GrantDoctor: Does My Proposal Fit? How Do I Resubmit?


I see many special programs where my research proposal comes close to fitting a grant's focus but may be a little off. Is it worth pursuing these opportunities? -- Marc

Dear Marc,

I suppose it depends on how desperate you are for funding! It's not clear from your question whether a) you have actually submitted proposals that have since been returned to you with reviewer's comments or b) you are in the throes of deciding if your proposal meets the specifications of an agency's request for applications.

If you have received reviewer's comments and are considering resubmitting, then it would be a good idea to fully address each of their points before sending it back for another review. Read the next question in this GrantDoctor column for further advice on how to resubmit applications.

If the science and ideas are well explained, you probably have a good chance in persuading an agency to consider reviewing your application. For example, it may be possible to win a grant from an agency that funds human muscle disease studies if you can show that your slime mold research can answer some relevant questions.

But first, call the agencies you are interested in submitting to and pass your ideas by a program officer who can advise you more specifically.

Happy grant hunting...

-- The GrantDoctor

I have applied for several fellowships and should be finding out my scores soon. If I have to resubmit I am not sure how to approach it. A discussion of approaches to resubmissions would be very helpful.-- Kurt, Burlington, Vermont.

Dear Kurt,

Roughly 40,000 candidates (or 70% of all applicants) who submit research grant applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are turned down every year--that's the population of Burlington, Vermont! Can you imagine that many Vermonters being refused permission to hike up Camel's Hump or Mount Mansfield? That's a lot of aggravated people! The chances are you are going to have to resubmit.

However, it sounds like you are ahead of the game--realizing an application may be declined before you get official word is a step toward preparing yourself for upcoming rewrites and possibly more experiments.

In some respects, resubmitting an application can be more structured than it was to apply the first time--now you have recommendations from the experts themselves! "In resubmitting, it is usually very prudent to follow the reviewers suggestions. If they are impossible, it is best not to say so directly of course, but to gently point out why they cannot be followed," advises Bob Godt, a professor at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta who also reviews for NIH.

In most cases you will need to resubmit a complete application--don't just mail off your revised research plan stapled to your previous forms. Call the funding agency and ask them the correct procedure. NIH for example requires applicants to return applications complete with fresh signatures, new reference letters (no, they don't keep them on file), and either a 1-page (for fellowships) or 3-page (for R01 applications) "introduction" highlighting how the reviewers' comments were addressed.

A hint from Suzanne Fisher, director for the Division of Receipt and Referral at NIH, is to "mark in the text where changes have been made--draw a line by the side of the page--that is extremely helpful."

Laboratory finances change over the course of a year so budget justifications may have to be redone if you've submitted a research grant. Your application will also probably have to be re-routed through your grants office just like a brand new application.

It is likely that your application will be reviewed by the same or similar review group as before. You can request that it is sent to the original panel in a cover letter or if you feel that the previous assignment was inappropriate, you can suggest another. No matter where it ends up, "reviewers will look to see how well you have responded, so dealing with every one of the first comments is still the best course of action," explains Godt.

Some pointers:

  • Pass copies of the original application around the labs on your floor and get opinions from experienced scientists and grant writers.

  • Keep an eye on the literature--new findings may support your ideas. Don't let your application be tossed aside because you missed the paper proving an idea of yours is flawed or dated. Worse still--do not deliberately omit important published work in the hope that reviewers will not notice.

  • Incorporate relevant data you have churned out over the past 6 months or year. Call the funding agency to see if you can include reprints of papers you may have published since your first submission.

  • Be passionate about your research--enthusiasm can be the deciding factor between two good applications.

  • Make your grant application direct and clearly presented.

  • Fulfill all the requirements in the "instructions to authors"--reviewers may question your potential as an independent researcher or postdoc if they see you can't follow directions.

Don't be discouraged if you don't bring in the big bucks with your first, second, or third application. Writing, rewriting, and resubmitting proposals is part and parcel of the academic scientific profession. However, do your best to give the reviewers a tough time--make it difficult to pick out errors, oversights, or faults with your revised application.

Good luck!

-- The GrantDoctor

If you'd like more information about resubmitting your application, the following sites may be of help:

New NIH Policy on Submission of Revised (Amended) Applications

Or contact the NIH Office of Extramural Research at DDER@NIH.GOV

NIH Grants Policy Statement

NSF Grant Proposal Guide

NSF: Chapter IV: Withdrawals, returns & declinations

Alternatively, check the grants pages of your particular agency's Internet site. Use GrantsNet to search for specific funders and agencies.

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