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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / November 2016 / Making Grant Proposals Stronger: A Q&A with Past Research Methods Forum Presenters

Making Grant Proposals Stronger: A Q&A with Past Research Methods Forum Presenters

The Research Methods Forum, recently launched by the CTSI, allows researchers to present new research ideas and get feedback from a multidisciplinary group of peers, mentors, and potential collaborators. Early stage investigators are particularly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity while preparing to submit research grant proposals.

Two such early stage investigators share their Research Methods Forum experiences in the Q & A below. 

Suzannah Iadarola, Ph.D.Suzannah Iadarola, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Pediatrics and a previous recipient of the CTSI KL2 Career Development Award.  Iadarola’s research focuses on understanding and mitigating stress-related health disparities in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She presented an R21 proposal at the Research Methods forum to investigate cardiovascular health of ASD caregivers to see if and when disparities occur in order to develop interventions to prevent health issues in this population.

John Varrone, Ph.D.John Varrone, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate in the Jarvinen-Seppo lab in the Department of Pediatrics, researches how breast milk influences immune factors in the infant gut. His work contributes to the overarching interest of the lab: understanding whether breastfeeding can prevent food allergies in children. Varrone presented a KL2 Career Development Award proposal at Research Methods Forum to identify important factors in breast milk that affect the type of antibodies the infant produces in the gut.

 

How did you hear about the Research Methods Forum?

Iadarola: The CTSI actually reached out to me to be the guinea pig for the new Research Methods Forum because I had gone through a similar, less formal process that used to be offered by the CTSI. When they reached out, I was in the middle of working on an R21 grant proposal, so I said yes. 

Varrone: I heard about the KL2 Career Development Award offered by the CTSI and my advisor, Kirsi Jarvinen-Seppo, M.D., Ph.D. encouraged me to apply. I participated in the Research Methods Forum because it is a recommended step in the KL2 application process.

 

How did it go?

Iadarola: It was good and a lot more intensive than I expected. I walked in and there was a very large group of very well-established and prolific researchers, which was really nice. I really felt like I was getting comprehensive, structured feedback from the group. Everyone came from their own perspective and area of expertise. There were experts in design, experts in the measures I was proposing to use, and experts in theoretical models that I hadn't even considered for the proposal.

Varrone: It was a good forum! It forced me to really prepare - to really know every aspect of my project because I knew there would be experts from bioinformatics and researchers way outside my field who were going to comment on it. It was such a melting pot at the table including researchers that I wanted to invite and then a bunch more that Carrie Dykes, Ph.D., the CTSI’s Research Engagement Specialist, invited.

Dr. Dykes really worked to get people around the table and made the whole process flawless. Every week, she reminded me what I needed to do, she booked the room for me, she asked me to send her my talk… so, on the day, I just stepped in and everyone already knew my talk. It went really well and the feedback was great, constructive criticism. I was impressed.

 

What feedback did you get?

Iadarola: I got a ton of feedback and felt a little like I was in a study section for my own grant.  It was cool to see people were having discussions and trying to work out what they felt the right approach to this project was.

Edwin VanWijngaarden, Ph.D., and Robert Strawderman, Sc.D., who serve as co-directors of the Research Methods Forum, really did a nice job streamlining the forum and getting everyone to prioritize 2-4 top suggestions for the revised proposal, which was very helpful.  They also followed up after the session with an email outlining those suggestions.

There were also a couple of faculty that gave specific feedback that I thought was really relevant and that I knew I wanted to incorporate right away. I actually followed up with one of them via email to ask her to be a consultant on the project and she agreed. That was probably the best outcome of the whole thing.  I got this extra person to collaborate on the proposal who helped me re-conceptualize the framework and really helped pull together what I was trying to accomplish.

Varrone: A lot of the comments on my proposal focused on feasibility and trying to get all of the experiments nailed down. In the end, I decided that it was too early for me to apply for the KL2. At this point I’m just trying to compile more preliminary data so I can have a solid Aim 1.  The feedback seemed to be to try to get Aim 1 nailed down, then come back.

 

How did the feedback influence your grant proposal?

Iadarola: I presented at Research Methods Forum two weeks before my R21 proposal was due, but I managed to integrate the recommended changes into my proposal before submitting. I understand that normally, you would want to do this much earlier in the grant application development process, but by the time Carrie got in touch with me, I was going to be submitting in about a month and a half. Carrie tried to make it work for my schedule and still give time to make revisions. I’m still waiting on specific feedback about my R21 proposal, but it did not get funded this round and I plan to resubmit.

Varrone: After the Research Methods Forum, I decided to postpone applying for the KL2.  Coincidentally, I applied for a private grant through a breast milk foundation about a week before presenting at the Research Methods Forum and the foundation said my proposal was favorable, but I needed more data. So, when both were coming at me saying I need more preliminary data for Aim 1, I thought I'd better step back and focus my efforts in the lab.

 

What advice can you give to presenters? 

Iadarola: I definitely would be prepared for a more formal presentation and to have to integrate multiple perspectives. You kind of have to be a filter and let everything pass through you and decide what you really need to address and what to let go. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to address everyone's concerns.

Varrone: If I were to have any advice, it would be to almost have your grant written and to really think about your aims. I thought I was prepared, but I really wasn't. If you have your application ready to go, you’ll know all of your aims, all your proposed assays, and all of your statistics.  I think, looking back, I would have prepared more and thought more about feasibility. A lot of the experiments I proposed were cause and effect and they thought it was just too early for me to apply for a KL2.

 

Would you use the Research Methods Forum again?

Iadarola: I tend to go back to the CTSI for a lot of things and I would definitely consider using the Research Methods Forum again because it really was very helpful. Just from the perspective of trying to learn more about who else is here, who has expertise that might complement what you’re doing, and getting connected with someone who you might never meet otherwise, I think it's an enormous resource in that way.

Varrone: Absolutely. I am currently working on obtaining more data to solidify my Aim 1, and then will speak with Dr. Dykes about securing another date to present, potentially this spring. The feedback from experts within and outside my field was invaluable and I will certainly take advantage of their expertise again in the future.

 

For more information about the Research Methods Forum, click here.

If you are interested in presenting, contact Carrie Dykes, Ph.D.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 11/8/2016

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