Take a look at this quarter’s early career question and our mentors’ responses! If you have a question you would like to submit for the Ask the Mentor column, or if you would like to serve as a mentor for the column, please email Brooks Wingo.

Ask the Mentor Question for February

"I get overwhelmed when trying to find grant opportunities that are appropriate for my career stage and topic of interest. Sometimes it’s difficult interpreting the details of the grant announcement and trying to figure out if my idea or topic is appropriate.  Are there any good tips for making this easier or how to handle this?" —Submitted by ACRM early career member

ACRM Mentor Response from Dr. Cate Miller

A. Cate MillerYes, it can sometimes be daunting to find grant opportunities that target your career stage and areas of research interest. One of the best ways to learn about the fit between you and a grant opportunity is to contact the program officer who is charged with oversight of a grant priority that may be of interest to you.

Each grant announcement is coupled with the name and contact information of someone from the funding agency.  This person (or the person to whom he/she directs you) can not only discuss the grant opportunity, but may also be able to suggest other grant programs of relevance to your interests and career stage. Some early career researchers may be reluctant to contact funding agency staff, perhaps unsure of what questions to ask.  Responding to inquiries from potential applicants is part of our job, and is usually a rewarding part of our days’ activities! So send an email or pick up the phone and reach out!

A. Cate Miller, PhD is a rehabilitation program specialist at the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)* Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an ACRM Member since 2010.

ACRM Mentor Response from Dr. Ralph Nitkin

Ralph NitkinResearch announcements are sometime hard to sift through because they often contain broader agency language and grant mechanism requirements along with the research specifics. Learn to zero in on the 'research objectives' section, which is often illustrated with specific exemplars. If necessary, you can also follow up by emailing your proposed aims to the Research/Program Contact, usually listed toward the end of the document.

Within the NIH, a Program Announcement (PA) highlights broader areas that a specific NIH Institute(s) is trying to promote. PAs are generally active for a couple of years but do not have specific funds set aside. A Request for Application (RFA) usually targets a more focused priority and comes with specific funds and a dedicated review panel, but with a single near-term submission date. It is possible that your university grants and contracts office may have resources to help you identify funding opportunities that are specifically in your research area.

Nonetheless, remember that for agencies like the NIH, the majority of research proposals are submitted not in response to specific PAs or RFAs but rather under the umbrella 'parent announcements' for R01, R03, R21, etc. It is up to you to develop a good research proposal and make your case in the peer-review system. However, there may be some additional requirements to contact the NIH Institute directly if you are proposing a clinical trial.

You may also want to explore the NIH RePORTER which is a searchable data base of all NIH funded grants. By entering appropriate research terms, you could see how proposals in your domain were funded and even how research objectives were framed. Feel free to contact program officers in the appropriate NIH Institutes or other relevant federal agencies to discuss funding opportunities, grant mechanisms, and research priorities.

Ralph Nitkin, PhD is deputy director of the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research and director of the Biological Sciences and Career Development Program
(Eunice Kennedy Shriver) of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an ACRM Member since 2001.