To all you mentors… what are you teaching your people about grant submission?
I realize that by the time most of your people submit their first big grant, they are off your payroll and out of your lab. But while they were in your lab, what were you teaching them about grant submission and the whole process? A few questions:
1. Did you talk to your trainees at all what happens when you are preparing the grant – you know about all the non-meat-of-the-proposal stuff that goes in there, and about how grants administration – especially pre-award grants administration- is done at your institution?
I had no idea whatsoever about this as a student, although since I wrote/submitted myself as a postdoc I did quickly pick what all that extra paperwork is and who-does-what support type stuff. We have superb pre-awards administration- but not all institutions are like that. As I understand it there are some hinterlands where PIs are left mostly to their own devices for pre-award administration (i.e. they get to fill out all the complex forms in triplicate, do budgets etc etc.). That must be a big bummer- I know we are very luck to have such great support.
2. Were you talking to your trainees about the structure of the NIH and what happens to a grant (i.e. where it goes) after your research administration people hit send?
I admit that I was totally clueless about this as a graduate student. I vaguely remember certain times of the year when my cherished graduate advisor was running around with stress coming out of his/her pores just prior to a granting deadline. But I confess that I had no idea of specifically where grants go and how they get there other than that they fell into this big black hole called NIH. During my postdoc I became much more savvy to this, because I was writing some myself, and my advisor was very good about helping me through the process. He/she didn’t write me a handbook- but the advice was pretty darn good.
3. Did you talk to your trainees about what institutes and study sections that you submit your grants to and why? If you have experience with more than one study section and they have subtle (or gigantic) differences what were those leanings, and did you pass those along to your trainees?
I don’t think I really got this kind of mentoring until I was junior faculty. I wonder how commonly grad advisors and postdoc advisors are providing this kind of information to their trainees. From my side I’ve been really lucky to have close mentors that talk to me about this stuff- I’ve made a few missteps here requesting or de-requesting particular study sections, just because I was inexperienced in the process, I didn’t know the right questions to ask of my mentors or of the scientific review administrator (SRA) or program officer (PO) (that link is for NCCAM but applies pretty much to program officers in general), perhaps I didn’t even understand the distinction between the SRA and PO, and I didn’t quite know who looks at what in the process to making the determination of which study section is most appropriate for a particular grant.
4. Did you give your trainees any idea how long the whole federal grants process takes from writing to submission, from submission to review, from review to summary statements, from those time points to council (and what the heck is that?!) and then ultimately to funding or re-submission?
I imagine that many people don’t come up against this until they are in their first faculty position- and generally have no idea how long things take and how many things you can and should overlap to hike up your chances. I was lucky, I had written and submitted grants during my postdoc, I had good mentorship, and I knew the approximate (and very lengthy) timing of things.
OK- grad students and postdocs, those of you that have visions of an academic position sometime in your future, get out there and start talking to your advisors about this stuff. Sure, you can and should get the basics first by doing google searches and poking around on the Office of Extramural Research website (OER)– but the more subtle stuff you will either have to learn by bitter experience or you’ll have to just ask and ask and ask until you find the mentor who will lay that information out for you, step by step. And believe me, there is LOTS of this little subtle stuff that is really important.