Bringing Home the Bacon: Funding Opportunities for the Early Career Scientist

This is the second part of a two-part summary of the discussions that took place during an Early Careers Committee panel entitled Early Career Grant Opportunities at the 55th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, in March.

Four diverse funding agencies and institutions known for their early-investigator grants were represented. The May issue of the Newsletter highlighted the Research Corporation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF). This issue of the Newsletter highlights the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Each institution has its own set of rules for granting funds. Based on the panel, here’s what you need to know in order to get the most out of the institution that’s right for you.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” advised Kamal Shukla, NSF, as he stressed the importance of submitting a good
idea in a well-expressed manner to the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. These awards are for faculty members
in a tenure-track faculty position; in fact, a new investigator can apply up to three times for a CAREER award in the BIO directorate. How
can you score one of these awards? Shukla offers some tips:

  • Don’t bother submitting disease-related research problems; NSF doesn’t consider these.
  • A good idea alone won’t get you that grant—it’s the way you present your idea that counts. Ideas must be well-expressed, with a clear direction indicating the plan to pursue your idea and the methods you’ll be using.
  • Make it easy for the reviewers. The first page should be an overview so the reviewers know what to expect. Clearly label figures and structure tables for easy reference. Include a project timeline that reviewers can follow.
  • Pay close attention to the Broader Impacts section—the NSF sure does. Your Broader Impacts section should explicitly state how educational and outreach components of the project will broadly impact scientific learning and community development.
  • Ask for a reasonable budget to perform the work. Include amounts requested for equipment, travel, faculty salary, and the cost of educational activities associated with the research.

More information can be found at

NIH, with its 27 Institutes, has too many early career grant opportunities to list here. Instead of listing them for the panel audience, Drew Carlson,
NHLBI, NIH, off ered some step-by-step advice about how to get NIH funding.

  1. Look specifically at grants targeted toward scientists at your level. Postdocs should check out F-awards (F32) for fellowships. New investigators should consider applying for K-awards (K25, K02, K01, K99/R00, K12, and K22) as they transition out of their postdoctoral positions. More established new investigators are eligible for R-awards (R01) for research.
  2. Peruse the website for each Institute and check out the grants native to that Institute. Only apply to the ones that fit your current situation and career goals.
  3. Get in touch with each Institute to discuss a specific award. Are you and your research eligible for that award? Is there another Institute where you could submit the same grant application? If there is, that saves you a whole lot of work. You can only accept funding from a single Institute for one proposal, but submitting it to applicable grants at several Institutes is a good way to get one proposal reviewed by multiple funding options.
  4. Send a draft of the Specific Aims and Abstract portions of your proposal to the Program Manager at the Institute with the grant you’re applying for. He or she will be able to tell you if it fits the bill.
  5. Work with the Institute to make sure you have provided the best grant proposal possible with goals that are fundable by that Institute.

For basic information on NIH grants, go to

Bert Tanner, Early Careers Committee Member

June 2011 Table of Contents