RD: Drafting Sections of a Grant

Research and develop non-research portions of a center grant proposal

Background

The Research Development group (RD) in any organization is mainly tasked with helping scientists and scientific groups attain their research goals by attracting funding and increasing institutional competitiveness.

University-wide RD groups are focused on programs and funding efforts across the institution, while department-specific or school/college-level RD groups at a university will often engage in developing programs on a smaller scale. In addition to helping junior faculty find and obtain their first grant, as well as supporting funding efforts such as writing workshops, department-specific RD groups are also involved in helping faculty or research centers apply for large grants. The types of grants that are considered “large” varies from institution to institution, and may be defined by the potential award size (e.g., >$1M per year in direct costs) or the complexity of the proposal (e.g., the proposal requires multiple components like cores and research projects).

When RD participates in the development of a large grant, they will often provide strategic advice and hands-on support to writing and editing portions of the proposal. This job simulation focuses on the writing aspect of supporting proposal development.

The Large Grant Proposal Development Process

RD groups may become involved in development of a large grant proposal in several ways. In many cases, a PI who has already identified a funding opportunity reaches out to RD for support. Alternatively, an individual such as the Vice Chancellor of Research may contact RD and ask them to find and coordinate a research group that would be competitive for a particular  funding opportunity. If RD is called in to help early in the proposal development process, the process may look like this:

  1. Organize an onboarding meeting with the lead PI to discuss the current status of application and review the types of RD support that can be offered.
  2. Research RFA and funding agency priorities, prepare RFA summary, and potentially contact the funding agency for clarifications. 
  3. Develop a pre-submission timeline by consulting with the PI.
  4. Throughout the proposal building process, RD groups may provide additional support, such as:
    1. Strategic input – regarding members of the scientific team, institutional facilities to include in the proposal, and letters of support from university leaders to highlight institutional support.
    2. Technical writing/consulting – providing templates for proposal sections, developing subsections of the proposal (e.g. diversity, training, core facilities), and providing overall edits to improve cohesiveness, clarity, competitiveness of the grant. 
    3. Project management – developing a timeline with scientific milestones, organizing scientific meetings, and coordinating communication between the scientific team and administration to meet internal deadlines. 
  5. Work with the scientific team to finalize the proposal before submitting it to Grants Administration for institutional review and submission.

Your role:

You are an intern of Washington University in St. Louis’s School of Engineering and Applied Science Research Development and Administration group.

The exercise:

Lay the foundation for non-research portions of a center grant proposal. This job simulation focuses on step 4b – technical writing and consulting.

The Institute for Materials Science & Engineering (IMSE) has reached out to your group for assistance in preparing a center grant preliminary proposal for the following RFA:

https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16545/nsf16545.htm

IMSE has no external funding. Most projects and programs have been funded through internal funding. However, the center has decided to obtain additional funding to be able to offer a new interdisciplinary PhD program as well as seed grants to member faculty. The seed grants will help research teams obtain preliminary data needed to apply for their own externally funded research grants.

You are tasked with laying the groundwork to develop the the following sections of the grant preliminary proposal:

Project Summary. An overview of the center’s intellectual merit and broader impacts of proposed activities such as research, education/outreach, shared facilities, and collaborations. 1 page maximum.

Education, human resource development, and diversity strategic plan. A description of the center’s impact on education and the development of a competitive scientific workforce. Detail a few examples of educational, professional development and outreach activities to students, faculty, industrial collaborators, and the public. 3 pages maximum

Task 1: Summarize the center’s capabilities and shared core facilities

For the Project Summary (in 1 paragraph), summarize the center overall, including highlights of what makes the core facilities, instrumentation and equipment at the center or the university suited for the grant proposal.
Your goal is to convince reviewers that this center has the right facilities, location, and human resources to meet the proposal and RFA goals. Check recent publicity statements and core facility web pages to identify these parts. Refer to page 8 in this funded NSF proposal for an example of a Project Summary.

Task 2: Summarize the center’s scientific focus

Using the IMSE’s website, pick out the center’s areas of scientific focus and focus in the community at large. Write one short paragraph about the center’s focus areas for the grant – this will be the basis for describing the selection criteria for the seed grants. Remember this is essentially a pitch for the funding institution to convince them that this grant is worthwhile.

Your RD mentor/supervisor would review your summaries and discuss the content with the PI on the grant before including them in the grant proposal document.

Task 3: (Advanced) Identify the center’s broader impact talking points to write the section, Education, human resource development, and diversity strategic plan

Research existing programs and come up with new ideas for programs that could be incorporated into the 6 year goals for the center’s impact on the scientific community/industry/public. Think about plans for various audiences, including K-12 outreach, undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and the general public.

  • Research and create summaries for existing programs. For example, you might review the K-12 outreach activities sponsored the Washington University’s Institute for School Partnerships.
  • Consider these questions in writing your talking points:
    • How will seed funding benefit junior faculty members?
    • How could the center bring its research to the intended audience? To the general public?
    • How could the center further engage students in its research?
    • How could the center partner with industry or national laboratories?
    • What types of creative training activities could students and postdocs engage in?
    • How should the center engage with and recruit underrepresented minority researchers?
    • What would a mentorship plan look like for the center?
  • Think of communication or professional skills training programs that would be useful. Come up with a few ideas of new programs to discuss with PI on grant for those goals. Refer to the handout from the National Alliance for Broader Impacts for further information and questions to consider.

Your RD mentor/supervisor would review your talking points, then discuss the existing programs to be highlighted and ideas of new programs during a meeting with the PI to define what will be featured in the grant.

After you have generated 3 pages on a plan, summarize these activities in a paragraph to be included in the Project Summary.

The Deliverable

Grant proposals must be written succinctly and clearly. Limit extraneous detail, but include enough information where needed to meet the goals of each section. Use the links in the general resources section to help guide you in terms of tone.

For Tasks 1 & 2, create single paragraph summaries for each section of the grant that will be included in the Project Summary. Remember: A Project Summary for NSF proposals are one page in length. Include the following:

  • Title of the section
  • Major selling point in the first sentence
  • Pictures, graphs, or diagrams to help “sell” your section as needed. No html links.

For Task 3, keep the Education, human resource development, and diversity strategic plan to 3 pages max.

This type of deliverable could be used as a basis for preparing the preliminary proposal as well as beginning to put together the full grant proposal, once the preliminary proposal has been approved.

Resources:

Skills used to perform this task:

  • Creativity
  • Technical writing
  • Ability to distinguish important points from complex information
  • Critical thinking

Skills used in the Research Development field:

  • Technical writing and editing 
  • Scientific knowledge (how to judge “good” research)
  • Project management
  • Verbal and written communication – especially with those in more senior positions
  • Organization and time management
  • Confidence asserting yourself as part of the team

Additional tasks in Research Development:

A professional in the field of Research Development may also perform these tasks:

  • Research an RFA or funding opportunity
  • Coordinate a proposal and developing a timeline
  • Edit a grant proposal
  • Identify and communicate funding opportunities
  • Manage and define intramural funding
  • Research team building
  • Research marketing
  • Liaise with funding institutions and sponsors
  • Communicate research and research opportunities internally and externally
  • Facilitate collaborations within and between institutions
  • Develop tools and spaces to foster collaborations ie. online, symposia, workshops

Learn more about Research Development and from the National Organization of Research Development Professionals – NORDP.

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Simulation author – Linet Mera, PhD
Simulation vetted by RD professionals in St. Louis