Tips on Working
Towards a K
Mani Pavuluri MD PhD
University of Illinois at Chicago
Assoc Professor of Psychiatry
Senior Scientist, Center for Cognitive Medicine
Director, Pediatric Mood Disorders Program
• Idea of an NIH Award
• Which Award?
• How to “Get started”?
• Grant writing process
• What to expect as you send it out?
• Life’s big picture: You and the K award
Why should they give you the K ??
•In tune with NIMH Priority
•You have a promising mission that is unique
•Visionary and Engaged Mentor
•Inspirational to the senior colleagues on study
section who will bat for you
• Program staff is invested in you
• You start with an edge
The music I had to face!!
FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS
But what about the preliminary data?
But what if one focus fails?
But what about the loyalty to other seniors who care
about your other foci?
Which award? K vs R21?
Shared vision and support?
How to convince that you have it all?
Chinese menu vs Morton’s steak!!
• “Geographic handicap”
• No “Known” Child Psychiatrists
• No experts on the disorder
• No brand name
• Never a K from IJR/MD
• Old baggage with UIC
• Foreigner new to USA, NIH,Network
• Select the award
• Select the mentor/s
• Get samples of others’ grants (Rec. by NIMH)
• Invite Consultants for Grand Rounds: Sale Job
• Get Preliminary results: To show you can
• Settle on a study design: “Song’s tune must be
• Settle on the idea of your RO1 focus: Think of all
• Write down Specific Aims
Selecting a mentor
• “Scientist at heart”
• Thinks at the same wave length
• You totally respect
• Got active grants
• On study section
• Net worked nicely
• Idealizes you as much as you idealize
• Linked to your interest
• Jack Welch: “There is no one mentor”
Keep at it!
• Mentorship committee if no single exact match
• Early write- up
• Travel to meet out of town mentors
• Hardest thing was to ask for letters: but they loved helping
me and literally embraced my cause!! (Read my lips: By the
time you finish your 5 year K, you will be surprised to
suddenly reflect that they are indeed your close friends, by
when you wont even blink to ask for promotion letters)
• Believe in yourself + Have the endurance to let your work
show for itself
• Patience vs Competition
• Your story is yours! !
Develop Your Idea
Survey the literature
Contact investigators working on topic
Prepare a brief concept paper
Discuss with mentors and colleagues
Find out what the competition is up to
Talk to your project officer (your new
best friend that plays a key role)
Prepare to Do the Project
Develop preliminary data (almost have the
operation in place!)
Present data to mentors or colleagues (pay
a dollar for every criticism!)
Establish a track record
Think and plan long term
What do you intend to do?
Why is this work important?
What has already been done?
Does every paragraph in the
application help you get money by
laying out a feasible research plan
without major holes? -- stay on mission
Remember: reviewers are human and
need to enjoy and admire your story
Well placed passion vs. Flaky exaggeration
The Politics of it
Become recognized as a serious, thoughtful,
generative, collegial investigator
Go beyond your narrow world of colleagues for
ideas and to develop novel approaches
Help your mentor advertise your progress
Evaluate the cost/benefit of your proposal
Find someone to help you who is in the thick of
your area of work and successfully getting grants
Scores are %iles, so there is no BAD committee
Preparing an Application
There is no grantsmanship that will turn a bad idea
into a good one, but…
There are many ways to disguise a good one!
Dr. William Raub, Deputy Director, NIH
Assume your Reviewers are your Friends
Study sections now see 100+
applications/round. There are 20 people in the
room, 3 people per grant, so do the math.
100 * 3 / 20 = 15 grants per person
Make it easy for the reviewers and they will
4, 2, 1 minutes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd reviewer
Get them excited that you are fully prepared to
do what you say, and that it is important
Remember, reviewers are human beings, and
you have the best 3 in the room not the world
Smooth coherent story
Enthusiasm should grow
Sell your idea
LIFE: BIG PICTURE
• We can strive for balance
• Minding others’ feelings at home
• Taking care of the health
• Taking care of the relationships at work
• Organization, wisdom and being centered!
• Concrete goals at work compete with a
nebulous “no deadline needs” at home
How do I do it??
• Lot of energy and healthy kids (God’s blessing)
• Selecting a supportive guy as husband: “don’t worry about me,
go on!” he says (but I think of “us” a lot!!)
• Live- in House keeper, the real heroine behind you (not any
more but when kids are young, yes++)
• Strict 8 or 9 to 5 routine at work
• Live next to the University to save time in commuting
• Server connection at home to go back to work at 8.30 till 11
pm (minimum 3 nights a week)
• Working in small bursts in between home tasks on week ends
• Prioritizing home and work (too many parties is not necessarily
fun for me)
• My mom did it too and I turned out ok!!
• Nothing beats Organization
• Stay Focused, No small talk in corridors or poke
nose in others’ businesses (Exception: “feel
good friends” at work to buffer here and there)
• Cut-throat with defending research time
• Panic, last minute hurry, acting “crazy busy”
around grant cycles is totally unnecessary
• If possible, write at home (if connected to server)
one day a week
More Pearls To Balance Life
• If you love your work, it will not be like work, so
the idea of balance is not menacing as I see
work as hobby
• Deadlines and fast moving conveyor belt makes
you feel rushed
• You can only do one thing at a time
• Don’t be guilty about volunteering at Kid’s
school, remember? You are working late on
computer some nights, so it is ok!
• “Pursuit of Happy/iness”
• Simile of baking muffins
• Simile of volunteering at school
• Reality of meetings and committees and
how to choose them
• Srategic Choices linked with INTEGRITY,
REASON, and WISDOM
• Don’t be fooled by others’ egos that
sorround you, but everyone is important
including those with egos
It is a Marathon and Not a Sprint
• You are in it for the long haul
• Do not push yourself so much that you
• Efficiency and making smart choices will
carve you plenty of time to have fun along
this roller coaster ride!
• Treat it like a game and take the bull by