November 2, 2016

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The PDS Narrative
a newsletter from
Proposal Development Services
Office of the Vice Provost for Research

In this issue of the PDS Narrative, we discuss funding tips for early career faculty, as well as the role of senior faculty in mentoring junior faculty.

Mentoring and Early Career Funding
Did you know that one of the action items identified in IU's Bicentennial Strategic Plan is to foster a culture that promotes a scholarly community on all IU campuses and across the arc of faculty members' careers, including support for mentoring? Our promotion and tenure guide also states that candidates for promotion to professor are to assume greater service responsibilities vital to the sustenance of our academic community, including the mentoring of younger colleagues.

Beyond mentoring in teaching and research, senior faculty can be especially helpful mentoring early career faculty in securing funding for their research or creative activity at IU. This goal often goes hand in hand with the goals of external funders. Federal agencies emphasize that the entry of new investigators into the ranks of independent, funded researchers is essential to the health of research in our country, and often explicitly include as a component of their mission the training and development of new scientists into leaders in the field. 

One challenge for new investigators just starting their careers is that they have less grant writing experience than senior colleagues and have had less opportunity to accumulate preliminary data and publications.  Fortunately, there are steps that early career researchers can take (and their mentors can support) to increase the likelihood of securing significant funding:


  • Use tools available to identify funding specifically for early career and new investigators. Many agencies feel their mission is to develop scholars who may become leaders in their field, so they offer specific funding programs for faculty in the early stages of their careers. Reviewers for these grants put less emphasis on preliminary data and publications and more emphasis on a researcher’s training and experience. In PIVOT’s advanced funding search tool, you can specify “New Faculty/New Investigator” in the Applicant Type category and search among agency and foundation programs aimed at this career level.
  • Connect with a successful mentor in your field. Mentors can be found in your department, in another part of IU, at conferences, and among investigators who have published work you admire. They can give advice on how to structure arguments and ideas. They are busy people, though, so give these colleagues adequate time to read your proposals thoroughly and give feedback. 
  • Participate on review committees. A good way to learn what reviewers are looking for is to participate on review committees themselves. For example, the National Institutes of Health recently created the Early Career Review Program, which invites junior faculty to review research grants, giving an inside look at what makes a proposal stand out and insight into how more experienced researchers write proposals. Online webinars on peer review and mock review panels are also available. 
  • Take advantage of agencies’ training. Keep in touch with interesting agencies and foundations and their informational offerings. For example, the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Scientific Review is holding an online briefing on December 1, 2016: 8 Ways to Successfully Navigate NIH Peer Review and Get an R01 Grant. This briefing will cover the key things applicants need to know about the submission and review of their R01 applications. Register for this webinar by Nov 30 (or view archived webinars available online).
  • Follow your passion! Although you may be tempted to adjust your work to fit into a funding proposal category, keep your long-term research goals in mind, and be thoughtful about planning research projects that advance your progress toward those goals. 
  • Apply for internal funding, too! Internal funding programs coordinated by OVPR can be used as seed funding to give you a chance to accumulate preliminary data and publications to support a competitive application for external funding.
  • Consult PDS.  Our research development specialists have experience working with early career faculty, and can provide guidance about opportunities, advice on navigating the proposal development and application process, and reviewer-focused feedback on your proposals.
This week, a special issue of Nature, the international weekly journal of science, explores challenges that face early career scholars as they attempt to build their careers, and the response by some individuals and institutions to assess opportunities and challenges for career development. Their conclusions? It’s up to everyone, funders, institutions, junior scholars and their senior colleagues as well, to ensure the next generation of researchers have the opportunity to succeed.


If at first you don't succeed, try try again!
The vast majority of proposals are rejected the first time they’re submitted. Statistics from federal agencies show that proposals that are reworked based on reviewer feedback and resubmitted have better odds. For example, the NIH overall success rate for first-time R01 applications in 2015 was 10.5%, but was 31.4% for resubmissions. Critiques from reviewers can serve as a guide for reframing or refocusing your work. Sometimes small revisions and clarifications might satisfy review committees, sometimes substantial changes are required. Program officers are available to help interpret review comments and weigh their importance.

Proposal Development Services offers grantsmanship and proposal management support to IU Bloomington faculty applying for external research funding. Learn more about our services on the OVPR website, or request to work with a PDS specialist at