Secrets of the successful CIHR grant
B. Brett Finlay, Biotechnology Laboratory
Do I know what I am talking about?
• Not really!
• Several grants funded
– Currently 3 CIHR operating grants, CIHR Scientist
– Grants have ranked #1 at committees (except one 3rd)
• External reviewer for years
• Served on Microbiology and Infectious Disease
review committee 3 years
• Chair, Microbiology and Infectious Disease
Never, ever take a grant application
CIHR Review process
• Committee assignment
• Reviewer assignment
• External reviews
• Internal reviews (look up committee members)
• Committee evaluation and rating
• Look up members on web page!
– These will be the people discussing your grant
• Look at grants successfully funded by committee
• Choose wisely!
– If don’t understand, don’t get funded
• Suggest some (full addresses, areas of interest)
• Not as much weight
• 3-6 requested
• International “experts”
• Each grant gets a primary, secondary, plus reader
• Each reviewer does about 14 grants!
• Job is to criticize it, not be supportive
• Bored; need to find way to get their attention
Committee evaluation and ranking
• Primary and secondary reviewers state score (0-4.9)
• Primary summarizes grant, secondary adds comments
• Externals summarized
• General discussion
• Consensus score (reader may help)
• Each member scores within 0.5 of consensus
• Scientific Officer summarizes
• Budget discussed
• Each grant ranked by average score
• Each committee gets a certain percentage funded
• Additional applications funded from total pool
based on average
• At time of ranking, committee does not know
which ones get funded
• One overriding hypothesis (great idea)
• About 3 interrelated specific objectives that answer
• Interwoven, overlapping
• More than one method proposed, in case one doesn’t
• Exciting preliminary data (but don’t give it all away)
– Proves you can do it, and are doing it
• Must be internationally competitive
Sections in grant
• Hypothesis and objectives
• Research proposal
Finish grant early
• Start early (2-3 months ahead)
• Time for ideas to percolate
• Get others to read it!
• Fine tune it, appearance polished
• If you are not sick of it, you haven’t spent enough
time on it
• Submit “perfect”grant
– No typos, don’t exceed space or margin limits,
budgets add up…
– Very important not to tick off reviewers
• Appearance is important
– Use spaces, headings, subheading, help readers
• Use appendices wisely
– Often receive little attention, as at end
Letters of collaboration
• Use appropriate experts only, where they will help
• Draft letter for them, or tell them what to say
– Be specific, not just vague support letter
– Give them time to prepare it (get better letter)
• Be honest when listing collaborators and conflicts
• Be reasonable!
• Put in sacrifice (extra grad student)?
– Most grants cut 10-25%
• Currently people ask for 150-200K, getting about
• Make sure math is all correct
• Justify each item (ie why you need a 4th PCR
• Justify each person (experiments, etc)
• Provide realistic timeline?
What reviewers look for in an
• Track record (pubs, international reputation,
• Quality of previous training, quality of graduates
• Ability to do proposed work
• Applicant’s environment
• Appropriate collaborators
• Other commitments
What reviewers look for in an
• Significance/importance, justification
• The hypothesis (original,importance)
• Appropriate methods and research proposed
– Alternates proposed in case one fails?
• Is this exciting? Is this the best use of funds?
• Read successful AND unsuccessful grants, and
• Get on a grant committee!
• Many good articles on the Web (CIHR, NIH, …)
• Much written on the art of grant writing
Reasons for failure
• Poor applicant
• Too ambitious (eg 9 objectives)
• Too straight forward (not imaginative)
• Poor record
• No preliminary data
• Reviewers don’t understand (whose fault is it?)
– Wrong committee?
• Sloppy grant
• Ambiguous (in any section)
• Outdated approach, references
• Double dipping, lie about hours
• Not original
Leave nothing to chance!!
• Competing with many other good grants
• Great idea, great preliminary data, great track
• Convince them it is the best use of funds
• Don’t give the reviewers anything to criticize
• Repeat main themes, as may miss it if only stated
• Good luck!
– And if it fails, pay attention to the next talk