June 20, 2005

Until the first money-tree is engineeredÖ

scientists will still need to secure money from various funding agencies. But what do review panels look for in applicants and what constitutes a winning application? This was the subject of our January meeting with Dr. Christine Bear who chaired one of three CIHR New Investigator Awards. Dr. Bear shared with us some tips and advice when applying for this award.

The Award: This award is given out every year. Approximately 180 people apply from all over the country, and about 24 people receive the award. Investigators will receive about $60,000 - $70,000 as their salary, but this depends on the institution. You still have to apply for a CIHR operating grant. The deadline for this application is September 15. The review panel meets in February of the next year.

Criteria: The CV module is an important part of the application. The review panel wants to see evidence of institutional support in the form of letters that include the particulars of your start-up package. They want to know youíre on the tenure track and that your position at the institution is not contingent on your getting this award. They will require letters from referees. Interviews with candidates are not a part of the application process anymore. This award is intended for investigators in the first 5 years of their appointment. Investigators must also submit a CIHR operating grant application. You donít have to be nominated for this award, you just go ahead and apply.

CV Module: Applicants having 2 short postdoctoral positions (a couple of years each) is typical. Some have one extensive postdoc, and some have only one short postdoc. Itís advantageous if youíve gone from postdoc to postdoc learning various methods. Itís also advantageous if you hone in on one innovative method. Itís good to have publications in high impact journals (some reviewers even pull out the impact factor book). They wonít actually read your papers. You should list your % contribution to your papers (you can actually describe your role) but itís suspicious to say your contribution was 100%. The reviewers want to see that youíre not just part of the lab machinery.

References: Your referee should say that you conceived of your ideas and were the driving force behind your research. Saying that youíre technically good in the lab is very negative. They should know your work and say itís independent from their own. Conveying that youíre an independent thinker is the most important thing.

Before You Submit: Get senior investigators to look at your application. They have extensive grant application experience, may have sat on review panels themselves, and will be able to give you valuable feedback. Use their expertise. The Hospital for Sick Children has an internal review process to ensure its investigators are sending out quality applications. Give yourself at least 6 months to prepare the application.

The Review Process: There are 12 people on the review panel from all over Canada. External reviews come to this panel from the operating grant panel to help them assess each application (the panel that reviews the operating grant application reviews the scientific content more than the panel reviewing the salary application). Each New Investigator Award application is assessed by 2 internal reviewers and a score is given from 1 to 5 (you need to get more than 4.1 to get funding). Other reviewers can give +/- 0.5 to each score. Panel members from the same institutions as the applicants must leave the room during review of these applications due to conflict of interest.

Follow-up: Investigators must submit a progress report after 3 years. The committee will then decide whether or not to give out the rest of the money. This is a formality and it never happened that someone didnít get the rest of the award.

Re-application: The panel members change every year, so if you didnít receive the award one year you should definitely apply the next year. You can address the reviewersí comments in the next application.

Posted by Susan at June 20, 2005 10:39 PM
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