The Daily Dose • Monday, May 20, 2024

The Tea Ceremony of Grant Preparation

Christian S. Guay, MD

Writing an NIH grant application can be intimidating, especially for investigators who have not previously written grants or successfully acquired funding. Thankfully, there are tried and true methods that applicants can leverage to reduce uncertainty in the process and optimize their probability of success. In this workshop on Friday, May 17 at the 2024 Annual Meeting, presented by IARS and SOCCA, “Marketing You and Your Science to the NIH: Grant Prep Workshop,” Meredith C. B. Adams, MD, MS, FASA, FAMIA, reviewed some of these systematic methods, likened to the Japanese tea ceremony for their methodic nature and reproducibility. Audience members were also taken through the intricate process of generating the raw materials needed for a strong NIH biosketch.

Dr. Adams, associate professor of anesthesiology, biomedical informatics, physiology and pharmacology and public health sciences, started by outlining her nine “rules of research:” 1) read the instructions; 2) be kind; 3) everything is “figureoutable;” 4) let them tell you no; 5) find a way to make it count twice; 6) your institution will not love you back; 7) you are not your funding or publication track record; 8) jealousy of others is a lack of trust in yourself; and 9) remember, you are a candy factory.

She then answered thought provoking questions that were submitted by participants prior to the meeting, covering high-impact topics such as interacting with program officers, pathways for early career funding, dealing with a “late start,” and the role of artificial intelligence in grant writing. One key principle that was highlighted on multiple occasions is the requirement to align your application with the NIH’s mission and goals. If you’re not aligned, you won’t get funded.

The biosketch is an opportunity to display your unique qualities as an investigator, your programmatic research goals, and how these align with the NIH’s funding priorities. The basic requirements of a biosketch are a maximum of five pages, without any figures or pictures. It’s important to use the most recent version posted online by the NIH. Published and accepted papers can be cited in your bibliography, whereas papers that are in progress can be discussed in the main text. Applicants should also link to their “My Bibliography” page from NCBI.

Transitioning to the workshop phase, participants got to work generating the raw materials for their biosketches. Highlights of the writing prompts, each requiring one sentence answers include: 1) a description of you; 2) a description of your science; 3) a description of the problems you are trying to solve; 4) what you’re good at; 5) what you would like to get better at; 6) what makes you standout; 7) what expertise you can organize; 8) the unique angle and synergy of your team; 9) your long-term programmatic line of research.

The next step is to integrate these raw materials into a coherent biosketch personal statement, starting with a superhero origin story, highlighting unique research skills and experiences, and closing with a research vision that aligns with the NIH’s mission and goals. Dr. Adams provided multiple examples, using fictional heroes to highlight the formulaic method that can be leveraged to generate a compelling personal statement.

The session wrapped up with a list of next steps. Attendees were encouraged to create a “brag list” detailing their unique skills and achievements, outlining their programmatic research goals, organizing a list of their collaborators and mentors, and aligning their overarching narrative with the NIH. Ultimately, participants left with practical knowledge of the tea ceremony of NIH grant writing and all the materials needed to create a compelling NIH biosketch.