The GrantDoctor: Bioethics and Other "Stuff"


Q. Dear GrantDoctor,

I am an avid Science's Next Wave reader in need of funding advice. I am an American citizen currently working as a postdoc at the University of Toronto in Canada. I received my Ph.D. from MIT in biology last year, but my postdoc is in the field of bioethics, specifically, international health policy. My qualitative postdoctoral research project is focusing on the role of private biotechnology companies in addressing local health needs in developing countries; it will involve travel to several countries, including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. I began my postdoc in September 2004 and am currently looking for potential fellowship/funding sources. As you can imagine, it has been quite a difficult task for several reasons: I am an American working in Canada; my research project is qualitative and applied, rather than quantitative and basic; and it is focused on developing countries. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!



Dear Sarah,

As a U.S. citizen, your best bets for funding are probably through U.S. funding agencies. Among these agencies, NIH is your best bet for a bioethics project with relevance to human health and disease. Yet, it's true, as you indicate, that your Canadian residency complicates things.

Start with the International Research Scientist Development Award ( IRSDA). The fact that you're doing qualitative work in bioethics instead of quantitative scientific research will not by itself disqualify you; yet, it's hard to know how well particular reviewers and study-section members will judge a bioethics proposal. My guess is that if it's compelling and well written, it ought to do just fine.

The fact that you're based in Canada is another complication, because these awards are intended to increase research ties between the United States and the developing world. Contact Rachel Nugent of the Fogarty International Center for guidance. You'll find contact information on the program announcement listed above.

Next, consider a standard individual postdoctoral Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA). You are early enough in your postdoc to write a strong NRSA application, and your Canadian affiliation does not disqualify you. However, as NIH puts it: "Applicants requesting fellowship support for foreign research training must show in the application that the foreign institution and sponsor offer unique opportunities and clear scientific advantages over positions currently available in the United States." It's an extra hurdle but one you might be able to clear ... especially if, as I suspect, you're at the Genome-Canada-funded GE3LS program. If your record is good and you can make an excellent case that you're in the right place for the work you are doing--that there's no place better, or as good, in the United States--you ought to be able to prepare a very strong NRSA application.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

Dear Readers,

Last month, I focused on mentorship, including the question of whether it is appropriate to have more than one mentor. Generally, I argued, having more than one mentor isn't just OK; it's a very good idea. Yet, I noted one situation in which, as I reckoned, it's probably best to have a single mentor: in developing a career development plan for a mentored training award. When it comes to mentored training awards, I wrote, "advice and instruction from others is very much encouraged, but the responsibility for your training rests, in most cases, with a single individual."

One of The GrantDoctor's most loyal advisers--I'm almost tempted to describe her as a mentor in the NIH-grant part of my professional life--wrote to point out that sometimes it's appropriate to have more than one mentor, even for a mentored training award. "Even before it became trendy," she wrote, "there were always occasions when dual mentors would be appropriate, even on an F or K application." She continued:

A prime example is a candidate who wants to work with a talented but junior faculty member who has but a short view of the career trajectory and not much of a track record. In this case, we often successfully counseled the candidate to include a more senior "career" mentor, in addition to the hands-on research mentor. A related example would be for a K08 [grant], where the research mentor is of necessity a basic scientist; [having] an [additional] experienced faculty member in academic medicine, acting as a career mentor, becomes a strength.

Bottom line: Even for mentored training awards, multiple mentors can be good things when there's a good reason for them.

* * *

In connection with this month's special feature on careers in materials science, this week, I'll review a few U.S. sources of support for materials science research and training:


NSF's Mathematics and Physical Sciences Directorate, Division of Materials Research, funds a wide range of materials research and training opportunities. NSF's engineering directorate also supports materials research, including, notably, work in biomedical engineering. Other NSF directorates support research in particular areas of materials research.


DOE's Office of Science funds research on the wide range of materials relevant to energy production, distribution, and the remediation of undesirable environmental effects of energy production. The "basic energy sciences" category covers materials research predominantly. The Basic Research for the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative is also focused mostly on materials, including those for energy storage, ion-transport membranes, catalysts, and some biomaterials.


Materials-related solicitations at this department are numerous; here is a partial list: * Air Force Office of Scientific Research * Army Research Office * Office of Naval Research


If you can manage to negotiate the online maze, NASA supports some materials-related research.


One of the key frontier areas of materials science is the study of materials derived from, inspired by, or used to repair human and other biological systems. Consequently, NIH supports a wide range of biomaterials-related research. Search the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts for specific leads.


Finally (as I'm running out of space for this topic), NIST ( NIST) funds materials-related research through several of its extramural programs.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

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