2016 Republican candidates on higher education and top grant funders

As the first Republican presidential primary debate looms, I have decided to take a break from our regularly-scheduled programming and take a look at what some of these candidates are interested in doing as regards higher education. Of course, specific policies have not really been hashed out this early in the game, but there are still some interesting tidbits of information to chew on for those concerned with how the future Republican candidate might view the US’ university system.

635718223146293175-AP-Republicans-DebateI have also included some candidate’s opinions on grant-funding institutions, such as Department of Ed and NSF, and how they view climate change, which might affect funds from the EPA. The odds are pretty good that you will not hear higher education as a main focus of the debate, but here’s hoping! At any rate, the below may give you some idea on where candidates stand.

If agree or disagree with any of these points, leave a comment below! Tell me what issues in higher education you are hoping the candidates address, either tonight or some time down the road.

In no particular order. Click on the link to see the source. Enjoy!

Jeb_Bush_by_Gage_Skidmore_2Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida

Ted Cruz, Texas Senator

Rand Paul, Kentucky Senator

Marco Rubio SmileMarco Rubio, Florida Senator

Scott_Walker_by_Gage_SkidmoreScott Walker, Wisconsin Governor

Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor

Ben Carson attends the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon HillBen Carson, retired neurosurgeon

Mike_Huckabee_speaking_at_HealthierUS_Summit-uncroppedMike Huckabee:

GOP Convention 2012John Kasich, Ohio Governor

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5 ways to take your proposals from “good” to “funded”

If you have been a PI in academia for any substantial length of time, you know this sad truth: Great proposals – even awesome proposals – do not always get funded.

7222825892_e39ff654ff_zAs federal budgets in the United States continue to shrink (and shrink and shrink), even top-rated projects are often rejected. These days, it is not good enough to have a fantastic idea and solid science. Your proposal has to be awesome extra-awesome. Keep in mind that the extra-awesomeness I am about to describe has nothing to do with project content. While it may seem unfair, if a great project is not expressed well, it will probably not receive support. There is simply not enough money, and reviewers are looking for reasons to discount proposals, so they can reach decisions quickly with the limited resources they have available.

[For more on proposals, check out: “The Hidden Costs of Proposals: And How to Save on Them”]

Think your project proposal could use polishing? Then read on!

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  1. Say what you want – as soon as possible. This one is not intuitive to me for some reason. Some people, including myself, struggle with saying precisely what they want from someone, as though they are afraid of sounding rude or demanding. But in Grant Land, it is actually preferable to go ahead and be assertive in your communication. As soon as possible in your project narrative, say what you are asking for. For instance, “We are requesting $10,000 to pay for salary support and fringes, so that we can reach such-and-such objective.” Then bold that statement. And underline it. And put it right up front. If reviewers do not see that sentence on the first page (preferably, the first paragraph), they might not know what exactly you want from them. And you do not want to make reviewers hunt for this information (often, they are reading another hundred of these narratives and have no time to coyly wheedle information out of your proposal).

    State your request clealry - reviewers have too many proposals to read to feel excited about digging through your narrative to find out what you are asking for.
    State your request and objectives clearly – reviewers have too many proposals to read to feel excited about digging through your narrative to find out what you are asking for.
  2. Be clear about your objectives. Reviewers want to see what you are trying to do with your requested funding. Sure, you can describe all you want in 12 pages. But before launching into your lengthy description of all the incredible things you want to achieve, make sure a reviewer can quickly determine how you will meet your overall goal. Such an approach will also aid the reviewer in making their overall assessment on whether or not you can meet your goal, and they will undoubtedly give you better feedback, regardless of whether or not you are funded. (Hint: Bullet points are your friends here)
  3. Be clear about how you will meet your objectives. Break down your objectives into activities, and briefly describe how each connects to the overall objectives (and by extension, the overall goal of the project) Timelines are often an ideal way to go, but in most cases, bullet points will also do just fine. Even if the sponsor requests a timeline attached to the appendix, try to work these into your narrative. This is your opportunity to show the sponsor that you have thought this out and can realistically complete the project in a matter of time. If you scatter this information all throughout the proposal, the reviewer may not see how it all works together.
  4. Include a tangible method of self-assessment. “We will get feedback from participants” is not tangible. That is too vague. Instead, come up with a concrete, multi-faceted plan for determining whether your not your project is achieving success. Again, bullet points are great here, and if space allows, a sample list of participant questions and/or project benchmarks that connect to your overall objectives. Keep in mind that surveys and other forms of participant engagement may require you to get IRB approval (work that into your timeline! see above).
  5. Clearly articulate where the project is now, and where you want it to go. Sponsors like to see that some work has progressed on the project, even if you need additional funds to continue. Need money research? Show that you already familiar with the field. Want to start up a community program? Show that you have already completed foundational work on the project. Then, clearly articulate how the funding is going to build up the project and move things along. Show the sponsor, in the first page of the narrative if possible, how they fit into the larger picture.

Proposal budget matter, too! Check out: The Five Biggest Mistakes PIs Make on Their Proposal Budgets

Got you own ideas/experiences for successful proposals? Leave a comment, let me know what has worked for you!

5 grant proposal tips you can take from “Shark Week”

Hooray for Shark Week!

What is Shark Week? Well, if you have been living under a rock, let me tell you: Shark Week is an awesome week-long event that takes place on the Discovery Channel. It has been going strong since 1988, amidst some controversies over “fake” documentaries, bad science, and shark fear-mongering. As one ecologist has said: “I don’t necessarily think that it’s their [The Discovery Channel’s] job to inform people about sharks in a scientific matter.”

So maybe Shark Week won’t actually teach you a lot about sharks. But can it teach us something about…grant proposals?

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Okay, okay you got me – this post is a little ridiculous! I just really like Shark Week! But I will take this opportunity to point out some proposals tips to keep in mind as you continue your quest for research excellence – and these tips may include some loose connections to Shark Week-related topics. 😀

An-encounter-with-a-Great-0011. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. In other words – don’t propose something that you cannot actually implement. After submitting a proposal, I have literally heard PIs and grant administrators collapse in weariness and say the words: “Wow, I really hope that doesn’t get funded.” Yikes! Can’t provide the cost-share? Don’t submit the proposal! Can’t pull together the personnel? Don’t submit the proposal! Already working 80 hours per week, your sanity hanging by a thread? Take a lesson from this shark and go find some smaller grants. There are plenty of fish in the sea! (FYI, that will be the last shark-related pun. Probably.)

2013-08-06-shark-thumb2. Stand out from the crowd. With the impacts of government cutbacks being felt across agencies, it is more important than ever to be different from the hundreds of other proposals being submitted to federal agencies, state governments, and private foundations. How can you pump up your proposal? Work across disciplines. Insert a plan to disseminate research results to the community. Get in touch with your program officer ahead of time and make sure your project is a good fit. And be sure to write a well-written, error-free proposal. Make yourself a shark among the minnows!

279522-shark-week3. Be aware of your surroundings. Who has been securing funding from the agency you are proposing to? What do their proposals look like? Where is your field moving in terms of research trends? Do your homework before submitting a proposal – read successful narratives and study funded projects. Oftentimes, agencies will provided funded proposals, which usually are part of the public domain. You could also contact funded institutions directly and see if they are willing to discuss their success. When you submit the proposal, show how much you know about the field by providing detailed, complete references in your narrative (NSF infamously will return proposals that use “et al”, and this is also a no-no for NIFA).

fcevjnezhc9gvv78ppsl4. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! Apparently, sharks like to hunt together in packs from time-to-time (although I heard that on “Shark Week” so who knows if that’s true). And researchers should also play with others! One impact of less government funding is a new appreciation from reviewers for cross-discipline collaborations. Some agencies even provide special grants for those who are collaborating across departments, institutions, and borders (here is an example from NEH). Yes, collaborating can be like herding cats (or sharks), but it substantially increases chances of funding – and enhances your project in the process!

George Mombiot blog on sharks : German submarine and shark5. Never, EVER fabricate information in your proposal. Most academics never set out intending to engage in research misconduct – but it happens, so be careful! Usually, funders want to know what progress has been made on the project thus far, which is sometimes…nada. After all, you don’t have funding yet, right? That’s why you’re asking! Some PIs feel panicked at such requests for information, and exaggerate efforts thus far. Avoid inflating the work that has taken place – it will come back to hurt you if the proposal is funded and you are expected to have reached a certain point.

What do you think? Any more proposal tips or shark puns? Please share below!

5 Sections You Should Highlight When Reading Your Grant Agreement

For the new PI, award agreements can be daunting. They come in all sizes and formats – I have read through award agreements as short as a paragraph and as long as thirty pages. They come as forms, letters, and even emails with attachments such as “Standard Terms and Conditions,” Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), and applicable pieces of federal legislation. Some are written in jargon and legalese, while others use informal language. Yikes!

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In essence, an award agreement should stipulate what the PI is responsible for and what the funding agency is responsible for. It is meant to specify what terms and conditions the PI will be operating under, what you owe to the sponsor in terms of deliverables, reports, etc., and how the financial side of things will work.

If your university has a research administration apparatus, they will most likely deal with scary things such as indemnification, confidentiality, governing law, etc. (although it’s never bad to read over these terms!). It is important that you allow your research administration office to sign the agreement (NEVER sign an agreement with a sponsor on behalf of the university!) but this important document should be passed along to you at some point for your review and approval. What are the most important things for you, the PI, to highlight and consider?

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  • Reporting requirements. I will probably dedicate an entire blog post to reporting requirements in the future. In essence, this is where the sponsor identifies when they want technical/progress reports from you. Some will be very specific about what forms you should use, or what information to include. Other sponsors will be more general and leave things up to you. After reviewing these terms, ask yourself these questions: Is the amount of reports unduly burdensome? Usually, sponsors want quarterly, biannual, or annual reports. If the sponsor is asking for a weekly 10-page report, that may be too much for you to accomplish, given the amount of effort you are planning to put on the project. Is the final report due long enough after the project end for me to prepare a report? 90 days is typical, but I have seen sponsors ask for the final report on the day of the project end. Make sure that is feasible for you! Do I understand how to submit the report? If not, talk to your friendly sponsored research administrator! Some sponsors have a website you submit through – others want reports to be mailed or emailed.
  • Intellectual property. Typically, your research administrator will negotiate intellectual property and copyright issues with the sponsor. Do make sure, however, that you read and understand these terms. In particular, ask yourself: At the end of the project, who owns any inventions or discoveries? Usually, these will be owned by the PI, or be owned jointly – but not always, especially if you are working with a for-profit business. At the end of the project, what are the publication restrictions?  Some agencies want you to send all publications to them 30-90 in advance of them becoming published. At end end of the project, how can the sponsor use my work? Usually, federal and other major sponsors will want to use your work for internal reporting and informational purposes.
  • The budget and scope of work. After that headache of a proposal, you might think you know your budget and SOW backwards and forwards. But in these days of slashed budgets, your funding amount may have been truncated significantly. Regardless of not the sponsor wants you to submit a new budget, you should re-budget for your own purposes if your funding has been cut. If your funding has been reduced, make sure you can still complete your scope of work! If not, let the sponsor know immediately so you can submit a revised scope of work. Even if your numbers have remained intact, double-check the award budget and SOW and make sure you still want to keep everything the way it is. Circumstances may have changed since you submitted your proposal, and now is a better time to revise than later.

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  • Budget restrictions. Yes, the sponsor approved your budget, but prepare for the fact that you need to make purchases that were not in your original budget. Make sure you know up front about unallowable purchases, re-budgeting authority, and written permissions. For example, some federal agencies require you to ask them before adding equipment to your budget. Others want you to change no more than 10% of one of your budget lines without written approval. Agencies such as the NIH want you to report the effort of personnel working on the project. If you promised cost share, double-check that you can still do what you put down in the proposal.
  • Provisions for no-cost extensions. Even with the best of intentions, projects often get delayed. You may find yourself three months away from the project end with a chunk of your budget – and work – still left to go. It’s great to know up front what your options will be. Federal agencies such as the NIH and NSF often allow one no-cost extension without written approval, but other agencies are not so lenient. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst by knowing what your options will be.

Of course, you will want to read through the award agreement in its entirety, and ask whenever you have questions. But these are five areas that I would read with my green highlighter pen ready! If you are concerned about any of the terms, let your research administrator know right away. By reading and understanding these terms, you will be prepared for success during the life of your project!