
Coaches-in-training will gain the following through successful completion of the program:
- New approaches to writing highly effective NIH-style research proposals with the novel approach that displays the typical rhetorical writing patterns that are common to many NIH-style proposals and particularly effective for convey what is being proposed and why.
- The ability to teach grant writing to groups of individuals through an ongoing coaching process over several months as proposals are written.
- New skills at using oral feedback to guide proposal development to complement more typical written feedback.
- New skills at facilitating a group, particularly in balancing “practice” as postdocs and faculty given feedback to each other with “expert” advice and feedback.
- Coach colleagues to draw on for advice and satisfaction of providing an invaluable service to young scientists.
- Eligibility to serve as coach for future program cohorts.
Mentees will develop their skills across the following areas and/or produce the following:
- Writing approaches from the perspective of rhetorical patterns, and a deconstructed view of how to approach writing for multiple levels and types of reviewers at the same time.
- For individuals writing Career Development Awards (such as F32, K99/R00, K01, K08, K23, etc.), insights and skills for constructing and writing the other parts of the proposal such as descriptions of prior research, career development plans and mentoring teams.
- Depending on the nature of the research being proposed and the make-up of the group, review of the Research Plan may also take place.
- Additionally, if it is determined that there would be benefit to identifying scientific content experts to assist with design or writing of detailed science, efforts will be made to identify such individuals using NRMN resources NRMN.
- An NIH grant submission at the end of the program or soon thereafter. Based on past experience, it is not uncommon to get into a group and discover that some are not as ready as they envisioned due to unclear research designs, insufficient preliminary data, and/or a need to complete current work to get publications to demonstrate productivity. In these cases, a person may pull back from continued active writing for a period of time, with the option to rejoin the current or a future group.
The model for group coaching to teach and develop the highly sophisticated skills required for effective grant writing requires many of the same coaching skills as the other three models within NRMN, but also has some unique requirements. The NU model is by no means the only or necessarily the best, but it has proved successful both locally and through an expanded mixed in-person and virtual methodology. Thus, the goal is to recruit additional coaches who would like to learn and lead it as designed rather try something different. With any model, there will always be evolution and change, and it is hoped that the community of Coaches will foster improvement.
Rather than provide a narrative description of the ‘ideal coach’ (which probably does not exist) some of the core attributes we have found to be important are listed below. Following that is a list of the expected responsibilities for those who volunteer and are selected as coaches.
Experience/level – Senior faculty with:
- Success writing several NIH-style proposals of one or more variety that were funded – training and/or research (note – a goal is to expand to NSF proposals in the future but currently focused on NIH-style).
- Experience with health disparities/health equity research.
- Some experience giving feedback and guidance to others writing proposals.
- Good familiarity with the NIH review process – serving on review panels highly desirable.
- Skills at facilitating groups, such as managing different personalities or approaches by group members.
- A desire to learn and apply the unique approach to grant writing developed at NU, which emphasizes rhetorical patterns and cognitive goals of effective proposals, and using a group-based feedback method to developing skills of grant writing in postdocs and junior faculty.
- Sufficient time to commit to working with a group of 3 to 5 individuals over 3 to 4 months, starting from a 2-day immersion followed by weekly or bi-weekly virtual coaching sessions of 90 to 120 minutes.
Desirable but Not Essential Experiences, Skills and Interests
- Experience mentoring or coaching young scientists from diverse backgrounds.
- Institutional responsibilities related to guiding development of young scientists
- Serving on Peer Review panels for research or training proposals.
- The ability to facilitate and draw out input from others, not just provide individual feedback (this is a learnable skill).
Grantsmanship Coaches and Advisors receive a modest stipend at the conclusion of the program.
Travel expenses up to $650 (includes airfare and ground transportation) incurred by coaches-in-training will be reimbursed by NRMN.
To Apply as a Grantsmanship Coach, follow the steps below when applications for the next cohort are open and being accepted.
Applications are currently closed.
- Create an online profile at NRMNet.net
- You will be prompted to create a password and answer a set of basic questions to create your profile.
- When asked, “from which organization did you hear about NRMN?” please select “NRMN RROC – Research Resources and Outreach Core” from the dropdown menu.
- Once you’ve completed your registration, you will see a notification that your NRMN Profile has been updated. You may then move on to Step 2.
- Submit the NU Coaches Grant Writing Program application
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about the program
Schedule of Sessions
3-day in-person kickoff; weekly or bi-weekly small group online session scheduled on group-need basis (online sessions are 90 to 120 minutes)
For the NRMN version of this activity, individuals selected will come together for an initial 2-day meeting. At that meeting, Dr. Engler will begin with a workshop on the unique approach to writing from the perspective of rhetorical patterns, and deconstructing how to approach writing for multiple levels and types of reviewers at the same time. After that, Dr. Engler and other specially-trained Coaches will lead the reading, reviewing and providing feedback on the Specific Aims page of each participant.
This takes place in groups of 3 to 5 individuals working on similar types of proposals with 30-60 minutes being devoted to each person. This real-time review of sections of proposal early in development has shown to be a powerful way to provide feedback with real-time revision with close attention to the logic for revisions. Dr. Engler and the other Coaches leas and moderate these discussions but invariably other participants quickly provide greater insights than any one person can provide. Input is provided on writing style, content choices and very often research questions being asked and approaches being proposed. Throughout this in-person meeting, many basic questions about grant writing and NIH grants and review arise and are clarified. Depending on timing, individuals may elect to make revisions while still at the meeting to come back for additional feedback. During the course of the meeting, Coaches will meet individually with each person as well to review their Biographical Sketch and discuss any other professional development and mentoring needs.
Location and Type of Sessions**
In-person sessions at Morehouse School of Medicine; Distance technology is used for subsequent online sessions
After the first in-person group meeting, virtual meetings of the group will take place weekly or bi-weekly for 90-120 minutes using distance technology such as Adobe Connect or GoToMeeting. Review of writing will be the same as at the first meeting, keeping focused on the Specific Aims page until it is highly refined, then going on to Significance and Innovation. For individuals writing Career Development Awards (such as F32, K99/R00, K01, K08, K23, etc.) time is devoted to other parts of the proposal such as descriptions of prior research, career development plans and mentoring teams. Depending on the nature of the research being proposed and the make-up of the group, review of the Research Plan may also take place.
Additionally, if it is determined that there would be benefit to identifying scientific content experts to assist with design or writing of detailed science, efforts will be made to identify such individuals using NRMN resources.
**Program dates are contingent upon federal funding