Guiding Faculty through the Funding Process: Nurturing Networks and Supporting the Development of Solid Applications

The presentation that Michelle Schoenecker and I gave at the NCURA meeting last week was very well received. Michelle is from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and provides research administration services to 80 faculty in the school of engineering there. Combined with my work in the Feinberg School of Medicine, we thought our perspectives on assisting faculty with identifying funding opportunities and the resources available to increase their application’s competitiveness (including collaboration resources) and  guiding faculty through the application process might be interesting to talk about. Turns out it was!

The highlights of our presentation included:

  • Research administrators are often the first source of information and feedback as mentoring resources are few and far between at many universities. A lot of universities have very few senior scientists with enough time to guide junior faculty on how to apply and select the right source of funding for their ideas.
    • Research administrators can’t provide opinions or evaluate science, but we can be an objective resource for information for our PI’s, effectively pointing them to the right resources and helping them to identify what they need to answer their questions.
    • The fact that research administrators aren’t scientists is an advantage, and can be beneficial when reading and reviewing proposals for grammar, typos, etc. You don’t have to understand the science to know that the sentence isn’t grammatically correct.
  • In this funding environment, both early-stage and well-established investigators are looking for input and advice, from all points of view, as funders are looking for transformational research ideas.
    • Research administrators can be particularly helpful when making suggestions based on a PI’s funding history, publication record, or the publication record of the investigator’s mentors or their potential collaborators.
    • Identifying tools for finding collaborators is especially useful – and many universities have internally developed tools to assist younger investigators, and are adopting commercially developed tools to assist senior investigators with well established careers. Understanding how these tools work, and pointing your PI’s to them early is helpful.
    • Knowing who has published in an investigator’s field can also be helpful when managing reviewer comments and submission conundrums – “who can I ask about this crazy feedback?” or “how do I determine where to send my application?” questions can be easier to figure out when you suggest that Dr. So and So has perhaps faced similar circumstances.
  • Providing funding information to your investigators depends on the environment you work in, but it all comes down to knowing your audience.
    • If your investigators like e-mail, keep it clean, crisp, easy to read, with links and essential information.
    • Consider new media for early stage investigators who like Twitter feeds and RSS; aggregate multiple sources of information.
    • If your institution already provides tons of information, knowing your investigators already read it, following up with targeted information that provides a recommended RFA may be best.

Additional Resources for Supporting Faculty:

  • How Not To Kill A Grant Application Series: Science
  • Research Funding: Making The Cut.Nature
  • Eisenberg, Mark J. The Physician Scientist’s Career Guide. Springer, 2010.
  •  Schwartz, David, Ed. Medicine, Science and Dreams: The Making of Physician Scientists. Springer, 2010.

It’s a real privilege to co-present with a colleague from another university because it’s an opportunity to share knowledge and really grow professionally and personally – as well as gain new ideas that may benefit your organization. I highly recommend it – hopefully we’ll be able to do it again. (Thanks Michelle!)

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