Stages of Complex Grant Development (Part 2)

Thursday, May 31, 2018
By Joanna Downer, Associate Dean for Research Development, School of Medicine


In the last post, I identified five stages for successful complex grant development.

The first stage, Idea Generation, is often triggered by a faculty member seeing a funding opportunity. A potential Principal Investigator may think about the opportunity, then  talk informally with a few potential collaborators to gauge interest and gather additional ideas. Sufficient interest and commitment will lead to full team meetings for brainstorming.

In Stage 2, Idea Refinement, the team narrows down the possibilities. They agree on an overall vision and shared goals – often in specific language. Each member also focuses their own contributions and scope of work to fit with the other components. This step cannot occur effectively in isolation, since each component contributes to the whole and thus subtly shapes the others. This stage also measures ideas against the funder’s priorities, funding opportunity’s intent, and budget limitations.

In Stage 3, Idea Capture, each team member begins writing. This crucial step is often delayed, since talking about ideas can be more fun than writing about them. However, getting ideas captured early – at least two months before the deadline – is crucial to enabling their effective refinement. More complete drafts enable the next step – Idea Validation.

In Idea Validation, team members review and comment on each other’s fairly complete write-ups. This exchange tests and strengthens the entire application. It also mirrors review, since grant teams and review committees represent diverse scientific fields: if team members don’t understand each other’s work, neither will reviewers. External review, if time allows, can identify additional weaknesses for correction.

The final stage, Finalization and Submission, includes careful review of Word files for typos and display problems, cleaning those, then checking the pdf and fixing any errors – for each section of each component. Ideally, some aspects are finalized fairly early – biosketches, facilities and equipment files, budgets and budget justifications can and should be “final-final” roughly one month before the planned submission. Finalization of the scientific sections, including the Aims and Research Strategies and sections related to vertebrate animals or human subjects, should begin roughly two weeks before the planned submission date. In my office, we recommend all text – every piece of the application – be “final-final” at least a full week before the planned submission.

This timing allows the very last step of pdf’ing, uploading, checking, and fixing of the full application – which can take 2 to 3 days for complex grants – to occur without excessive deadline pressure. Submission at least two business days before the official deadline ensures sufficient time to check the application in the funder’s system – eRA Commons for NIH – and to withdraw, fix, and resubmit if needed.

The first three stages are often iterative, and teams may revert to Idea Generation if Refinement or Validation feedback suggests major adjustments are needed. It can be reassuring, though, to know that these stages – including iterations – are necessary to successfully develop complex (and non-complex!) grants.

Do these stages resonate with you? Is a step or stage missing? Use the feedback survey to offer your insight.

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