The Daily Dose • Friday, April 8, 2022

Essential Steps towards Scientific Independence

Archana Bharadwaj, MPH, CHES

For early-stage investigators, securing funding is an essential step in the path toward scientific independence. In the IARS, AUA, SOCCA and eSAS Scholars’ Day session, “First Steps Toward Funding,” held on Saturday, April 2, experienced researchers Drs. C. David Mintz and Harriet Hopf and NIH Program Director Dr. Luci Roberts shared their insights on funding opportunities and tips for grant success.

C. David Mintz, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care and Director of the T32 program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, began the panel with his presentation “NIH Career Development Support.” He focused on mentored grants for junior faculty, particularly the K08 (Mentored Award for Basic Science) and K23 (Mentored Award for Clinical Science). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the K08 and K23 awards are designed to “prepare clinically trained individuals for careers that have a significant impact on the health-related research needs of the Nation.” Individuals are eligible for these awards if they are a US citizen or permanent resident, possess a clinical doctoral degree, and have a full time position at a US institution. Dr. Mintz noted that the benefits of these awards are that they provide 3-5 years of protected research time at 70% clinical effort, committed mentorship with someone who can move your career forward, and an established pathway to scientific independence. The major limitations of these awards are that they provide a limited research budget, constrict clinical time, and can be difficult to transfer to another institution.

When drafting your application, he encouraged individuals to target it to the institute that best fits your research needs, and the study section that has experts in the field that can evaluate the science. Ideally, it would be an institute with which your mentor has successfully obtained a prior award. Key application components include generation of new knowledge, relevance to mission of the NIH institute, methodology that is appropriate to the desired results, and feasibility with the resources and time available. Dr. Mintz stated that the mentor you select should be conducting research in your field, possess an active program with needed resources to support the project, and be a successful mentor of prior trainees.

Concluding his presentation, Dr. Mintz acknowledged that grant-writing can be difficult. To move things forward, he advised to keep thinking about how current work would contribute to a grant, get copies of previously funded applications, and ask others to look them over. Keep the study aims independent and continue revising them as the grant progresses. Finally, these grants are competitive and hard to get the first time, so plan to resubmit.

Continuing the discussion, Harriet Hopf, MD, Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, and Adjunct Professor, Biomedical Engineering at The University of Utah, and Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research (FAER), discussed “Foundation Grants.” Before obtaining NIH funding she explained, you want to do a fellowship to get the training and the data to support your movement forward. While a fellow, develop research skills, collect data, and develop your own research focus. She explained that this work should provide the basis for sustainable research moving forward.

Foundation grants, which are offered by FAER, International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS), and Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), are more likely to be funded than NIH grants and can help feed into larger grant proposals. These grants are usually designed for early-career investigators and require a mentor, research plan, and significant research time (40-75%). One example she provided was the FAER Mentored Research Training Grant (MRTG). Any anesthesiology faculty member that has completed training in the last 10 years is eligible and any research that advances patient care is eligible. With $250,000 over two years at 75% research effort, the grant is designed to promote skill development and support the recipient in moving towards becoming an independent investigator.

Throughout this process, she emphasized the value of building a peer network. Two great opportunities to build these networks include the IARS, AUA, SOCCA and eSAS Scholars’ Day and FAER MRTG Annual Meeting. Recipients of the FAER MRTG also receive funding to attend this meeting. She also encouraged attendees to look into other opportunities to connect with individuals at a similar stage in their careers, so they can provide support.

The panel concluded with a Q&A session with Luci Roberts, PhD, NIH Program Director in the Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch in the Division of Neuroscience. Wayland Cheng, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Anesthesiology Division of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology at Washington University in St. Louis, and the 2021 IARS Frontiers in Anesthesia Research Award recipient, moderated this engaging conversation.

For early-stage investigators, Dr. Roberts recommended identifying one or two institutes to study closely. To ensure that you are fully aware of relevant resources, she recommended connecting with the institute’s program officer (PO). The Matchmaker tool can help you match your abstract or aims to similar, funded awards, thereby helping you identify target institutes and the most commonly assigned PO.

When reaching out to POs, Dr. Roberts recommended sending them an aims list and biosketch to help them understand your research topic and find relevant funding opportunities. Once you are 2-3 months from submission, contact the PO to set up an appointment to get your questions answered. The value of doing so, she explained, is that POs can help you apply for grants through navigating the massive resources available, identifying funding opportunities, reviewing your study aims, and providing advice on resubmission.

In closing, she stressed that POs are eager to help you. However, they often receive a flood of emails that it can make it hard for them to respond to inquiries right away. If you do not hear back from them, please do send them a reminder.