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Crafting Your Research Proposal

Step 1: The Idea

Step 2: Choosing an Institute and Center (IC) and Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)

  • Does your idea fit with IC-specific priorities?
  • What’s the best FOA for you?
    • Scientific focus and scope of FOA
    • Career stage
    • What ICs are signed on?

Step 3: Developing Specific Aims

  • Must contain everything important and exciting about your project and be clear and concise
    • Set up the problem and/or need and/or gap
    • Describe a possible solution—may include “long-term goal” and “immediate objective”
    • Provide a snapshot of your research strategy
    • Develop theory and/or hypothesis-driven specific aims (approximately 2 to 3)
    • Connect the potential impact of your research to IC-specific priorities
  • For Career Development Awards: briefly describe training and your long-term potential to impact the field;  
    where does this project lead?

Step 4: Developing the Research Proposal

  • Read the FOA carefully to ensure a complete application that addresses all review criteria!!
  • Significance = Set up the problem and/or need and/or gap and the potential of your study to be impactful (but be fair with previous literature—no cherry-picking); set up the theoretical perspective of the application
  • Innovation = How your proposed approach is novel
  • Approach = What you plan to do in as much detail as possible
    • Preliminary data and/or experience
    • Describe participants, study design, measures
    • Statistical analyses (connect to aims) 
    • Study timeline
    • Potential problems and alternative strategies (justify choices)
    • Potential impact (end on a high note)

Step 5: Develop Candidate Section (for Career Development [K] Awards)

  • Candidate background = Your background and commitment to a research career
  • Career goals = Logical progression to independence, but highlight need for additional training
  • Career development plan = Specific training plan with timeline, courses and/or workshops, mentor meetings, etc.

Step 5: Refine Aims and Proposal!

  • Review and get advice from mentors, colleagues, external reviewers, friends, family, etc.
  • Plan time for many revisions

Step 6: Dealing With Revisions If Not Funded

  • Talk over the summary statement with a program officer, mentors, and colleagues to identify major vs. minor critiques
  • Identify major themes of critiques to address in one-page response
  • Restart the proposal development process with critiques in mind!

Talking With Program Officers

  • Contact us early! 
    • Provide the FOA you are considering
    • Send the draft concept or draft aims
    • Provide several times you are available for a call over the next 2 weeks
  • Contact us more than once!
    • You may want brief discussion on the overall fit of your topic with IC priorities, then a more in-depth discussion of developed aims later
    • You may want to contact more than one IC to 
      • Gauge enthusiasm
      • Ask for other potential program officers to contact if you get a “not interested”
  • Topics to discuss pre-application
    • Advice on which FOA to use—needed qualifications, fit with research focus
    • Advice on specific aims—align with purpose and/or scope of the FOA and programmatic priorities
    • Advice on the study section (if going to the Center for Scientific Review)
    • Characteristics of applications that score well for that FOA
  • Topics to discuss post-review (wait until the summary statement is released)
    • Feedback on summary statement
    • Score (in fundable range? Is resubmission appropriate?)
    • Response to the summary statement (is there an opportunity to submit a response to the summary statement to the program officer?)
    • Preparation for resubmission