June 2015 – by Dr. Muhammad Mamdani, PharmD, MA, MPH
Virtually all clinical researchers share the agony and frustration of the grant funding process. While there aren’t any guaranteed solutions to winning that elusive grant, there are some key points that should be considered by clinical researchers when applying for grant funding:
- The Study Idea: Perhaps the single most important part of the grant proposal is having a sound, clinically relevant, and unique study idea that can be translated into a feasible study expected to have substantial impact on patient outcomes or healthcare system efficiency. Not all ideas are ‘good’ ideas. Bouncing your idea off senior clinical researchers and thought leaders prior to writing the grant is critical.
- Funding Source: Not all grant proposals should go to larger funding competitions. While large, publically funded research competitions may be highly prestigious and attractive, some ideas are better suited for smaller competitions and, if applicable, support from the private sector. Further, some study questions may simply align better with specific, themed competitions. Look for these ‘special’ funding opportunities that align with your study idea.
- Study Background and Rationale: The background section of grant proposals is often far too long. The purpose of this section is to summarize the issue at hand, both the clinical or policy relevance and the magnitude of the problem, describe the potential solutions, identify the findings and challenges of previously published research, justify the need for the proposed study, and state a clear study objective. This should be done succinctly to allow for a sound description of the study methodology and potential impact of the study findings.
- Study Design and Feasibility: There are numerous study designs to choose from and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Typical grant review panels are composed of highly experienced researchers, so it is worthwhile to seek the guidance of highly respected research methodologists and statisticians when designing your study. However, some studies may not be feasible if they lack the data needed to inform a sound study design, or are simply too large and expensive to be done properly. If the field is truly novel and lacking data or if a study is highly complex, pilot and feasibility studies may be required prior to a full study submission. At this stage, it is critical to work with clinical research operations experts to properly plan and budget your study.
- The Study Team: Ideally, the study should be led by highly experienced leaders in the proposed field of research as well as skilled methodologists. This can be particularly problematic for junior researchers, and in this case a co-PI role that couples a junior researcher with a more senior researcher is often a good strategy. Further, the inclusion of methodologists (e.g. a trials methodologist, qualitative researcher, health economist, and/or knowledge translation methodologist) and statisticians can add considerable credibility to the team and provide confidence to the review panel of the study team’s ability to design scientifically sound research and execute efficiently. Further, geographic spread may be an important consideration for some competitions and having researcher collaborations nationally and internationally as part of the proposal may be quite helpful.
- Knowledge Translation Strategy: Increasingly, bodies that fund clinical research want to know how the findings will be interpreted and disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders to maximize use and impact. A sound knowledge translation plan is beneficial to most grant applications.
While there are many considerations to writing a successful grant, the above ‘tips’ are meant to help shape grant submissions. The HUB serves as a single point of contact for a variety of methodological and operational support. We’re here to help you win the grant game! Happy grant writing and good luck!