Owning your authentic scientific voice

Owning your authoritative scientific “voice” is critical for ensuring that reviewers see you as a knowledgeable, credible expert prepared to undertake the work proposed in the application. When providing background information and describing the findings of other investigators, many applicants use…

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Reviewer Fatigue

Reviewer Fatigue implies that an Editor’s Request to Review a manuscript is more likely to be ignored or declined today than it would have been 10-15 years ago. Although many Editorials address concerns about Reviewer Fatigue…

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Salami Slicing Science

When I was a graduate student, one particular research group caught my attention because they seemed to publish a manuscript at least monthly. It didn’t take long, however, for me to appreciate that all of their publications were very similar; it was only the Results Section that changed substantively from one publication to the next.

At a time when writing research manuscripts intimidated me, I realized how easy preparing new manuscripts…

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Guidance on authorship

At virtually every Biomedical Publication Seminar I present, attendees line up during breaks to seek my input on conflicts they are currently facing regarding authorship. Thus, if you find yourself struggling to decide who should or shouldn’t be included as an author of a manuscript, you’re not alone.

Vera-Badillo et al. (Eur J Cancer, 2016) recently investigated the issue of Honorary and Ghost Authors of manuscripts…

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Open Access and Predatory Publications

In a study published in 2013, John Bohannon provided alarming information about open-access scientific journals. The author submitted a manuscript representing a fabricated study, from a fabricated author, from a non-existent research institute to 304 open-access journals. The manuscript contained…

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Should I recommend a reviewer for my manuscript?

Many biomedical journals offer authors an opportunity to identify potential reviewers for their manuscript. Published evidence has consistently supported the conclusion that author-recommended reviewers respond more favorably to submitted manuscripts than editor-selected reviewers. In a recent…

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Data show vs data shows – which is correct?

Over the past year in these posts, we have frequently emphasized the critical importance of proper usage of the English language. This emphasis is predicated upon the fundamental concept that it is important to say what you mean and mean what you say, particularly in writing grant applications. We recently received a query…

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The MOST IMPORTANT reason grant applications fail

Approximately two months ago, we posted a commentary in which we listed thirty reasons why applications for grant support were likely to fail. That post attracted significant interest among our readers as well as several comments. One of the more frequent questions concerned the issue as to whether the list of thirty reasons was presented in order of relative importance…

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New NIH rules affect clinical research applications

We have earlier posted a number of blogs regarding extremely important recent changes at the NIH concerning the preparation of grant proposals to the NIH. In keeping with the renewed focus on reproducibly, the NIH last September enacted a change in policy affecting all applicants submitting grant applications describing proposed randomized clinical trials. This proposed policy change has…

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Tips on optimizing opportunities for success in science

It is a simple fact of life that, similar to every other profession, scientists uniformly aspire to be successful in their chosen profession. Of potential importance, therefore, a very important recently published study by Andrew Higginson and Marcus Munato in the well-respected journal, PLOS Biology, November 10, 2016, page 1371 provides a fascinating insight into one way to do this…

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MUST READING: Rigorous Science: a how-to guide

As readers of this blog know well, and indeed, as most informed grant applicants interested in NIH funding know, the NIH has recently (May, 2016) instituted a number of policy changes. Foremost among these are changes regarding the critical importance of the underlying Scientific Premise for any proposed research project, as well as the requirement that all proposals must adhere to principles of Scientific Rigor…

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Sex as a biological variable in funded research

As we have discussed previously in a number of blog posts, the NIH (and the CIHR-Canadian Institute for Health Research) have recently implemented strict new policies for the consideration of sex and/or gender in all studies involving vertebrate animals and human subjects. The genesis for such considerations…

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Hints: Writing Your Objectives

One of the fundamental points that is relevant to almost all grant proposals is the fact that the proposal is (or at least should be), designed to address a problem or need (that the target funding agency also recognizes as important). Thus, the primary (but certainly not only) purpose of the proposal should then be to explain to the funding agency (and/or the reviewers) what the applicant’s idea(s) would be as to how to address that need or fix the problem. To achieve these goals…

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What factors are really important in the valuation of NIH grant applications?

Approximately seven years ago in 2009, the NIH introduced a new series of criteria by which NIH grant applications could be “fairly” reviewed. At that time, five distinct review criteria, namely Significance, Applicant, Environment, Approach and a brand-new criterion, Innovation, were introduced. Reviewers of NIH grant applications were then required to comment on each of these five criteria …

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Part 2: The growing dilemma with the biological/biomedical publication enterprise

In a recent post, we discussed a recent publication by R.D. Vale (“Accelerating Scientific Publication in Biology”, P.N.A.S. 2015; 112, 13,439-13,446, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1511912112) concerning the increased challenges associated with publication of new biological/biomedical research findings. In this recent publication, Dr. Vale offers one approach to potentially addressing this important issue…

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Part 2: Dangerous words to avoid in grant applications

Probably among the most commonly used words in grant proposals is the verb/noun “(to) understand”. Applicants very frequently plan grant applications that have been designed to “understand” something, whether an explanation for a certain social phenomenon, a biochemical pathway, clarification of an as yet to be identified series of observations, or even a way to explain the underlying reasons for a given historical event. Thus, how common it is to read: “The objective in this proposal is to understand the underlying reasons for…”. Alternatively, there are those applicants who feel it important to be…

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Ask the Experts: Do I need collaborators/consultants for my grant proposal?

I have considered inclusion of two advisers to help interpret (data) and write up results, but mostly for a relatively limited time/effort. However, they are significant contributors to my field with substantive expertise in the topic. If listed as Other Significant Contributors–collaborators, do they need person months and/or a sub-award? How would you suggest that I categorize these individuals on my R21 NIH grant application? …

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Part 1: Dangerous words that should be avoided in grant proposals

Two words that should usually be avoided by applicants in preparing their grant applications are “IF” and “WHETHER”. These words represent distinct manifestations of the same concept, since “If” implies “It might or it might not”, and “Whether” always provides for the option “Whether or not”. The primary problem with their use is that they both provide opportunities for a negative outcome to occur. While it is certainly possible that either a positive or an alternative…

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Forthcoming significant changes in NIH applications: guidelines for applicants

As we warned NIH applicants in several earlier Facebook posts (March 13 and 18, 2016), on March 25, 2016, the NIH published its ‘improved’ version of the Instructions for writing and submitting a grant proposal. In this publication is included the complete set of instructions that incorporates all of the new changes for the preparation of grant proposals to the NIH. In spite of the fact that the NIH website refers to the Application Guide, the instructions are no longer…

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NIH to adopt MAJOR changes in grant applications in 2016 – Part 1

The NIH adopted MAJOR changes in grant applications beginning on January 25, 2016. These changes can be expected to have a profound impact on how applicants write their proposals (and how reviewers will review these proposals in the future). These changes have been prompted by the conclusion of NIH administrators that NIH-supported, and peer-reviewed, published research findings have been found frequently not to be reproducible. These collective concerns of NIH have been recently summarized…

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Update on the NIH 5-year Strategic Plan

An update to the NIH 5 year Strategic Plan based upon the goals of the various NIH Institutes and Centers has recently been posted on the NIH website. We would strongly recommend that all NIH proposal applicants familiarize themselves with the key components of this newly-published 5 year Strategic Plan since this will dictate the various priorities…

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How good is NIH peer review of grant proposals?

The NIH peer review system is often severely criticized by unsuccessful applicants (see e.g., A.D. Hollenbach, ASBMB Today, April 13, 2015) as being unfair to many productive investigators. We suspect that this would be the conclusion of many NIH grant applicants who have received a review of their proposal. Although there is little published evidence to support this concept, we would hypothesize that overall impact scores (or a lack of a score) correlate closely with levels of criticism of the peer review process.

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Would you like to hone your proposal writing skills?

Experienced applicants, reviewers and funding agency officials generally agree that of the best ways to become a better proposal writer is to serve as a reviewer of proposals and most federal funding agencies provide opportunities to do this. The underlying reasons for being proactive in seeking out such opportunities are multiple. First, you will have the opportunity to observe the review process “up close and personal” which is likely to radically…

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