BWH Clinical & Research News

Helping Postdocs Succeed at Grant Writing

Andrei Avanesov, PhD

Next Generation is a BWH Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. This month’s column is written by Andrei Avanesov, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Vadim N. Gladyshev, PhD, Department of Medicine.

During my four years at the Brigham, grant writing has helped me find collaborations, develop expertise outside of my primary area of study and strategically plan my short- and long-term research objectives. Grant writing and submission has many undeniable benefits: Not only can the process lead to financial support, but it can also create an opportunity for intense brain-storming, creativity, prioritization and planning. Most importantly, postdocs who obtain grants enjoy greater research independence and strengthen their position in the job market. In essence, the art of writing and obtaining grants is not only important, it is also critical to an investigator’s success.

However, the process of preparing a winning proposal remains somewhat mysterious to many talented postdocs. Last year, I joined the Postdoctoral Association Mentoring Circles Program as a mentor. During our group’s meetings, we identified issues that were common to many of us, and one of the topics that came up very frequently was grant writing. Fortunately, I have gone through the process of preparing grant applications several times and have accumulated an exhaustive list of resources. I also discovered that if presented in an orderly fashion, these materials could actually facilitate grant preparation and the submission process by other postdocs.

It’s a Resource-Constrained Environment

Admittedly, obtaining grants is not easy. The lack of available resources is fully recognized by industry and even by the NIH – I personally have seen an increase in grant writing workshops (which are often expensive or offer a very limited number spots!). I found my way by trial and error – a long road for an inexperienced investigator. I prepared and submitted multiple applications, scoured the Internet for relevant resources, found people with experience who were willing to share their successful proposals and found peers to critique my initial and final drafts. The latter case (finding friends to review the grant) can be very useful — it helped me tailor my big, complex ideas for a more diverse audience.

To help other postdocs navigate their way through the grant writing process and find friends and peers to offer critiques, we decided to launch the Grant Writing Circle Pilot in collaboration with the BWH Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (CFDD). The program is designed to catalyze the process of successful grant writing by engaging postdocs in frequent interactions and discussions during their grant writing process. The interactions are supplemented with resources and numerous examples that can be used for guidance. Some of the available resources include previously funded applications, summary statements from the review panel for both successful and unsuccessful applications, resources from NIH on the guidelines for reviewers and additional resources that can be accumulated and allocated by the participants of the Grant Writing Circle.

The Grant Writing Circle Pilot builds on the successful model of the Mentoring Circles Program and focuses specifically on grant preparation, writing and review. Members of the program will be assigned to small groups (optimal three members, maximum of four) that meet monthly and together achieve a set of measurable goals. For example, members will exchange drafts on various components of their grant proposal and provide constructive feedback to their Circle. To drive the progress and maintain the focus, each group will be guided by a senior fellow with experience in writing and reviewing research proposals. The goal of the program is to guide the applicant through the grant writing process by providing feedback, resources, guidance and accountability. For more information on the program and enrollment please visit PLC website (bwhpda.org)

Personally, I would have jumped right on the opportunity if something like this existed when I entered my postdoctoral training. We hope that for current postdocs, this initiative will be useful as they engage in the grant writing process.