PISA 2022 Career Development Session Recap: How to Obtain Funding

By Vik Meadows, PhD

Are you interested in applying for an F32, pilot grant, or travel award? Not sure how to begin? Check out the major advice and tips from our “How to Obtain Funding” session during the PISA 2022 Young Investigator Virtual Conference, co-hosted by ASIP, ASMB, and HCS. This professional development session was co-moderated by Corinn Marakovits and Dr. Vik Meadows and planned by members of the ASIP PISA 2022 ad hoc planning committee and career development committees.

Panelists included Dr. George Perry (Professor and Distinguished University Chair in Neurobiology from University of Texas, San Antonio), Dr. Elaine Bearer (Professor and Vice Chair of Research at New Mexico University), Dr. Daisy Shu (Instructor at Harvard Medical School), and Staci Weaver (PhD Candidate at Indiana University School of Medicine).

Below we have summarized the advice from our panelists in Q&A format:

What kind of grants are available?

Intramural grants- these are considered institutional awards. These can provide travel funds or give you money for a pilot project.

Training grants- these are commonly awarded by government institutions to a university or professional society. Ex: IRACDA/T32 (NIH)

Federal funding- these are nationally competitive awards for individuals granted by government institutions. Ex: F31/R01 (NIH), GFRP (NSF), NDSEG (DoD)

Our panelists also suggest looking at private (company, rotary) or foundation research grants/awards for project-based funding.

How personal should my personal statement be?

Staci suggests leaning in on your passion! She currently researches type 1 diabetes, and as a diabetic herself, she ties in her personal experience as part of her research narrative. She does warn that if your passion does not help your narrative then keep your personal statement focused on your professional experience.

Elaine believes that tying in your passion and skills to your science can work to your benefit. She suggests that if your creativity will enhance my research/science then use it to explain what you are doing and shows passion for your project.

Daisy agrees that adding a personal touch to a personal statement will bring attention to your application! Make it genuine and authentic to avoid sounding generic. Make it personable! Remember that more personal is more engaging because reading is character driven and you are the protagonist to your story.

George suggests tailoring your personal statement to resonate with your reviewers. You want reviewers to identify with your success and advocate for your application during the review process. Grab them with the science, or career development, that explains why you should rise to the top and receive this funding!

Are there any grants for international students that are in masters or doctoral programs?

There are society grants (American Heart Association, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, etc.) that can provide funding opportunities without green card or citizenship requirement. Companies also provide funding opportunities open to international graduate students. If you’re a senior PhD student, consider applying for an F99/K00 which will allow you to have pre-doc and post-doc funding.

Do you need to address undergraduate grades in grant applications as a doctoral student?

The consensus is that grades are a consideration but not the most important part of your application. If you fail a class or got a C in an important class, try to defend (retook the course to gain better understanding) or present a positive spin (research was distracting me or my commitment to lab didn’t allow time for coursework, etc.).

Some international institutions don’t have GPA format, so if this is the case, include in your statement that your values/scores are based on a different format (ex: % out of 100) and how that is translatable to GPA format.

This can also be mentioned, or supported, by letters of recommendation. Make sure your recommenders emphasize your strengths that may allow reviewers to acknowledge that grades are not your defining trait.

What resources are available for trainees to find funding opportunities?

There are many resources available online for students to find funding opportunities. We have listed some databases and resources below. Don’t forget to check Twitter and your institution for additional funding opportunities.

Does having a social media presence or personal website impact grant and fellowship applications?

It is essential to make sure your personal social media aligns with your professional image. If this is a difficult task for you, consider making your accounts private or change your username/handle with an alias. However, that’s not to say that it cannot make your application better! There are many professional social media sites like ORCiD, LinkedIn, Research Gate, and Google Scholar which are great places to keep up with literature, update your awards and publications, and help create an image when a reviewer searches for you online. Additionally, having a personal website makes it easy to collate everything in one place. You can make it a living CV that you refer back to, let’s you post about your lab or science, and let’s you keep lab alumni information (which shows continuity of connection).

I recently submitted an F31, if it is rejected do you recommend applying for the diversity F31 or resubmit the parent F31?

The panelists recommend speaking with your program officers to get advice on funding score/reviews. When reaching out to your program officer, make sure to do so 2–3 months before resubmission deadline. This will help them help you. Also remember that no one knows if your F31 is a diversity award or not, so one is not easier to get than the other. They are all hard to get and the one that is funded is the best one and keep trying!

In addition to Q&A we received a lot of great information from audience members that are listed below:

  • Even if your PI has money, apply for funding opportunities!
    • You need money, and a history of funding, to be successful in academia as a PI. Employers want to know that you are fundable and applying for grants is a great training opportunity. You can get feedback for your project/writing, how to articulate career (career statement), and reviews often provide good information for your project.
  • Grant rejection happens!
    • Take a mourning period, maybe even write a scathing response letter telling them how stupid they are but remember that this happens and promptly delate that letter. There is no 100% funding rate.
    • Each time you apply, and you don’t get it, just work through emotional hurdle and talk to people.
    • Make sure your rejection is not for administrative issues: formatting, font, etc.
  • Bring your whole self to lab (and application)!
    • You can let most of yourself show, but not everything. Don’t burden your work environment with disruptions you are going through, but don’t bottle your emotions up either. Take the time to be true to yourself, and work on yourself to increase your emotional intelligence with proper boundaries.
  • NIH funding!
    • Look at the NIH reviewer roster for the institution you will apply to. You can make sure you know your field, because these people can doom you or be your champion.
    • BE SMART WITH REFERENCES! Give the reviewers all the ammunition but no mistakes so your application will rise to the top.
    • Capture reviewer attention in the first 2-3 minutes of your grant review
    • Want some guidance? NIAID provides some successful grant application examples online.

We hope that these tips have helped decode what it takes to obtain funding! If you have more questions about applying for grants, don’t forget to reach out to your immediate network. Peer mentors and research mentors can help you edit your application and highlight your strengths. Remember—don’t give up! Each application is another chance at funding your research!