Monthly Archives: June 2013

Letters of Intent

In the grant proposal world, Letters of Intent (LOI) are sent to sponsors as a formal indication that you are preparing a response to their solicitation. An LOI stage serves at least one function: identification of an appropriate quantity and quality of reviewer. The vast majority of LOIs are non-binding and simply provide enough high level information to indicate the type of project you’ll be proposing. Sometimes, albeit rarely, LOIs are binding and/or competitive. In other words, you will be required to submit an application that reflects the content, usually the individual and organizational leadership described. In the case of a competitive LOI, the letter serves as a decision gate for the sponsor to accept an application.

I always recommend that you complete LOI information with a competitive eye. That is, treat it as an opportunity to pitch your project in the best light possible. It might take a bit longer for you to complete, but there are benefits. Namely, drafting a competitive LOI will cause you to begin critically thinking through the selling points of the project, aid in identifying the weaknesses, help gel the project structure and strategic partnerships, and create a launching point for elaboration in the full application.

Importantly, an LOI is not an executive summary, a project summary, or an abstract. It is brief, succinct, and provides the bare minimum of information. However, it does not have to be devoid of nuance. It is an opportunity to construct a document that captures the essence of your project. Text that is used sparingly, must also be used wisely.

Pushing the content of an LOI to make it as persuasive and competitive as possible is just one way to add a professional edge to your application.

What would it look like if you wrote your LOI as if it were binding and competitively evaluated?

National Institutes of Health Day at ASU

ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development hosted a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Day on May 1, 2013. The goal of the day was to improve application quality and quantity through faculty panel discussions and targeted instruction. Two broad areas were covered: engaging with the NIH and writing an application to the NIH.

To watch the video of the lively panel discussions, click here.

In order to best serve the skill level and interests of all potential participants, a Master Class was held in the morning and a General Workshop was held during the remainder of the day. Principal investigators were invited to the Master Class if they had a mature NIH portfolio, including one or more R01 awards. The General Workshop was open to graduate students, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty members. This workshop was designed to assist individuals with their first R01 application, exploration of the NIH mechanisms, and initial contact with the NIH.

The event was extremely successful. Over 200 people attended (93 were faculty members). Over 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that:
• The content was well presented,
• They would attend a similar event, and
• They would implement something from the event.

Both workshops were conducted by an external facilitator (Dr. Meg Bouvier).

This day was made possible through OKED’s ongoing support of programming and the efforts of an organizing committee with representatives from the Department of Psychology, the Fulton Schools of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Health Solutions, and the School of Life Sciences.

NIH Peer Review

If you apply to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you need to follow Dr. Sally Rockey’s blog.

Last week, she brought up the continuing improvement of Peer Review. It rehashes the previous two years of work, but the topic is always timely. Of interest, is the in-depth analysis provided by the first comment.

Funding Success Skills Series (fs3): Finishing Early

Why do I need to finish early? The importance of internal reviews (click here for the video), an event within the funding success skills series (fs3), was held May 16, 2013. The lively discussion delved immediately into structured reviews for larger proposals, with an emphasis on National Institutes of Health. However, by the end, common themes for all proposals were crystallized, including adding time into the writing process to accommodate reviews, strategically identifying reviewers, and constructively addressing reviewer comments.

The panel discussion featured three faculty members and one staff member with extensive experience in preparing grant applications – and a successful funding track record. The discussion provided an introduction to types of reviews across scale: colleagues reading drafts to an orchestrated color team review.

Rolf Halden, Director of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute, started the conversation with a description of his experience preparing a large application to NIEHS. He emphasized that reviews can and should include experts, but also non-experts. In addition, while written feedback is useful, oral feedback is sometimes more useful.

Diana Petitti recently retired from ASU, but was formerly involved with the Center for Health Information and Research (CHIR). She was a reviewer and then participant in Dr. Halden’s proposal to NIEHS and is now an active reviewer for several agencies. Her top two errors that can be fixed with adequate internal reviews were 1) tailored personal statements on biosketches (specifically for NIH requirements) and 2) clarifying analyses sections.

Kevin Reinhart, Director of the Project Management Office, has been involved in several small to large proposals, and been involved in several structured color team reviews. To get the most out of reviews, he recommended that principal investigators ask clarifying questions, listen attentively, and refrain from being defensive during reviews.

Joshua LaBaer, Director of the Biodesign Institute’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, runs an extremely successful and large laboratory. He distilled what reviewers should comment on: 1) Have you convinced the reader that this project is really important – enough to secure funds for? and 2) Have you convinced the reader that you have the capabilities and time to get it done on time and well?

A previous post describes the inaugural and second fs3 event on Transitioning to large and/or strategic proposals.

fs3 is a set of monthly lunchtime discussions on topics that address the full spectrum of activities necessary for preparing successful proposals. The series aims to contribute substantially to creating a culture that results in winning proposals. For more information, contact RSG: researchstrategy (@)

What topic of discussion would help you to improve your applications?