Fellowship Writing for Doctoral Students

An important aspect of career development for doctoral students is learning to compete successfully for extramural grant funding. A track record of obtaining fellowship support from peer-reviewed national funding agencies places students at an advantage in obtaining better postdoctoral positions and future employment opportunities in academia. It not only demonstrates their ability to obtain funds, but also to present their research effectively. This ability to win national grants is especially important as the competition to receive funding from the federal government and other granting agencies to support research activities continues to worsen, even as promotion and tenure in academic positions remain largely linked to and dependent upon receipt of external funding.

In response to this need, the M.D./Ph.D. program at Wayne State University created a course to instruct trainees in the preparation and submission of fellowship applications, particularly to the National Institutes of Health and other national peer-reviewed funding agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the American Heart Association. This course is team-taught by members of the faculty and the staff. The faculty instructors are experienced in serving on study sections that make decisions on fellowship applications at various agencies. University staff personnel with expertise in various areas essential to the completion of an application, such as budgeting and regulatory affairs, also lecture in the course. Trainees and their research advisors work with the course faculty over a two-month period and are required to submit an application in a timely manner; i.e., at the first available agency cycle for submission. Graduate programs across the biomedical sciences have agreed to permit substitution of the fellowship application for the student’s research prospectus, following approval by the dissertation committee.

The sessions presented by course faculty/staff include:

  • Overview of the fellowship application process
  • Step-by-step review of the fellowship application forms of the most common agencies
  • Overview of the study section and review process; i.e., what reviewers are looking for
  • How to prepare the best application
  • Templates for generic training and institutional support
  • IRB requirements (Human Investigation Committee, Animal Investigation Committee)
  • Budget preparation
  • Preparation of forms required by the agency
  • Internal forms required by the department and institution
  • Information from Sponsored Programs Administration on the actual submission process
  • Registration at the granting agency website
  • Review of the entire application

Of the 16 students who have participated in the course to date, 11 were successful in obtaining fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the American Heart Association, and the Epilepsy Foundation, a success rate of close to 70%, and three students received two fellowships each.

Based on the results of this program, the Wayne State University Graduate School created a fellowship writing boot camp in summer 2010 that offered the same curriculum to doctoral students across all disciplines. Seven of the 13 participants have submitted fellowship applications; outcomes are pending at this time. This boot camp will be held annually.

This is just one of the many programs developed at Wayne State University and supported by AGEP funding.

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