Generating and Funding Impactful Research in Anesthesiology
Combining insights from Dr. Emery Brown from IARS and Alison Cole from the NIH, early-stage anesthesiology scholars were inundated valuable guidance on how to build a meaningful research project and how to get it funded.
Dr. Brown began by challenging scholars to reflect on the big questions that currently exist in the field of anesthesiology (e.g. post-operative cognitive dysfunction, anesthetic neurotoxicity), and to question the obvious things that we do (e.g. measuring muscle relaxation with train-of-four electrical stimulation, always using a hypnotic drug during induction). This thoughtful exercise will help scholars identify research topics that are relevant to our field and that hold promise in advancing the science of anesthesiology.
Furthermore, he encouraged scholars to consider whether new technologies such as optogenetics, machine learning, organ-on-a-chip and CRISPR could contribute to answering their research questions. Formulating an important research question and developing methods to answer it isn’t enough – you’re going to need to identify the correct mentors and collaborators. These critical players can be found in your department, in your hospital, in your university, in your city, or afar.
Dr. Brown emphasized that you should not limit mentorship and collaborations to your own institution; don’t be afraid to reach out to national and international leaders in your field! Although mentors and collaborators can add a great deal of expertise to your project, you may also want to consider obtaining advanced training in relevant experimental techniques, statistics, and clinical research. Such training can take the form of a formal graduate degrees, or less formal educational opportunities at your own institution and others. Finally, Dr. Brown encouraged scholars to consider multiple sources of funding: internal (departmental, hospital, university), foundations, NIH, NSF, DOD, industry and venture capital. Dr. Cole followed Dr. Brown’s excellent talk with important insights from the NIH, starting with some basics of how the NIH funding structure is setup.
First of all, it is important to note the distinction between the 24 funding institutes and the study sections that review grants for their scientific merit. When you submit a grant, the center for scientific review (CSR), the gatekeeper to the NIH, makes two simultaneous decisions: 1. Which institute your grant will be assigned to according to their mission and priorities; and 2. Which study section will be responsible for the scientific merit review, including peer-review and summary statement with critics. Consider communicating with the program officer (PO) of the funding institute that you are targeting before submitting your grant. This can help you determine if the institute is a good fit for your project, which grant type is most appropriate and which study section may be a good fit for peer-review.
Other important resources to consider when investigating funding priorities and opportunities include the NIH RePORTer, funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), individual institute websites and blogs, as well as the publicly available minutes of the advisory councils. During the review process, you will be referred to the scientific review officer (SRO) of the study section reviewing your grant. Dr. Cole offered some important tips to optimize your interactions with NIH staff: be prepared before calling (do your homework!), be timely (do not wait until the last minute!) and be as specific with your questions as possible. She also suggested emailing them a list of your questions or specific aims before scheduling a call.
Finally, Dr. Cole recommended visiting these websites for additional information:
*Coverage from the Scholars’ Program session, Priorities for Developing Researchers: Perspectives from the NIH and IARS