Successful grants achieved with some help from FRED

ASCB’s Faculty Research and Education Development (FRED) program—designed to promote grant-funding success—has come full circle. Both the inaugural cohort that started in July 2014 and the final cohort that met in July 2019 held their mentor/mentee workshops in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The junior faculty (the mentees) joined with senior faculty (the mentors) for a workshop structured to provide participants with extensive guidance and information on how to write and prepare successful grant applications.

The meeting began with mentees and mentors introducing themselves to the group. Although mentee/mentor matches have been in contact via email and phone over the course of a year, this workshop is generally the first time the pairs have met in person.

Since participants only have a week for the workshop, they stayed to a tight schedule. On the first day of the program, FRED mentees are required to present three specific aims as they related to the research or education grant they planned to submit and to prepare to answer questions from the group of mentees, PIs, mentors, FRED alumni, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Science Foundation (NSF) program officers . It is important for participants to experience this type of instant, individualized feedback because the program attempts to mimic the feedback they might receive from a grant reviewer. However, in this case, the participants are able to also ask questions and make improvements. On the second day, participants present their refined aims with the hope of improved feedback (see picture 52).

“Attending the FRED workshop was a breath of fresh air,” said Magdia De Jesus, assistant professor at the University of Albany, School of Public Health and FRED mentee. “I was among a group of dedicated young faculty who were working very hard to get a grant just like me. I was so appreciative of the incredibly supportive environment, where all of the participating mentors were willing to provide mentorship regardless of discipline.”

Richard Cyr

Another great benefit of the summer workshop is the “NSF Grant Opportunities and Tips” and “Quick Guide to NIH Grants” sessions, this year led by Richard Cyr, NSF, and Belinda Seto, NIH. Each 90-minute session provided the basic information on how to find funding opportunities and the types of proposals to consider. However, the sessions also provided more in-depth tips and guides on things to consider when preparing to start writing a proposal such as where do you want your research to be five years from now and whether or not those things that come to mind are attainable in five years. Other things they asked participants to consider were institutional research interests versus your own research interests and do these two align? This was just a taste of the different concepts that the FRED mentees were introduced to.

Belinda Seto

And since this was the first time the mentee/mentor pairs were meeting, the workshop is structured in a way that allows for working sessions and one-on-one time. These interactions are an opportunity for the pairs to establish a relationship that allows the mentor to provide face-to-face, verbal feedback on current proposals.

“The FRED program allowed me the opportunity to work with one of my science idols, Sandra Murray from the University of Pittsburgh,” said Antentor Othrell Hinton, Jr., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa and FRED mentee. “She played a fundamental part in two of my grants and she challenged me to write every day before the meeting to submit at least two grants. It resulted in me receiving the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and the National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program. I know I can meet the challenges of writing because of the belief she placed inside of me while attending the FRED summer workshop!”

Since its inception, 45 FRED mentees have participated in the program and in the September 2018 evaluation report, 57% of grant proposals submitted by FRED mentees had been funded. Michael Leibowitz, professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine and FRED PI, along with and co-investigators Latanya Hammonds-Odie, associate professor at Georgia Gwinnett College, and Renato Aguilera, professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, have worked diligently to ensure that the participants in this year-long mentoring program are part of a comprehensive process that enhances mentees’ grants writing skills. Currently, the final FRED cohort members are hard at work. The program is up for funding renewal.

Additional photos of question and answer sessions. Photos by Ashanti Edwards.

About the Author:

Ashanti Edwards is ASCB's Director of Professional Development.