CST BLOG: Lab Expectations

The official blog of Cell Signaling Technology (CST), where we discuss what to expect from your time at the bench, share tips, tricks, and information.

Writing A Grant Part 6: Budget Justification, Support Letters and More

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Previous posts in the grant writing series have dealt with many of the different parts of the grant application process, including writing the Significance and Innovation sections, and the actual experimental designs for your Research Plan.

However, there remains a fair bit of work to do to finalize and complete your National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application or other foundation grant application. Some of it is scientific, but there are parts that are strictly financial/business-related.

Coming Up With a Budget and Justification

Your institution and its research administration can help you when it comes to the financial aspects of your grant. Remember this: Most NIH institutes have a maximum funding limit specific to the type of grant, which you cannot exceed without prior discussion and approval from the Program Officers and other officials at that institute or foundation. Therefore, you can't leave this important part of the grant application to the last minute. 

You are no doubt already aware that salary and fringe benefit costs are typically some of the largest fractions of grants. Speak with your institution’s grant office far enough in advance to find out the rates for fringe benefits and institutional overhead. If key personnel members are collecting salaries, their efforts must be justified.

Keep in mind that the reviewers are funded scientists, and they are aware of what it costs for people to be involved and how much time it takes, so don’t be unrealistic when it comes to the percentage effort of the personnel. The same is true about the cost of animal experiments!

Getting Letters of Support

Everyone knows that your collaborators need to supply letters of support to be included with your application. They should state why they believe in the proposal and how their component fits in with the overall goals of the grant. It should come as no surprise that a vague, poorly crafted letter can actually be problematic when your grant is reviewed. Reviewers have worked with their own collaborators and have seen good letters of support, so don’t shortchange your application with weak letters.

Human Subjects Research Subject Provisions

The law requires that human subjects be protected from unnecessary research risk. If your research involves collection and/or use of information from human subjects or tissue specimens, there are very specific rules that must be followed.

There is a very helpful decision tool available online at the NIH to help you determine whether your research is exempt or not from the human research subject provisions. Should your research be classified as non-exempt, you will need to have a range of other documents and assurances in hand before you can get funded, including approval of your human subject interaction by your Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Writing the Cover Letter

It might seem like such a small thing after all the effort you have put in on the entirety of your application, but the cover letter should not be overlooked. It is where you can explain a late submission or make a change or correction to an already submitted application. You can also describe the discussions that you have had with institute staff alluding to the approval documentation that allows you to exceed a budgetary restriction. Do not forget to include the title of your application and the Funding Announcement to which it is being submitted.

The effort that you put into describing your research plan and its potential impact should not be shortchanged by a haphazard approach to the seemingly lesser components of your grant application. Remember to take care with every component.

Read the Complete Grant Writing Series:

Check out the Cell Mentor portal for more career advice or scientific tricks and tips.

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