The “Specific Aims” is one of the most important and challenging portions of a National Institutes of Health grant application. Fortunately, a new session at ENDO 2017 will provide personal feedback and will grant writers with senior reviewers for one-on-one input.
A new offering at ENDO 2017 promises to be a highlight for many in-training and early career professionals in attendance. The Endocrine Society’s Trainee and Career Development Core Committee (TCDCC) will introduce an interactive experience that will provide feedback for researchers who are in the process of submitting National Institutes of Health (NIH) K Award and equivalent Early Career Development Award applications.
“When a grant is reviewed, it is usually reviewed by three people in detail, but the rest of the study section also reviews the grant and often times while they may just skim the rest of the grant, they will usually read the Specific Aims page in detail.”
Career development awards provide support for senior postdoctoral fellows, clinical fellows, and early career faculty-level candidates. They are designed to promote these individuals based on their past training and career stage. The Specific Aims page is the introduction of NIH’s grant application.
The new ENDO 2017 “Specific Aims Critique Activity” will be a one-on-one review session that gives conference attendees personal attention on the Specific Aims page of their NIH grant proposals — arguably one of the most important and challenging portions of the award application.
Before asking reviewers to give their opinions about your Specific Aims page, you should first put your one-pager to the test. Assess your objectives by asking yourself:
- Would my reviewers see my proposed project as tackling an important problem in a significant field?
- Would they view my Specific Aims as capable of opening up new discoveries in my field?
- Would my reviewers regard the work as new and unique?
- Would they view my Specific Aims as likely to exert a significant influence on the research field(s) involved?
- Are my Specific Aims written clearly and are they easy to understand?
When you are ready for outside opinions, consider also discussing your draft aims with colleagues who are not in your field. If they can understand your project and get excited about it, you have a better chance your reviewers will as well.
Source: NIH, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, “Draft Specific Aims.” www.niaid.nih.gov.
Lauren Fishbein, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, is co-chair of the TCDCC and says the idea for the new event evolved over time. For several years, the TCDCC held workshops at ENDO that provided overview information about the various sections of the K award grant.
“What we’ve found through member surveys is that people really wanted help specifically with grant writing, so last year we had a career development workshop focused on writing the Specific Aims page of a K Award and Early Career Development Award applications,” she explains.
The response to the workshop was extremely positive, so much so that attendees who could not attend the session gave feedback urging for more scheduling flexibility.
“So this year, instead of having one session that’s held at a specific time during the annual meeting, we are going to play matchmaker,” Fishbein adds. “ENDO attendees will be able to submit their Specific Aims page ahead of time and we will match them with hopefully two reviewers who are more senior members in the Society.”
Fishbein and her team will match the grant writer with a reviewer based on whether the grant is seeking support for basic research, clinical research, or translational research and will also match broadly based on the topic of the submission. Meetings will then be coordinated between the parties at their most convenient times so the reviewer can offer targeted input and critique.
Why is the Specific Aims Page so difficult?
The Specific Aims page is a one-page portion of an application’s Research Plan that describes concisely the goals of the proposed research. It constitutes the master plan of the researcher’s work. This page summarizes the expected outcome, including the impact that the results of the proposed research will exert on the research field involved, according to the NIH.
The Specific Aims page essentially should include everything about the application that is important and exciting — without the detail. It should state the specific objectives of the research proposed, including whether it intends to:
- Test a stated hypothesis;
- Create a novel design;
- Solve a specific problem;
- Challenge an existing paradigm or clinical practice;
- Address a critical barrier to progress in the field;
- Develop new technology; and
- The key is to be as brief and “specific” as possible.
“When a grant is reviewed, it is usually reviewed by three people in detail, but the rest of the study section also reviews the grant and often times while they may just skim the rest of the grant, they will usually read the Specific Aims page in detail,” Fishbein says. “It’s really that eye-catching introduction to your grant before you then go into more detail on all these aspects.”
Attendees wishing to participate in the event should indicate their interest when they register online for ENDO 2017. They will then be matched with the reviewers, asked to submit their pages ahead of time, and coordinate a time to meet the reviewer during ENDO at a time that is most convenient.
“We’re really excited to offer this feature to our early career researchers and look forward to this mentoring opportunity,” Fishbein adds.
—Fauntleroy is a freelance writer based in Carmel, IN and a regular contributor to Endocrine News.