SPH Research Development: Best Practices, Better Results
The University of Maryland’s groundbreaking research is made possible in large part by grant funding by federal agencies and foundations. Yet, as the competition for these grants has increased, budgets have stagnated or declined. Fifteen to twenty years ago, a researcher had a 30% chance of success in securing NIH extramural research funds, while the success rate in 2017 was only 18.7%. How can UMD faculty successfully compete for funding through the NIH, NSF and other federal agencies in this context?
The UMD School of Public Health is taking a proactive approach to supporting faculty success in securing grant funding with the launch of a new research development training initiative. Since 2017, more than 30 faculty members have participated. In just the last year, more than 10 faculty researchers successfully secured funds collectively totaling more than $12 million.
Some examples of recently funded projects include:
A clinical trial to determine the influence and possible benefits of exercise on the brain and cognitive function in healthy older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. ($3.6 M from the NIH-National Institute on Aging)
A smartphone health app tailored for African-Americans and Spanish-speakers that will provide evidence-based information on disease prevention and health promotion, allowing users to set personal goals and enter personal and family health histories to help customize their experience. ($1.3 M from the NIH National Library of Medicine)
A study (System-level Multidisciplinary Integration for popuLation health and Equity- SMILE) aimed at improving mental health care for African American and Latino patients ($2.25 M from the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities)
A graduate training program (UMD Global STEWARDS) that is preparing future leaders focused on innovations at the nexus of food, energy and water (FEW) systems. ($3M from NSF)
The training positions faculty members to craft the best project proposals and increase their chances for having theirs prioritized for funding in peer review sections.
"Given the constant changes in funding agency policies, scientific review criteria interpretation and technologies to present effective and clear proposals, faculty benefit from routine updates as their research portfolio evolves," Associate Dean for Research and Principal Associate Dean Dushanka Kleinman said.
This School of Public Health’s module-based research development initiative, the first of its kind at UMD, includes three core components:
short term “boot camps” -- these focus on individual proposal elements, such as drafting specific aims, honing research goals using “competitive intelligence,” or resubmission best practices
SPHERES (SPH Experiential Research Enhancement for Submission), a semester long workshop which covers all aspects of NIH grants
Individualized support, specifically for complex, multidisciplinary proposals.
“There is a lot at stake both for faculty and the School of Public Health. While many faculty have fantastic research ideas, they are not always skilled at putting their ideas into coherent and persuasive grants that resonate with reviewers,” explained Dr. Debra L. Weinstein, the SPH Director of Research Development and Associate Clinical Professor in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. Dr. Weinstein leads this initiative and designed the curricula. She is joined by Dr. Barry Portnoy, who is a Research Professor and Associate Chair for Research in the SPH Department of Behavioral and Community Health, in facilitating the program.
Since its inception, this research development program has supported several SPH Faculty members who have successfully secured funding for projects related to aging and mental health, environmental risk factors for asthma in African American kids, sustainable water reuse technologies for food systems, and violence prevention, among others.
This research development initiative is geared toward faculty at all levels. New faculty apply proposal writing best practices to benefit their chance of success, while established faculty might be exploring new research directions or collaborations. All faculty benefit from keeping up with the ever-shifting agency priorities and proposal guidelines and learning to be more strategic in their application process.
“Grant writing is a learned skill that requires practice, perseverance, creativity and informed decision-making on how and when to pursue funding opportunities,” said Dr. Barry Portnoy. “We’re very enthusiastic that this program will give our faculty experts a leg up in securing funds to support the excellent research we want to be known for at the University of Maryland.”