If you’ve recently gained American citizenship, you may find applying for federal research funding overwhelming.
But experts say you can master the process by cultivating local contacts and asking for assistance with grant writing. There are four steps you should take.
1. Seek contacts at your institution
One of the main issues foreign-born PIs face is a lack of local contacts, says Jason Wagoner, Associate Director for Sponsored Programs at Upstate Medical University at the State University of New York.
Being unable to turn to colleagues for guidance and problem solving during the application process can make foreign born investigators feel lost and ultimately lead to rejected proposals.
That’s why you must be proactive in developing contacts, says Matthew Fenton, PhD, Chief of the Asthma, Allergy, and Inflammation Branch of the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantations, which is part of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
To do this, Fenton suggests you:
- Knock on doors, and introduce yourself to fellow PIs. Engage them in conversations about their work, and tell them about your field of interest. Ask them about challenges they faced when applying for grants and how they over came
- Volun During your conversations, you may find an opportunity to assist a new acquaintance. For example, offer to give a presentation at a seminar she is sponsoring.
- Contact a grant officer at your institution, or visit your Office of Sponsored Explain the difficulty you’re having with the grant process. The staff there will be able to guide you and offer useful suggestions.
2. Look for opportunities to network
In addition to reaching out at your institution, Fenton suggests expanding your networking opportunities by traveling across the country.
Attend meetings and conferences in your field of interest and those related to it. You can find a list of all NIH sponsored events at http://calendar.nih.gov/app/MCal-SearchAdvance.aspx. From this page, you can narrow your search to events such as conferences, symposia or lectures.
Once you’re at a conference or symposium, work the room. Fenton recommends introducing yourself to as many people as possible and conversing with a wide variety of people.
“If you are a Chinese-born scientist and you find yourself interacting only with other Chinese-born scientists, you’re doing something wrong,” Fenton says.
He also stresses the importance of recording contacts’ names and what you discussed so you can refer to it later.
3. Work on improving your English writing skills
Although some foreign-born American scientists may have minor problems speaking the English language, both Fenton and Wagoner agree that writing a grant that is appealing to reviewers is the bigger challenge.
“It’s language, but it’s also content,” Wagoner says. “There’s a large difference between writing something from a technical perspective and writing it so that it’s appealing to a potential investor or sponsor.”
After 17 years as a professor before joining NIH, Fenton believes most scientists who are new American citizens have perfectly good English skills. At the same time, he says the ability to read and speak English does not necessarily translate to good writing skills.
“The ability to develop a creative and novel scientific hypothesis and then test it is easier for many scientists than writing it down on paper in a concise and cogent manner that elicits excitement in the reader/reviewer,” Fenton says.
4. Seek out mentors
Having a good mentor is key to developing your writing skills. Consequently, Fenton suggests you:
- Look for mentors who can help you think through your research plan and then express it clearly in a grant proposal.
- Seek help from those with a track record of successful grant writing who would be willing to read and edit your draft grant applications.
Wagoner finds that institutions providing established mentoring programs for recruited foreign born American scientists work best. Check to see if yours provides someone you can consult with specific questions.