Guidance for Early Stage Investigators

I love working with early stage investigators. They are so enthusiastic and excited about their first application or two and are usually very organized. They are fun to work with and enjoy the information you provide them about guidelines and resources and usually read everything from start to finish.

Sometimes I will get questions from an ESI who isn’t sure that their proposal idea is fully developed, or they aren’t sure which type of funding mechanisms to look at in order to see how to shape their research ideas.

Guidance and resources to help early investigators with research proposal ideas include:

1. Talk to your chair about your research ideas and the resources in your department that are available to support you. Your chair can steer you toward available resources in your school and University as well.

2. Most Universities have some resources available to assist early stage investigators with grant writing – at Northwestern, we have grant writing groups that meet on the school level with dens who facilitate discussion groups as grants are written. Investigators write K applications together, or R applications, for example.

3. Look for classes in grant writing for research professionals, which are often conducted buyout university at a low cost (not by outside vendors). Also, the NIH and NSF have grant recipient workshops around the country that are held at no cost, all you need to do is get there.

4. Last but not least, talk to colleagues about your applications and research ideas and get their feedback.


1. Understand the application requirements for an early stage investigator on the NIH website.
2. Read the RFA carefully with the new investigator, explaining the instructions.
3. Try to provide boilerplate language and sample documents to guide writing.
4. Provide timeline which includes ample review of drafts with mentors and review of administrative documents to ensure compliance with application requirements and format.
5. Schedule meetings to discuss progress.
6. Draft the budget and justification for the investigator to review and approve.
7. Explain the process and answer questions, be available for calls.
8. Let the investigator know what happens to their application behind the scenes, especially when it is submitted.

It is so rewarding to help, in a small way, to launch someone’s academic career. It’s an opportunity to learn about their research and encourage them through a process at a time when they feel vulnerable and are doing something new. It’s a bonding experience and I don’t know about you, but I’m totally addicted to it.

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