Postdoc Career Cafe: Navigating the Grant Process - Summary

Our first Postdoc Career Café was a big success! We had a great discussion of the grant process, and we hope that it was beneficial to those who attended. For anyone who didn’t attend, and for those who did, we wanted to send some takeaways from the panel discussion. Also, here is a link to the handout from the event that covered the grant application process and some useful tips:

Melanie Smith, MBA - Manager, Funding Resource Center at the Office of Sponsored Projects for Yale University:

  • Gave a great summary of the grants process at Yale, including a handout that covered many of the topics that she discussed.
  • Encouraged postdocs to contact the Funding Resource Center at the Office of Sponsored Projects at Yale and their department’s business office to get information on grants they might be eligible for and other resources these offices might have that will make your grant applications more likely to be funded.
  • Stressed the importance of carefully reading the grant application rules thoroughly to ensure you have included everything that is required. Missing a section or part of a grant or presenting information differently than requested is low hanging fruit for a reviewer looking through hundreds of applications.

Ivana Kuo, Ph.D. - Associate Research Scientist, Yale University:

  • Mentioned the importance for international postdocs to make sure you establish a good relationship with your mentor here in the U.S. and to speak with them about what grants they recommend that you apply for. She mentioned that although an international mentor is also a great resource, they might not have as good of an idea about the grants process in the United States.
  • Encouraged postdocs to be persistent and not get discouraged when a grant is not funded.  She suggested using any comments that you receive to make your next application more competitive.
  • Mentioned that when writing fellowship grants, make sure you put an emphasis on your career development, in addition to your science. She indicated that grant reviewers want to see your path to an independent research career.

Jason Berk, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry:

  • Suggested to start applying for grants early. He mentioned that many grants have a timeline with a clock that starts when you begin your first postdoc, so the sooner you can apply the better. If you apply earlier, reviewers often will expect less preliminary data, and not all preliminary data has to be from your own hands. If another postdoc or graduate student in the lab has unpublished data that helps your case, use it!
  • Encouraged postdocs to get advice from individuals who have received similar grants as you are applying for. He suggested, if you can, to get their grants to help you with structuring and writing yours, and ask them if they are willing to look at what you have written.

Kristen Murfin, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow in Internal Medicine (Infectious Diseases)

  • Emphasized knowing your audience. If you are applying for grants from subject-specific foundations you might need to go more, or less, in-depth than if you are writing a grant to the NSF or NIH.
  • Suggested getting a friend who is in science, but not in your field, to read your grant, and let you know if you have used too much technical jargon that might not be conveying your ideas as best as you can.
  • Encouraged the use of figures to explain complicated ideas. Even if a figure takes up more space than text, it can be worth it if it gets your point across.
  • Indicated the importance of finding “your grant writing window”. Some people write best in the morning, some in the afternoon or evening. Some people need perfect quiet and others prefer to have some distractions. She suggested figuring out what works best for you and sticking with it.
  • Suggested making sure you give yourself time to have a break from writing before going back and reading what you wrote. Sometimes you get overly focused on specific parts of the grant that you will miss obvious glaring errors that are easily rectified.

Katherine Hastings, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow in Medicine (Medical Oncology)

  • Noted that unlike grants funded by the NIH (except for K99s and R awards) and the NSF, internal awards at Yale are open to both domestic and international students. She suggested taking advantage of these, particularly if you are international.
  • Mentioned that although NIH and NSF grants take a long time for the review and funding process, internal grants have a much quicker turnaround time, and often require much less supporting documentation.
  • Indicated that internal grants and private foundation grants may be more willing to fund someone with less preliminary data and a more aspirational grant proposal.

We want to thank everyone who participated in the discussion today, and hope that you consider attending our next Postdoc Career Café as well as our Postdoc Orientation 201 (Sign up here: Let us know if you have any questions or comments about this or any other YPA event.