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.

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

Previous posts have dealt with a good many of the different parts of the grant application and dealing with Significance, Innovation, and the actual experimental designs for your Research Plan. There remains a fair bit of work to do to finalize and complete your NIH 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 extensively when it comes to the financial aspect 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 with Program Officers and other officials at that Institute/Center. This should not be a discussion a couple of weeks before the submission deadline. 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 for example!


Letters of Support: Everyone knows that your collaborators need to supply letters of support to be included with your application. They should state how they believe in the proposal and how their component fits in with the overall goals of the grant. It should come as no surprise then 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: 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).


Cover Letter: It seems like such a small thing after all the effort you have put in on the entirety of your application. The cover letter is where you can explain a late submission or making 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:

Part One: First Things First

Part Two: Significance and Innovation

Part Three: The Experimental Approach

Part Four: Additional Details

Part Five: Smaller Application Components

Part Seven: How to Interpret Summary Statement and Reviewer’s Critiques

Part Eight: What Are My Chances?


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

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