Rows of students at benches in a science lab work with microscopes.

NSF’s Directorate of Education and Human Resources offers funding for STEM education projects

A teacher and a student in a science lab look at the measurement of liquid in a beaker.

With the deadline for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Education and Human Resources (EHR) core research program coming up on September 14, this post offers an overview of the directorate and includes some insights for applicants to EHR offered by EHR Program Director Karen King at the NSF Spring Grants Conference held in Louisville this past June.


EHR’s mission is to achieve excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Specific focal areas include STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation, building institutional capacity in STEM, and STEM workforce development. EHR is interested in traditional, face-to-face education, as well as online learning, games, and virtual reality.

The upper end of the range of award figures tends to be higher in EHR than for other directorates and divisions in NSF. King says the reason is that EHR receives comparatively more collaborative proposals, which by definition involve more personnel, and personnel are the most expensive line item in most budgets.


Among the programs offered by EHR are the following:

EHR Core Research (ECR)

2017 submission deadline: September 14

This program of fundamental research in STEM education provides funding in critical research areas that are essential, broad and enduring. EHR seeks proposals that will help synthesize, build and/or expand research foundations in the following focal areas: STEM learning, STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and broadening participation in STEM.

King says EHR is seeing fewer and fewer ECR proposals focused on increasing participation by women. She says the NSF assumes this reflects a decreasing interest in this issue within the field.

Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)

Solicitation currently under revision, with no 2017 submission deadline released yet

This program, offered through the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; and advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments.

King says broadening participation is an area for emphasis in AISL. Of particular significance to Miami faculty, King indicated that among the groups that may qualify as underrepresented are first generation college students and/or those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. However, in such cases, the proposal must put forth a persuasive argument about how/why such groups are underrepresented within the context of the proposed project.

Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES)

2017 submission deadline has passed; no 2018 submission deadline released yet

Offered through the Division of Human Resource Development (HRD), this program is a comprehensive national initiative designed to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discoveries and innovations focused on NSF’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and broadening participation in these fields. NSF INCLUDES supports efforts to create networked relationships among organizations whose goals include developing talent from all sectors of society to build the STEM workforce. This initiative seeks to improve collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing the preparation, increasing the participation, and ensuring the contributions of individuals from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved in the STEM enterprise: women, persons with disabilities, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

King says the emphasis in INCLUDES is on scalable models. In FY2018, King says INCLUDES may fund a few alliances between several institutions working on the same “problem” for up to five years at $2.5 million per year.

National Innovation Network Teams Program (I-Corps Teams)

Proposals accepted at any time

The purpose of this program (which is not exclusive to EHR) is to  give a project team access to resources to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently funded NSF projects. The outcomes of I-Corps Teams projects will be threefold: 1) a clear go /or no go decision regarding viability of products and services, 2) should the decision be to move the effort forward, a transition plan for those projects to move forward, and 3) a definition of a compelling technology demonstration for potential partners.

King describes I-Corps Teams as an entrepreneurship bootcamp for current NSF grantees.

Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE)

RAISE is a type of proposal, rather than a program, and is not exclusive to EHR. RAISE supports bold, interdisciplinary projects. Proposals, which are internally reviewed, may be up to $1 million and five years and require the approval of two different programs of NSF. Proposals must address how the project is better suited for RAISE than the standard NSF proposal.

King recommends a RAISE proposal to investigators who may have previously submitted to the INSPIRE program, which has been discontinued.

Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program

2017 submission deadline has passed; 2018 submission deadline: July 18

This Foundation-wide activity offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

King reminds prospective CAREER applicants to review both the CAREER solicitation and the solicitation for the program that is a good fit for the project (e.g., ECR or AISL), and to address criteria for both solicitations in the proposal. She also suggests reviewing the CAREER program FAQs.

Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)

2017 submission deadline: October 26

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. Awards are made according to application pressure, meaning that directorates/divisions that receive relatively more applications in comparison to other directorates/divisions will make relatively more awards.

King says that reference letters are critical for GRFP applicants, and recommends that prospective applicants have their referees review reference letter information on the program website. She says it’s especially important for applicants from underrepresented groups — from whom NSF is not receiving as many applications as they’d like — to understand the importance of reference letters. Backend data from the application system shows that many applications started by students from underrepresented groups remain incomplete at the time of the submission deadline, often because a reference letter (or two or three) hasn’t been submitted.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Scott Kissell and Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.


A hand holds a set of car keys.

Writing a grant proposal is a lot like buying a car

A salesperson and a customer shake hands in front of a car.

Like buying a vehicle, writing a grant proposal is an important investment worth taking the time to do right. Doing research to ensure you are on the right lot and looking at the type of vehicle that best suits your needs will reduce wasted time and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. From there, all that’s left to do is narrow down your options and negotiate the best price.

Do your research

When shopping for a car, research is important to ensure you find the one that best suits your needs. Does the car offer all the options you need? For instance, do you often haul your children’s furniture from home to dorm and back again? If so, a Mini Cooper likely isn’t your best option. Also, knowing your own constraints (e.g. finances, height, family size) might dictate whether you’ll be shopping for a new car or a used one, a compact or a sedan, a Lexus or a Kia.

The same holds true when searching for a grant sponsor. Do the sponsoring agency and particular program fit your project needs? If you only need $1,000 in materials to carry out your project, you shouldn’t search for a Federal grant opportunity because those are usually reserved for projects with bigger budgets. Instead, look for internal and local sources of funds, such as your department, college, or the Committee on Faculty Research (CFR). If you are going for Federal funding, it’s important to choose the right agency. If your research project is focused on a specific health outcome, likely you need to do your shopping on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lot, not at the National Science Foundation (NSF) dealership. Knowing and understanding the mission of the sponsoring organization is of utmost importance prior to developing your grant application. If missions are misaligned, then you need to find another dealer.

Narrow down your shopping list

With literally hundreds of car makes and models available, how do you decide which is best for you? When considering your purchase, everything counts, from number of seats and doors to size, performance, and cost. The key is to narrow down your search by creating a short list of must-have features, then doing some side-by-side comparisons.

When searching for a sponsor, you may or may not have hundreds of options depending on your project needs. The chart below offers guidelines for narrowing down your search options.

Funding Source Typical Duration Average Award Size Impact
Horizon 2020 1-5 years $50,000-$500,000 National-Global
U.S. Federal funding agencies 1-5 years $25,000-$500,000 National
State agencies 1-3 years $10,000-$100,000 Statewide
Local agencies 1 year $1,000-$5,000 Local-Statewide

Know when the price is right

Once you’ve selected the model, options, and color, it’s time to get serious about price. The key to successful negotiation is knowing the value of the car, the invoice price, and the MSRP. In other words, what is the dealer’s limit? Also, what is your limit? Calculate what you can afford.

When writing a budget, you need to know the sponsor’s limit. Is there a cap or ceiling on the amount of funding you can request? If there isn’t a cap, is there a typical amount awarded by the program to which you are applying? Are there specific items the sponsor won’t pay for, like major equipment or personnel? Also, will your budgetary needs be supported by the sponsor? Ask for what you need and don’t sell your project short. If a sponsor cannot support a major piece of equipment that you need to conduct your research, then you either need to find a way to support that equipment (e.g., internal equipment funds from OARS or budgeting for equipment rental rather than purchase) or find a new or additional sponsor.

Take a test drive

Test-driving can help you make your final decision, so take your time with it and be sure to drive on both city streets and the highway. Don’t feel like you need to rush the process. Instead, use this time to pay attention to the little things: road noise, the number of cup holders and USB outlets, and extra features you hadn’t noticed before. After the purchase, it’s too late, so leave ample time for this important feedback.

The same holds true with grant applications- test drive them with the sponsor. Contact the sponsor early with your project idea. Many sponsors have a program officer who is responsible for answering questions regarding particular programs. The program officer wants quality applications that meet the mission of the agency and program, so they want to hear from you. As soon as you identify a program, contact the program officer and ask if you can share a one-page concept paper that includes your project goals and objectives, along with a little background detailing the need for, and significance of, the project.

Once you have a green light from the program officer, test-drive your application with colleagues both in and outside your area of expertise. Doing this will allow you to fine tune your application, ensuring it is understandable to an informed audience and ensuring an error-free application. Once you submit the application, it’s too late to make changes, so leave ample time for collection of this important data.

Have fun with it

Both buying a car and writing a grant proposal can be harrowing processes. Try to take the hassle out of both by beginning early, doing your homework, reading reviews (or sample applications), and working with people who are knowledgeable about the process. For car buying, this should be a salesperson. For writing a grant proposal, this should be your OARS representative. We are here to help and have years of experience submitting to hundreds of programs while getting feedback and advice from dozens of program officers and grants management folks regarding common pitfalls. Additionally, we can provide information commonly needed to complete forms (e.g., DUNS and EINs), and we can assist with budget development and help route your proposal through the internal approval eSPA system, allowing you to spend more of your time on writing your narrative, communicating with your program officer, and tidying up your final draft.

Just like TrueCar and similar services help take the hassle out of the car buying process, OARS can help take the hassle out of the grant submission process. So give us a call!

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Car keys photo by Negative Space via Pexels. Handshake photo by Legal Tell All via Vimeo. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Algorithmic stair steps carved into a piece of wood.

Maximize grant success with tips from former NIH staffer

These words are written in chalk on a chalkboard: Success. Go get it.

On Thursday, November 3, Dr. Norman Braveman, Miami alumnus, former senior member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) extramural program, and current current President of Braveman BioMed Consultants, spoke with faculty in Miami University’s Department of Psychology about applying for funding from the NIH. This is the second of two reports summarizing Dr. Braveman’s advice. You can read the first one here.

In a presentation titled “Maximizing Your Grant Success: A Strategic Approach to Grant Writing,” Dr. Norman Braveman emphasized the importance of a proposal’s potential impact on advancing the field as a very key element required to ensure proposal success. In addition to lack of impact Dr. Braveman also identified other reasons a proposal might not be successful, including:

  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of original ideas
  • Insufficient experience of PI or research team
  • No proposed safety net in case problems arise
  • Unrealistic amount of work to be accomplished
  • Unclear or unjustified experimental approach
  • Failure to follow guidelines

In order to maximize grant success, Braveman suggested beginning each proposal with an explicit statement on the purpose of the proposed study, beginning,  “The purpose of the proposed study is . . .” Beginning with a brief lead in and moving quickly to the aims of the proposal will help the writer keep focused on the purpose of the proposal and will make the purpose clear to the reviewers.

Following the intro and specific aims (i.e., objectives), should be a hypothesis and an explanation of how the investigator plans to test the hypothesis (i.e., approach or methods). Using the specific aims as a guide, the methods and analysis should flow naturally from the project’s objectives.

One strategy for successful proposal writing Braveman shared is the concept paper. A concept paper will help elucidate the problem/issues to be addressed and can help to identify gaps that need to be addressed. Like the specific aims, the concept paper can help focus proposal writing and can be used as a tool to facilitate discussion with a sponsor prior to proposal submission.

Typical format for a concept paper is 3-4 pages. The concept paper is not supposed to be a complete application, rather it is high-level overview of the problem to be addressed, the purpose (aims or objectives) of the proposed research, the significance or impact to the field, and brief descriptions of the approach to be taken and the capabilities of the research team, following this outline:

  • Project Purpose – What are the objectives of the proposed study?
  • Problem/Background – Why does this topic need to be studied? What gaps or clarifications in the field need to be addressed?
  • Significance – Why is this study important to the field? What impact will the outcomes have on people, processes, and so on?
  • Aims – What hypotheses will be tested to address the problem?
  • Design/Analysis – What approach will be used to test the hypotheses and why?
  • Team – What roles will key participants play and what experience do they have?

Braveman also emphasized good writing as key to success. As William Raub, Past Deputy Director of the NIH, said, “No amount of grantsmanship will turn a bad idea into a fundable one . . . but there are many outstanding ideas that are camouflaged by poor grantsmanship.”

In terms of grantsmanship and writing protocol, Braveman emphasized language, style, and organization in grant writing. “You aren’t writing a poem,” Braveman reminds us. The language and style must match the reviewers’ expectations. Additionally, organization is key. Points should be linear and logical so that the reviewer knows where the writer is going with the proposal and can follow the logic of the argument. Braveman also warned against including extraneous material. “Address only the criteria that reviewers will use to assess your application,” he said. On the other hand, Braveman warns, “If you don’t write it, it doesn’t exist for the reviewer.” In other words, no reviewer can read your mind.

Braveman concluded with these final thoughts on successful grant writing:

  • Peer review is a judgment, not a tutorial. You should not submit a working draft as a final proposal.
  • Always put your best foot forward.
  • Don’t fall in love with your drafts because drafts are meant to be replaced with something better.
  • Rely on colleagues to provide peer review prior to submitting your proposal
  • In the words of William Zinsser in On Writing Well, “Good writing . . . keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next.”

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Stair step photo by Jared Tarbell via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. “Success” photo by Gerd Altmann, via Pexels, public domain.

Bachelor Hall, on the Oxford, Ohio campus of Miami University.

Humanities Center-sponsored presentation focused on applying for NEA and NEH funding

National Endowment for the Arts logo

This past August, Miami University’s Humanities Center sponsored a presentation by Jon Parrish Peede, publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review, on applying for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Peede is a former director of literature grants, and two other programs for the NEA. Below, we share some of the highlights from his talk.

Peede began with an overview of the two agencies and what distinguishes them. The NEA, he said, is focused on the creation and distribution of art itself, while the NEH tends to focus more on the scholarship and preservation of arts and humanities.

Peede offered several grantsmanship tips of general benefit to those applying for most programs, not just the NEA and NEH. These include:

  • Reviewing eligibility criteria carefully and applying only if the applicant meets them.
  • Reviewing project guidelines carefully and complying with them in the application.
  • Contacting a program officer to discuss project ideas and agency fit before submitting an application.
  • Understanding key terms used by the agency and stressing them in the application.
  • Avoiding unnecessary jargon in the project narrative.
  • Being specific and realistic in the project narrative.
  • Making sure the narrative and budget are tightly articulated, so that every activity mentioned in the narrative corresponds to a line in the budget and every line in the budget corresponds to a specific activity mentioned in the narrative.
  • Requesting only what you need in the budget, resisting any urge to “pad” it.
  • Requesting panel review comments from any previous submissions to an agency and reviewing them before applying again.

In addition, Peede offered tips specific to NEA and NEH applications:

  • Propose projects that go narrow but deep or shallow but wide (and especially avoid narrow and shallow). Peede said the NEA prefers to fund projects that are either nationally distinctive or locally valuable.
  • Important terms to stress in the narrative include innovation, community engagement, underserved populations, social media outreach, inter-generational activities, lasting impact, evaluation metrics, multi-genre, multi-media, transmedia, transformative. Peede also said it’s important to use these terms properly. For example, the NEA does not consider mailing out postcards or putting an event on a campus calendar to be “community engagement.”
  • It is important to demonstrate — not just voice — a commitment to community and diversity/inclusion.
  • Make sure the most compelling project activities align with the grant period.
  • Since agency funding is unlikely to cover all actual expenses, ask for support for the most engaging project components. For example, Peede says, include artist fees in your budget, but not photocopying expenses.
  • If support is being requested for an event, remember to include marketing for that event in the budget.
  • Work samples submitted with an application should be consumable within 30-90 seconds.
  • If applying for a literature fellowship, send your best work, regardless of genre/style. Peede said well-roundedness in genre/style is not privileged in review of these applications.
  • Projects supported by translation fellowships must be literary.
  • It’s important to recognize that the NEA experiences ideological cycles. That may mean specific work is a better fit during certain time periods or under certain administrators.
  • Because the default is to assume that scholars of certain works should be fluent in the languages those works were originally written in, translation projects must demonstrate a need for an English language version.
  • Having a book contract in hand at the time of application demonstrates the applicant’s capacity to execute the grant, but the specific press holding the contract is not important, unless it is highly regarded in the subject area.
  • Fellowship narratives should follow this outline:
    • The Research and Contribution section should describe the intellectual significance of the project, including the value to scholars, general audiences, or both.
    • The Methods and Work Plan section should describe methods and clarify the part or stage of the project being supported by the fellowship.
    • The Competencies, Skills, and Access section should explain the applicant’s competence in the area the project focuses on.
    • The Final Product and Dissemination section should describe the intended audience and the intended results.

Finally, of particular interest to Miami faculty, Peede said there is good alignment between liberal arts institutions like Miami and the NEA and NEH. Peede described these agencies as “egalitarian,” and noted that while Miami’s institutional environment might be perceived as a disadvantage in applications to other Federal agencies — like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF) — that’s not the case with the NEA and NEH.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Bachelor Hall by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

A student works with equipment in a chemistry lab.

Guest post: NIH review panelist offers funding mechanism overview

A student uses 3D printing equipment while her professor supervises.

The following guest post was written by Dr. Gary Lorigan. Dr. Lorigan is a professor in Miami University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Since 2010, he has served on 4 NSF and 18 NIH study panels. During that time he was a member of the Biochemistry and Biophysics of Membranes (BBM) NIH Study Section and served on several NIH and NSF instrumentation panels. Below, Lorigan shares an overview of NIH funding mechanisms and offers advice for Miami researchers based on his experience.

The NIH has a number of research-related mechanisms including the R01, R15, R21, and R03 grant mechanisms.


The R21 is the NIH’s Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award. It offers initial funding to support a new project for two years. The narratives for these projects are short (six pages) and no preliminary data is needed. Having said that, preliminary data is always nice to have. According to Dorothy Lewis, PhD, professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, “Reviewers are human beings, and they like to see some evidence that what you propose is going to work. The best evidence of that is usually preliminary data.” If you do show preliminary data in a R21 proposal, make certain that it is convincing.


Like the R21, the R03 or Small Grant Program is shorter in duration (up to 2 years at $50,000 per year) and is meant to support pilot feasibility studies in which new research methodology and technology are being developed. Like the R21, the R03 does not require preliminary data.

R01 and R15 (AREA)

The R01 and R15 NIH programs both support “regular” research projects, but the research expectations for R01 applications are higher than for R15 applications. More funds are typically awarded for R01 than R15 projects. Under the R15 program – also known as the Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) program – a project can receive up to $100,00 per year in direct costs with a total direct cost cap of $300,000 for three years. Under the R01 program a project can receive up to $500,000 per year in direct costs for up to five years. Proposed budgets over $500,000 must be approved in advance by a program officer.

In an R15 application, it is important that you demonstrate you currently work with or plan to work with undergraduate students. This is where Miami has a significant advantage when compared to other academic institutions, as we have demonstrated a very strong emphasis on undergraduate research and training. If you have published papers with undergraduate students, have been part of the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) program, or have supported undergraduate research in your lab, the reviewers will look favorably upon that, so you should clearly point it out in your R15 proposal.

Collaborative projects

Regardless of the NIH program you apply to, if you don’t have the expertise for a particular part of the proposed work, then it is imperative that you collaborate with researchers who do. For collaborative projects, make sure your collaborator provides a letter clearly stating his/her expertise and interest in the project. Likewise, if you need a special technique for a certain phase of the project, make sure you get a letter from an expert who will assist you with the work.

 Written by Gary Lorigan, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Miami University.

Chemistry lab photo by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services. 3D printing photo by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.


Labware on shelves.

Guest post: Federal agency review panelist offers advice for writing strong proposals

Cover of NSF document titled Perspectives on Broader Impacts.

The following guest post was written by Dr. Gary Lorigan. Dr. Lorigan is a professor in Miami University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Since 2010, he has served on 4 NSF and 18 NIH study panels. During that time he was a member of the Biochemistry and Biophysics of Membranes (BBM) NIH Study Section and served on several NIH and NSF instrumentation panels. Below, Lorigan shares some tips for writing NIH and NSF grant applications and offers encouragement for Miami researchers based on his experience.

The first step in writing any proposal is to carefully read over the program guidelines and the proposal review criteria. Grant applications will receive low scores for not following directions or for leaving out entire sections completely.

In addition, proposals need to be well written and easy to follow for the reviewers. When I have served on review panels, I have seen numerous proposals get triaged because they are poorly written.

The most important section of any NIH or NSF application is the Project Summary Statement. This section needs to clearly define the specific aims of the project and the significance and impact of the proposed work.

It is important to remember that the reviewers of your application will be reviewing on order of 12 or more proposals. Make sure your proposal stands out in a positive manner.

Some proposals are difficult to review because they are densely written and it is not clear what research or experiments will be conducted. Clearly outline your hypothesis and the specific aims and/or experiments that you will use to test it. Use words and phrases that highlight the importance of your project. Reviewers like seeing phrases like:

  • The research proposed in this application will move the field forward by . . .
  • This research will have an impact in this field through . . .
  • The proposed research is significant because . . .
  • This proposal is innovative because . . .
  • The following pertinent biological/chemical/ questions will be answered: . . .
  • This application is transformative because . . .

Don’t be afraid to use these key words in the Project Summary or at the end of the proposal.

Make sure that your proposal includes project outcomes, a timeline, and back up approaches in case something goes wrong.

Program proposals, center proposals, and instrumentation proposals, such as those for NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program, are a little different to write than a typical research proposal. With these proposals, you need to clearly justify the need for an instrument in your department and – when appropriate – in other departments at the university.

Make sure you explain the scientific impact the instrument will have on the researchers at Miami and the valuable training it will provide graduate and undergraduate students. For example, you might say something like, “This new instrument will provide students with access to a state-of-the-art instrument and help prepare them for graduate schools, professional schools, or the industry.”

In addition, it is important that you have a plan for maintaining the instrument with appropriate fees and a plan for how the students will be trained on the instrument. The reviewers want to make sure this instrument will be maintained for over a decade.

Both NIH and NSF place major importance on the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the research. While the science is still the most important part of the proposal, good scientific proposals can get placed in a low priority category for funding because of a poor broader impact statement. Having a strong broader impact statement is critical to having a successful proposal.

Specifically, your proposal should address impact and demonstrate to the reviewers how you will communicate the results of the research to wider communities outside academia. For instance, you might describe your plan to include students from traditionally underrepresented populations to promote diversity, or you might describe your plans for community outreach activities. Regardless the activity, it must demonstrate impact.

The NSF has published general examples of broader impact activities that may be of use in developing your proposal. Examples of specific activities proposed in funded NSF projects can be found beginning on page 7 of this document).

Two final pieces of advice:

  • Have another researcher read over the proposal and provide valuable feedback and constructive criticism. I am always willing to share examples of successful proposals, as well as to meet one-on-one with Miami researchers to review their applications and provide feedback designed to improve the chances of getting funded. You can reach me at
  • Consult your OARS representative, who will review your proposal prior to submission for completeness. Do it early enough and you could even qualify for professional development funds under the External Proposal Submission Incentive (EPSI) program.

 Written by Gary Lorigan, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Miami University.

Lab glassware photo by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.


Closeup of a keyboard. The following keys are visible: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, T, Y, U, I, H, J, K, N, M.

Proposal development workshop to be led by former NIH staffer

Index card with the following text handwritten: Imagining writing amazingly. I front-load important info so that people can decide if it's worth their time. I untangle thoughts and make them easy to follow. I make it easy for people to read at the level of detail they want. I save people time by drawing on multiple sources and my experiences, while letting them go back and explore the context. I share practical everyday things that people can apply. I don't fake authority. I am honest and approachable. Sometimes I'm mistaken, and that's okay. I resonate with people. I draw out what other people know so that we can share it with even more people. Everything is archived, searchable, and maybe even organized. A doodle illustrates each "I" statement.


Workshop: Beyond the Basics with Dr. Norm Braveman — May 2-3

Dr. Norman (Norm) Braveman, graduate of Miami University, former member of the senior NIH staff, and founder and President of Braveman BioMed Consultants, will be on campus Monday, May 2 and Tuesday, May 3 to share a “Beyond the Basics” workshop.

During his 30-year career at the NIH, Dr. Braveman made significant contributions to the extramural community. His career in the NIH extramural research program spanned peer review of investigator-initiated clinical trials with the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; extramural science program development with the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; and agency-wide science program planning and evaluation in the NIH Office of the Director.

In the workshop, Dr. Braveman will offer an approach to maximizing funding potential while incorporating grant writing into an academic career.

Miami University researchers may register for any or all of the following sessions being held on Monday, May 2 by clicking on the session title. Registrations will be accepted until noon on Friday, April 29. All sessions take place in 257 Garland Hall.

  • Grant Writing & Your Academic Career (8:30-10:00am) – Geared toward graduate students, post docs, and junior faculty, this 90-minute session will focus on integrating grant writing into an academic career of teaching, research, and scholarship.
  • Know Your Benefactor (10:30am-12:00pm) – Successful grant applications are not only well written; they are also targeted to an appropriate funding source and should be written with the goals and objectives of the funder in mind. The focus of this session is on how agencies decide future direction and funding priorities. While the focus will be on the NIH application, the information presented is relevant to many funding agencies. Intended for graduate students, post docs, faculty, and proposal-writing staff.
  • The NIH Review Process (1:30-2:30pm) – Dr. Braveman will elucidate the peer review process at the NIH, including how proposals are reviewed and scored, as well as what reviewers look for in assessing the scientific merit of a proposal. Participants will learn about the review process at the NIH and can ask specific questions of Dr. Braveman about his experience as a former NIH staffer. Intended for graduate students, post docs, faculty, and proposal-writing staff.
  • Maximizing Your Grant Success: A Strategic Approach to Grant Writing (3:00-5:00pm) – This session will focus on writing a reviewer-friendly application. It will include grant-writing basics and tips on the DOs and DON’Ts of grant writing. Intended for graduate students, post docs, faculty, and proposal-writing staff.

Those who will be attending all sessions being held Monday, May 2 may also register for lunch.

On Tuesday, May 3, Dr. Braveman will offer one-on-one meetings with interested Miami researchers. During their meeting, each researcher will have the opportunity to ask Dr. Braveman questions about NIH and other grant-related matters. Registrations will be accepted until noon on Friday, April 29. All meetings will take place in 257 Garland Hall. Those who are working on a current NIH proposal may submit a draft to Anne Schauer by 5:00pm on Friday, April 15 to receive feedback from Dr. Braveman during their meeting. To register, click on the desired time slot:

Keyboard image by Henry Schimke via Flickr. Writing amazingly image by by Sacha Chua via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Four dice sit on the green felt surface of a gaming table.

Seminar recap offers advice to increase odds for NIH funding

Roulette wheel.

On Wednesday, January 13, Urban Venture Group Ltd. (UVG) consultant Burr Zimmerman offered advice to Miami faculty, staff, and students about understanding the mission and culture of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to increase the odds of obtaining NIH funding. The seminar was sponsored by the Scripps Gerontology Center and OARS.

First and foremost, Zimmerman says, is to understand that the NIH is a social organization. Therefore, it is imperative that applicants be in communication with an NIH program officer well before submitting a grant application.

Applicants should begin by exploring NIH’s various institutes, centers, funding mechanisms, programs, and study sections prior to submission. Zimmerman suggested the NIH RePORTER for researching the types of projects recently funded by the NIH. After this step, Zimmerman suggested applicants:

  • Assemble a research team comprised of partners skilled to meet project objectives;
  • Generate a “Specific Aims” document that outlines the significance of the project, introduces the team of experts, states a hypothesis, includes project aims, and details the impact that the project will have on the field;
  • Contact an NIH program officer to share the “Specific Aims” document and to ask questions to ensure the aims fit with the program’s objectives;
  • Revise aims based on program officer feedback;
  • Write the body of the proposal

Zimmerman emphasized that as with any proposal,  NIH proposals should be written to the review criteria. The NIH review criteria include significance, investigator(s), innovation, approach, environment, and additional review criteria.

NIH Review Criterion Criterion addresses …
Significance Impact on the field of study; why the proposed work should be carried out
Investigator(s) Experience, qualifications and training of investigators to conduct proposed work
Innovation(s) Novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, instruments, and interventions
Approach Experimental design including alternative plans for potential pitfalls
Environment Adequate resources such as equipment and facilities to carry out proposed work
Additional criteria Protections for human subjects; inclusions of women, minorities, and children; appropriate use of vertebrate animals; and management of biohazards

Finally, Zimmerman outlined the NIH review process and talked about how to decipher and respond to reviewer feedback. “Receiving a priority score and reviewer feedback equals success,” said Zimmerman. With funding rates of 20% and lower, the odds of being funded the first time an application is submitted are low. Keeping in mind Zimmerman’s opening statement about communication being the key to NIH success, attendees were encouraged to read and respond to reviewer feedback by revising and resubmitting following the initial steps of convening a comprehensive project team, sharing revised aims with the program officer, and then re-writing the proposal.

Zimmerman ended by directing participants to the proposal-writing resources available on the NIH website as well as resources available through OARS.

Learn more about increasing your odds for NIH funding by attending one of NIH’s 2016 Regional Seminars:

  • May 11-13 in Baltimore, Maryland
  • October 26-28 in Chicago, Illinois

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Roulette wheel image by Zdenko Zivkovic via Flickr. Casino dice image by davidgsteadman via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.


Shows the growth pattern of the SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cell line.

New NIH guidance emphasizes rigor and reproducibility

A pair of hooded rats stands on a flat surface.

Recently the NIH published new guidance on rigor and reproducibility in the NIH application and review process.  This new guidance, which goes into effect for applications due January 25, 2016 and later, emphasizes rigor, reproducibility, and transparency in the NIH grant application process.  What does this mean for grant applicants?  Basically it means paying attention to details and making it clear to reviewers that you have done so.

The new guidance has little effect on the structure and content of the application. However, it does put the onus on the researcher to clearly communicate attention to rigor and reproducibility throughout the application.  Additionally, the guidance encourages a robust peer review and gives special consideration to the use of both males and females in biomedical research, as well as to authentication of key biological and chemical resources.

Outlined below are the areas most significantly affected by the new guidance:

Scientific premise of proposed research

While there has always been the expectation that researchers describe the strengths and weaknesses of prior research critical to the application, it is now expected that this description include attention to the rigor of the previous experimental designs as well as to consideration of appropriate biological variables (e.g., sex differences in subject pool) and authentication of key resources (e.g., cell lines, speciality chemicals).

Scientific rigor in experimental design

Not only should previous research be scrutinized for accuracy and precision, but the proposed research should also be robust and unbiased, including full transparency in detailing the experimental design.  As always, researchers in the field should be able to read and replicate the experimental design in order to extend the findings and advance the field.

Consideration of relevant biological variables in experimental design

Often overlooked in both animal and human subject study designs are biological differences between females and males.  Researchers must justify subject pool demographics and demonstrate understanding of potential sex-based differences in biological function, disease processes, and treatment responses. (Learn more about what it means to consider sex as a relevant biological variable in this post on the NIH blog, Extramural Nexus.)  In addition to sex-based differences, other crucial variables include age and weight, as well as current and previous health conditions.

Authentication of key biological and chemical resources

Key biological and chemical resources should be verified since resources can vary over time and between suppliers.  Researchers must demonstrate quality and quantity of resources, ensuring design replicability.

To learn more about enhancing rigor and reproducibility in the NIH grant application and review process, visit the NIH Office of Extramural Research.

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Hooded rat photo by Jason Snyder via Wikimedia Commons. SH-SY5Y cell line photo by Reid Offringa via Wikimedia Commons. Both used under Creative Commons license.