How to get a funded internship in industry
The US National Science Foundation is expanding an internship programme for graduate students.
As part of a broad mission to prepare science students for careers outside academia, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has expanded a funding initiative to support master’s and PhD students for six-month internships in companies, government laboratories and non-profit organizations.
The INTERN supplemental-funding opportunity, launched last year for select departments within the NSF, will now be open to almost every graduate student supported by an NSF grant, says Prakash Balan, programme director in the NSF’s Directorate for Engineering. At a time when available US industry positions far outnumber job openings in US academia, the internships can give students real-world training for their futures, he adds. “Opportunities like this give students exposure and experience at a time when it matters most,” he says.
The programme also fits in with the agency’s overall agenda. “NSF has a long-term vision to foster the growth of a competitive and diverse workforce,” Balan says. “We want to advance the science and innovation skills of the nation at large.”
The expanded programme provides up to US$55,000 to support a student for six months. The sum is meant to cover travel, tuition, stipends, materials and other expenses. The student’s supervisor can use up to $2,500 of the award to visit the site hosting the internship and co-mentor the student. The NSF has pledged to support up to 200 students in each of the fiscal years 2019 and 2020, although Balan says that more awards could be provided if the demand is great enough. To be eligible, students must have completed at least one year of their master’s or PhD programmes.
Jennifer Weller, programme director of the NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, says that she expects to receive many applications from biology students. “I’ve already had 20 phone calls asking for more details,” she says. Weller explains that she worked for five years in industry (at the biotechnology company PE/Applied Biosystems) before eventually returning to academia. Fostering the flow of talent and ideas between academia and industry should be a top priority for the agency, she says.
Interest in the INTERN initiative goes both ways. The programme began after corporations contacted the NSF asking for help finding student interns, Balan says. Those requests encouraged the agency to think how best to connect graduate students with industry.
To apply for an INTERN award, students must provide a letter from their supervisor and from the prospective company or other host organization, and must make a convincing case that the experience would help them to achieve their overall training and career goals. “It’s not something that can be pulled together with a casual contact,” Balan says. “The host organization and the university have to put their minds together to create something very powerful for the student.”
In another outreach effort, the NSF is seeking submissions for its 2026 Idea Machine, a competition to elicit big ideas for future research projects. The agency is looking for ambitious visions within the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “We’re crowdsourcing the best and brightest ideas so we know what the community’s thinking,” Balan says.
The agency plans to award two to four winners $26,000 each, with the possibility that the winning entries would trigger long-term NSF investments. The competition, which is open to members of the general public as well as to scientists, will accept suggestions up to 26 October.
Originally published on Nature Careers on 11 September 2018 - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06641-5
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How to deliver sound science in resource-poor regions
A well-equipped laboratory stocked with reagents and supplied with uninterrupted electricity and unlimited water might seem like a basic requirement for conducting research. But scientists who work in regions that have limited resources or that are riven by conflict cannot take such amenities for granted. They must perpetually seek scarce grants, publish their own journals, form their own scientific societies and — crucially — draw on their deep reserves of resilience. Nature asked five such researchers how they run productive labs in the face of electricity shortages, border-checkpoint closures, poor Internet connections and other challenges. Marlo Mendoza: Engage with stakeholders Forestry researcher, University of the Philippines, Los Baños For the past 13 years, I have been profiling the contamination of the Marilao, Meycauayan and Obando River System (MMORS), which was on the ‘Dirty 30’ list of the most polluted places in the world in 2007, according to the non-profit organization Pure Earth. There are many polluting industries upstream, including the largest lead smelter in the Philippines, gold smelters, jewellery workshops and tanneries. Downstream are fish farms. We found elevated levels of heavy metals in the water, in the sediments and in fish, especially shellfish, which are sold in the local markets (M. E. T. Mendoza et al. J. Nat. Stud. 11, 1–18; 2012). At least 100,000 people in the municipalities of Marilao, Meycauayan and Obando, and in the metropolitan Manila area, are eating contaminated fish. There are no toxicologists in the area who can accurately diagnose illnesses connected with heavy-metal ingestion. So when we looked at medical records, there were no entries for heavy-metal poisoning. If we cannot prove that these metals are causing harm to people, it’s very difficult to convince policymakers and local executives to take action. We have no local laboratories that can analyse heavy metals found in fish, or in water or blood samples. Local officials, the governor and some of the mayors were really antagonistic because the fishing industry is a major source of income for these municipalities. I have been very careful, even from the outset, to always update the mayors on our projects, and I am accompanied by local and regional government representatives whenever I do my monitoring activities. I do nothing without their consent and am very transparent in my work. One of my strategies was to build a network of stakeholders — including national agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources — that share my concerns. I also built a good rapport with people who live in the region. There are several associations for fishers and leather-makers in these areas, and we work with them and include them in consultations and meetings about water-quality management. Our project helped to have the area declared as a legally designated water-quality management area. That’s why we’re able to continue our work. We used funding from Pure Earth to do regular longitudinal sampling in sections of the river system, including of sediment, water, fish and other aquatic life. There’s a problem collecting data and samples, because it is costly and the national and local governments have limited funds. There is also no single repository of data with which monitoring can be more effectively planned and analysed. Our monitoring results were included in a Pure Earth database that was shared with other stakeholders, including regional environmental-management offices and local government units. In turn, this encouraged those agencies to conduct studies to complement our work and to share their data. So I was able to get money from the Asian Development Bank, Green Cross Switzerland and the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, as well as a small amount from the Coca-Cola Company, to conduct environmental monitoring — including assessment of heavy metals in selected aquatic organisms. Emmanuel I. Unuabonah: Use available resources Materials chemist, Redeemer’s University, Osun State, Nigeria Potable water is a challenge for us here in Africa and across the world: around 1.8 billion people worldwide get their drinking water from a source that is polluted with faeces. As part of our work, we are developing hybrid clay composites to adsorb enteric bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella species and Vibrio cholerae, from water. We also use composites made from readily available materials such as kaolinite clay, papaya seeds and plantain peels to extract heavy metals from water. We are not funded by the government. On average, for close to 100 days a year, we have no electricity. We have an alternative utility on campus, so when the power goes off at the national grid during work hours, the generator comes on. If we get lucky with timings, we are guaranteed 36 hours of uninterrupted power to run experiments. But when the generator isn’t running and the grid power has gone off, we just have to wait. Sometimes I use my salary to fund my research and to keep our students. Then I have to struggle to write international grants. I’m so grateful to The World Academy of Sciences in Trieste, Italy; the last grant it gave in 2014 (for US$63,230) took care of stipends, school fees and research expenses for the students, and we used part of it to buy equipment. A colleague at the University of Edinburgh, UK, sent us a $600 bacteria-testing kit last year, but we can’t use it now because a related microscope part was damaged by a power surge. We have a lot of wonderful ideas, wonderful theses just hanging about the shelves, but nobody’s utilizing them. Some young scientists developed cheap electrical power systems from electronic waste materials, but they don’t have the money to develop them further. Nigeria has a thriving oil industry, but the government’s Petroleum Trust Development Fund uses oil-industry proceeds mostly to fund scholarships for Nigerian students abroad, and spends very little on scientific research. Kalulu Muzele Taba: Aim for the possible Organic chemist, University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Our research seeks to solve problems that have societal impacts, such as malaria, which is endemic in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). People in the poorest areas of Kinshasa are growing about 55 different plants, including citronella and papaya, to try to treat the symptoms of the disease. We thought, why not investigate these plants? We tested eight of the most-used plants and showed that extracts and metabolites had considerable antimalarial activities. We have a small booklet in French and in the local language, Lingala, that we send to people to explain how to use these plants more effectively. We are also studying plant extracts that can be used to treat antibiotic-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (K. B. M. Jose et al. Med. Clin. Rev. 4, 5; 2018), using a grant from The World Academy of Sciences. We don’t get money from the state. In our lab, we don’t have equipment. We don’t have money to buy solvents. Water is available between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., so we have a container that collects water at night, and during the day we have a pump. For electricity it’s much harder. In the middle of the day, it can come and go many times, and you hope it won’t go while you’re working. We used to have a small generator as a backup for computers, but it’s broken. We don’t fold our hands and cry and say that things will get better. We do whatever we can. Most of the time we buy our own reagents and solvents with our salaries. We try to motivate our master’s and PhD students by finding a way to collaborate with the outside, writing to foreign labs to see whether our students can get overseas fellowships. One student, Joséphine Ntumba, went abroad three times, to the Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. She has completed her PhD and teaches at the University of Kinshasa. I did my PhD at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and then went to the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. It was hard to come back. It was not only material, but mental too. I knew that some things would be impossible, but I feel that I have to contribute and inspire young people in science. For the past five or six years, I have been the editor-in-chief of the journal Congo Sciences, which I co-founded. We started it because we wanted to bring visibility to research done in the country. The journal was financed for some time by the Academy of Research and Higher Education (ARES) in Brussels. The academy has stopped funding it now, but we are still publishing the journal. For the past ten years, I’ve been trying to create an academy of sciences for the DRC, similar to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. We have to try to get scientists together and to speak as one voice, and then perhaps the state can start understanding that financing research at the university is important. These are some of the things that make me feel happy that I came back home. Maybe I lost a lot as a scientist, but as a Congolese, I hope I can do something for my place, and for the world. To scientists working in comparable circumstances, I would say that although it’s hard, it’s not impossible. Know that you should find maybe not the best solution, but the least-worst one. GGateway students on the training scheme in information technology funded by the Basque government.Credit: Mohammed Safia Rasha Abu-Safieh: Choose the positive Computer engineer and co-founder of GGateway, Gaza Strip I co-founded GGateway, a social-enterprise company in the Gaza Strip that provides outsourcing services for information and communications technology (ICT) around the world. We offer training and employment to recent university graduates in Gaza with ICT degrees. Our main goal with GGateway is to help people to have a source of income. With the shortage of clean water, the polluted sea and the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007, living conditions here are dire. We came up with the idea of GGateway in 2012. In November 2013 we launched a pilot, and in February 2015 we got the green light from the Korea International Cooperation Agency for a $1.3-million grant to fund our plan. That was one of the biggest, happiest things that ever happened to us. We were running a pilot project for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), but in July and August 2014 we had the 50 days of conflict with Israel. That was difficult: the bombing went on all day, there was no electricity and we had limited access to water and food. There was no safe zone, no safe area. So we had to stop our first project. Two days after a ceasefire ended the conflict, we wrote up another eight new concepts for different projects, and the UNRWA agreed to operate three. We could either be positive or cry all day. We chose the positive side and to move on. The cables that we use for all our technical networks are on the list of items that Israel does not allow to enter Gaza. With the support of the UNRWA, it took us nearly four months to bring them in from Israel. Without the UNRWA, it would have taken us a year or more. We also use a generator because most days we get electricity for two to four hours. The overall unemployment rate among graduates in Gaza with ICT degrees is 70%. Among female ICT graduates, it’s 92%. We applied for grants that focus on vulnerable women, and got one from the Basque government in Spain to train 60 female graduates for jobs. We also got a grant from the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative to empower and train 300 ICT graduates to become professional freelancers, and won a $3-million grant in June from the World Bank to train students and software engineers. We have contracts with UN Women and UN Habitat. We are able to travel outside Gaza only two to three times a year, maximum, and sometimes not at all; we need to apply for an exit permit from Israel with support of the UNRWA. Sometimes we are accepted, sometimes rejected; no reason is given. We often lose opportunities if we are registered for a conference, for example, or for training. When we see what we are doing — that it’s changing people’s lives, despite all of the difficulties around us — it makes us feel good. Elizabeth Tilley: Focus on small but crucial changes Sanitation economics researcher, University of Malawi, The Polytechnic, Blantyre I came to Malawi in 2015 after 9 years as a project officer and PhD student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf. I had worked on sanitation projects in Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania and Nicaragua. Most of my work in Malawi now is teaching and supervising master’s and PhD students on such projects as making fuel briquettes out of dried faecal sludge. We work on ‘shit-flow diagrams’ — trying to map and understand where excreta is being generated and how much of it is being treated. We have a very bad Internet connection, and it’s a barrier to downloading files or making Skype calls. We don’t have subscriptions to journals. We have 30 computers for 4,000 students. Paper and photocopying are very expensive. We go days without water to even flush the toilets. At the university, we don’t have toilet paper, so I bring my own each day and I keep a secret bottle of soap. The research agenda in Malawi is driven by big donors from the global north, including national governments such as Norway and Japan, and private donors and non-governmental organizations. Very little funding goes to African researchers for work on topics that they’ve identified themselves. The fact that northern countries offer funding opportunities to those in the global south is an excellent form of development. But some proposals call for the participation of a southern partner with no requirements for the division of funding. This means that the southern partner is sometimes given a limited budget for limited work that has limited impact. I would encourage northern researchers to think about doing sabbaticals in African universities. It gives the southern researcher a chance to focus on publications or research, to be exposed to new ideas and methods, and to connect with a broader network, and the northern researcher can learn how things operate in the south and appreciate what works well at home. When you start to think about how crushing the whole system is, you can go crazy. I had a student who just wrote to tell me that he got into a master’s programme in the United States, and to thank me for the reference letter. He’s so excited, and that’s the kind of thing I can hold on to for a couple of months. First submitted on Nature Careers on 24 July 2018 - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05768-9
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Washington state’s tech billionaires pour cash into global health
The US state of Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, was once the epicentre of the information-technology world, thanks to Microsoft and its founder, Seattle-born Bill Gates — until the dotcom boom sent investors down the coast to Silicon Valley. Now, Gates and other high-profile Microsoft alumni, along with other wealthy donors, are elevating the state as a major player in another sector: global health. One survey, from the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA), an industry body that encourages collaboration between global-health organizations in the state, revealed that 207 local bodies see some of their activities as pertaining to global health. Those groups provide a diverse array of job opportunities in all aspects of the sector. “In Washington state, we have organizations that do everything from lab-based research, vaccines, diagnostics, data collection, service delivery, disaster response, down to last-mile logistics,” says Dena Morris, president and chief executive of WGHA. “Everything from beginning to end, there’s someone in the state working on it.” Nathan Myhrvold was at Microsoft from 1986 to 2000, becoming the company’s chief technology officer in 1996. In 2000, he started the speculative patent firm Intellectual Ventures, based in Bellevue; this now has its own global-health branch, Global Good, which was set up with funding from Gates in 2012. Myhrvold says that the state has a range of specialist enterprises that make it particularly attractive to those involved in this sort of work. “The Seattle area is the Silicon Valley of saving the world,” he says. In 2000, Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, which has been the most significant contributor to the state’s global-health efforts. It has launched and funded several institutes and departments, both at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and at Washington State University, in Pullman — the state’s two largest higher education centres — as well as funding global health organizations based in the area. In 2015, the foundation made US$4.1 billion in grants available globally. It estimates that, in the same year, it generated $1.5 billion in local economic activity, including some $340 million in direct grants to Washington-based research groups. Much of that money goes to the Seattle-based non-profit organization Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) and the University of Washington — both with a history of studying and fighting infectious diseases. The Gates Foundation, which employs 1,200 people in Washington in a $500-million, 84,000-square-metre campus next to the city’s iconic Space Needle observation tower, is the world’s largest philanthropic funder of scientific research in terms of endowment. It employs a further 300 people outside Washington. The hugeness of the foundation has generated criticism. Gates himself has asked why sharing wealth should be optional for billionaires, rather than mandated by government, through taxes or grants. Others have pointed to surveys showing that an increase in private grants for public health can remove incentives for local governments to invest their own resources in health care, precipitating an over-reliance on foreign aid. Still more have argued that the Gates approach to funding institutes over individuals has encouraged the global-health sector to behave more like a capitalist group than a charitable one, and have suggested that the foundation be overseen by an independent international body, such as the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The single biggest gift The Gateses aren’t the only big philanthropists in town, nor is philanthropy limited to global health. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died last October, was another big spender in the region. Most famously, he launched the Seattle-based Allen Institute, which is organized into separate institutes specializing in brain science, cell science and artificial intelligence, along with a grant-awarding body. Rob Piercy, a spokesperson for the Allen Institute, told Nature that Allen had committed more than $1 billion since founding the first institute in 2003. Warren Buffett is credited with much of the growth of the Gates Foundation. The businessman pledged $30 billion in 2006 — what Bill and Melinda Gates in their 2017 annual open letter called “the single biggest gift anyone has ever given anyone for anything”. That gift doubled the foundation’s resources. Health workers give Bill Gates a tour of their work in the village of Kicheba, Tanzania, in 2017.Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty As the Gates Foundation grew, and started to tackle more diseases in more countries, it needed better data to track and respond to outbreaks, says David Wertheimer, director of community and civic engagement at the foundation. To this end, it launched the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in 2007 with a $107-million grant, and has continued to support the centre, which is part of the University of Washington. Wertheimer says that the university was a natural home for the institute. Like PATH, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017, the university was addressing global-health issues “long before the Gates Foundation ever existed”, he says. The institute collects global data on diseases, mortality, morbidity and disability, which aids the Gates Foundation in planning its mission, Wertheimer says. “It will really help us allocate time, talent and resources to the challenges of global health.” William Heisel, director of global services at the IHME, says that the increased support of the Gates Foundation has helped the institute to grow from three people when it started to about 450 now. Seeds of collaboration What’s made the area so successful is how all these entities interact, he says. The IHME shares its data with local and regional organizations, and the Gates Foundation brings together a range of stakeholders; it has held more than 8,000 meetings since 2006, ranging from one-on-ones to conferences of hundreds. “It’s a very collaborative community here,” says Heisel. Public-health specialist Dorothy Thomas says she sees and benefits from that community spirit. Thomas manages logistics at the non-profit organization VillageReach in Seattle, which aims to provide remote communities in the developing world with health care, and is building a database to track the price of delivering vaccine components to different parts of the world. She is working with scientists at the Gates Foundation, PATH and the University of Washington, among others, to build a map of their costs. She’s been pleased with the spirit of cooperation for that project. “There’s an openness, an excitement when it comes to sharing the work that they’ve been doing,” Thomas says. Another characteristic of institutes in Washington is a focus on open-access publishing. The Allen institutes have remained committed to open-access research since they were founded, says Piercy. “No login, no password, no anything required to access the research,” he says. “It’s really the single biggest thing that sets us apart from other basic-science research institutes.” The Gates Foundation also maintains strict open-access policies for the research it funds. Work paid for by the foundation must be published without an embargo, and in front of a paywall, in any journal that’s willing to make the research accessible. This approach has been taken a step further by an international consortium of European research funders, which plans to forbid publishing in anything other than fully open-access journals. The initiative is being led Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s special envoy on open access, who cited the Gates Foundation as an inspiration. Washington’s combination of open data and open doors makes it easy to collaborate with a wide sphere of people, says Heisel. “You are rarely in a room where it’s just charitable organizations speaking to themselves.” Collaborations have emerged between academic, non-profit and commercial partners. For example, the IHME partnered with PATH to look at the effectiveness of immunizations by Gavi, a vaccine alliance based in Geneva, Switzerland. PATH provided on-the-ground insight, while the IHME collected and analysed data. “The ecosystem in Washington is ripe for this,” says David Fleming, PATH’s vice-president of public health. The state’s prosperity, paradoxically, causes some challenges, says Allan Jones, president and chief executive of the Allen Institute. Competition for talent is hot. For example, finding computational scientists can be tough with Facebook and Amazon often seeking similar skills. “We have to compete against that market and we do lose out,” Jones says. The same goes for property. Facebook, Google and Amazon have bought property in popular South Lake Union, where, along with the Allen Institute, the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute also have a presence. Lee Hood, president of the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, worries that the institute might have to move in two years, when its lease comes up for renewal. The Seattle area’s property market has cooled in recent months, but is still one of the most expensive areas in which to buy a home in the United States (see ‘Paddle your own canoe’). Thomas shares a house with five people to beat the rental market. She says that the biggest downside to the state, however, is Washington’s five-month rainy season. “Moisture is coming from every single possible direction that you can imagine,” she says. “That can be pretty rough.” PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE Clay Reid enjoys a quintessentially Seattle commute. He takes his kayak down a hill a few hundred metres from his house, launches it into Lake Union, paddles 2.5 kilometres, and parks it in a garage at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. The 30-minute journey illustrates the difference between cultures in Seattle, Washington, and Boston, Massachusetts, Reid says — he worked as a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston before joining the Allen institute in 2012. “You’re much more likely to discuss how you got to work than what you do at work,” Reid says. Conversations turn to hiking, cycling, camping, climbing and paddling — all of which can be pursued in and around Puget Sound, within an hour’s drive of the city. Reid even anticipated the location of the Allen institute, buying a house near Lake Union to make his commute possible. Now, he often has much of the lake to himself. Paddling is better than driving, because new offices for Facebook and Amazon are bringing more traffic into the South Lake Union area — a problem that will only increase when Google expands its own campus there. Demand for housing has pushed property prices to record highs, with median home prices in the Seattle area hitting US $830,000 last spring. When Reid was looking for a house, he found himself competing against local tech millionaires offering above the asking price and paying in cash. He and his wife settled for a smaller dwelling and later extended the property. Reid has one characteristic that sets him apart from most Seattlites, however — he prefers decaf to regular coffee. When he orders, he sometimes incurs the disdain of snobby baristas. “In Boston, people can be judgemental about what you do for a living,” Reid says. “In Seattle, people can be equally judgemental about how you take your coffee.” Paul Smaglik Up the coast from the valley There is no shortage of global-health problems whose solutions involve advanced technology. For example, Global Good is developing a microscope that can automatically detect diseases such as malaria. The team uses machine-learning technology and pattern-matching software to enable the identification of pathogens that the human eye might miss. This improves the often poor quality of malaria microscopy, which plagues malaria management and elimination programmes; and it could greatly improve the effectiveness of malaria research worldwide, Myhrvold says. The global-health ecosystem in Washington makes such inventions possible, he says. For example, if Global Good needs a biosafety laboratory to study tuberculosis, or mosquito samples to examine malaria, he can usually find collaborators. The sheer number of global-health organizations, combined with their willingness to work together, makes Washington state — and Seattle in particular — a special place to work, he says. Many fellow technology specialists agree, Myhrvold says, and have joined him in moving to the sector. “They like working on some of this stuff. It’s fun. It makes you feel good about yourself, about the impact you have.” First published on Nature Careers on 16 Jan 2019
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What to do when your grant is rejected
The day after she submitted a grant proposal last November, Sarah McNaughton listed all the tactics she could think of to boost her chances of success next time. “I expect to be rejected,” says McNaughton. “It is the exception to get funded, not the rule.” Publishing key papers and forging new collaborations were on her list, as was collecting preliminary data. McNaughton, a nutrition researcher at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, studies dietary patterns to find ways to improve public health. For the next phase of her work, she wants volunteers to use wearable cameras to capture what influences their food choices in real life, so she can determine how those vary depending on a person’s nutrition knowledge and cooking skills. After McNaughton had sent off her grant application to Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), top of her to-do list was launching a pilot study. “If we can show that people will wear the cameras, and they capture the data we need, that would really strengthen the application,” she says. A good idea is no guarantee of grant success. At the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2017 — the most recent year for which data are available — proposals worth a total of almost US$4 billion were rejected simply because they were beyond the organization’s budget, even though reviewers had rated them as very good or excellent. At the US National Institutes of Health, the aggregate success rate for research grants was 20.5% in 2017 (the most recent data available). At the biomedical-research funder Wellcome in London, roughly 50% of applications make it through the preliminary stage. Of those, around 20% were funded in 2017–18. And the NHMRC Investigator Grant category that McNaughton applied for had a success rate of just 7% in the previous round in 2019. “Given the low success rates of funding around the world, the odds are stacked against you in winning that one proposal,” says Drew Evans, an energy researcher at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, and former deputy chair of the Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum. “Work towards a portfolio of activities,” he says. Aiming for different strands of funding to cover various aspects of a researcher’s work is a safer bet than seeking one major grant, he adds. McNaughton applies the same strategy to any research for which she is seeking funding. “I think about how I can split it up and target it to other organizations,” she says. It’s the first step towards applying to different funders without having to start from scratch each time — and you can work on it while waiting for the outcome of one application. “Rather than writing eight different grants, you are building an area — calling on the same literature and on your same publications,” McNaughton says. Planning for rejection is a crucial part of the granting process, say those who have been through the wringer (see ‘More on rejection recovery’). The limited pot of research funds worldwide means that competition is fierce. “We receive many more proposals — many more very good proposals — than we can possibly fund,” says Dawn Tilbury, a mechanical engineer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who is head of the NSF Engineering Directorate, which funds basic research in science and engineering. MORE ON REJECTION RECOVERY It’s painful when your grant application is rejected, but here are some further thoughts on helping you to work productively after you’ve recovered from your disappointment. • You’re not alone. Average success rates are around 20% among large funders, so grant rejection is common. “Don’t lose heart,” says Shahid Jameel, chief executive of IndiaAlliance, a biomedical-research funder in New Delhi and Hyderabad. Rejection doesn’t mean that your work is flawed. • Give yourself time. Allow a week or so to recover, says Candace Hassall, head of researcher affairs at the biomedical funder Wellcome in London. “When people are turned down, they are angry and upset. Let that play out,” she says. Put the application to one side for a few days before you consider your next steps. • Share your setback. Discussing the grant rejection with colleagues, mentors and others can provide emotional support in the short term, and give you constructive feedback to help you to reapply for the grant when you are ready. “People whose grants have been rejected might not want to tell anybody, but getting advice and input can really help,” says Karen Noble, head of research careers at Cancer Research UK, which funds scientists and health-care professionals working on cancer treatments. • Look for ways to improve. Tackling the concerns of the reviewers who rejected your grant is important. “But don’t assume that just by addressing the issues outlined, you will necessarily be successful next time,” says Noble. It is unlikely that the same reviewers will see your application again, so look at it holistically and strengthen it for the next round. This might involve incorporating key new data, learning a crucial technique or forming a fresh collaboration. • Get feedback. Your revision needs review by a broad, diverse group of people, including colleagues, mentors and members of your network. You should also circulate the revision to scientists who don’t specialize in your field. Rejection hurts Rejection can be a bruising experience, say veteran grant-writers, and applicants need to give themselves at least a week to get through the initial pain. “Take a deep breath, close your computer, go home. Talk to your partner, or pet your cat,” says Tilbury. It’s a rollercoaster that Evans has ridden plenty of times. “You go through the various stages of emotions — anger, disappointment, despair, grieving almost,” he says. “Having time to digest, to get upset and angry — you need to go through that process, because you need a clear mind to come back to it constructively.” But grant-seekers can develop tricks to handle rejection better, says McNaughton. “Part of the reason I make a to-do list is to pull back my expectations,” she says. “Once it might have taken me a week or two to bounce back. Now, it’s 24 hours.” During the emotional recalibration process, researchers should share the setback with others, including colleagues and other professional contacts, says Evans. “It is your network that is going to give you the support and encouragement to keep going,” he says. Peers and mentors can help to put the rejection into context. They might also know of other funding opportunities that can help to bridge an immediate financial shortfall, or of potential collaborators who might be able to bring a researcher into a larger funding opportunity. Ask the funder After working through the emotional component, applicants should next seek feedback from the granting organization. The level of feedback sent out with rejection letters varies drastically, depending on the organization, the scheme applied for and the stage the application reached before rejection. For smaller funders, feedback might not be provided as a matter of course. “That takes a bit of effort to put together,” says Kristina Elvidge, research manager at the Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation in Australia. The charity, based near Sydney, funds up to Aus$700,000 (around US$472,000) annually on research into treatments for the rare genetic disorder Sanfilippo syndrome, which causes fatal brain damage. “I always give feedback to rejected applicants if they ask — but they very rarely do,” Elvidge says. For researchers whose work might align closely with the mission of a small foundation, seeking feedback can be the first step in starting a dialogue and building a relationship with a potential long-term funder. Megan Donnell, the foundation’s executive director and founder, says that the organization welcomes such efforts. Discussing grant rejections with peers can help to put them into context, advises Drew Evans (left), shown talking to early-career researcher Nasim Amiralian.Credit: Drew Evans For applicants to a larger organization or agency, such as the NSF, a rejection typically comes with some feedback — but that doesn’t mean the researcher can’t seek more, Tilbury says. “The programme director might be able to fill in some of the blanks,” she says. The feedback can contain many comments, criticisms and suggestions, and often the grant reviewers do not agree with each other. The programme director can help the applicant to peel away superficial concerns and make sure that she or he understands the proposal’s underlying weaknesses so as to address them in a potential revision, Tilbury says. “It’s one of the things programme directors enjoy doing — mentoring junior faculty members and trying to help them in their grant writing.” Some funders will not have the resources to provide feedback. But researchers should not fear tainting their reputation if they ask, says Candace Hassall, head of researcher affairs at Wellcome. “A funding agency won’t think badly of anyone contacting them for advice, even if we can’t give it.” Get feedback on the feedback Once a researcher has gathered constructive criticism, he or she should candidly appraise the strengths and weaknesses of their application. It is important to avoid taking feedback personally, says Shahid Jameel, chief executive of IndiaAlliance, a large research funder in New Delhi and Hyderabad. It supports biomedical and health research in India, and is itself funded by Wellcome and the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology. “You have to get out of this mindset that there is either something wrong with you, or that people are against you,” Jameel says. “Reviewers really want you to do well — that is why they are spending their time reviewing your grant and providing feedback.” Reviewer feedback often seems less negative over time, McNaughton says. “I often colour code my reviewers’ comments — green for good and red for bad — and then realize that actually, there are a lot of good things in there as well,” she says. “These little things can make the process a bit easier.” And getting reviewer feedback is certainly preferable to not getting any, she adds. For her most recent rejection, she received only numerical scores on various components of her grant. “Then it is very difficult to know how to improve the application,” she says. Unsuccessful applicants should also seek input from colleagues and others whose opinions they value. “Talk to your peer group and your mentors — they will have been through the process and they can help you interpret the letter,” says Karen Noble, head of research careers at Cancer Research UK in London, which funds work on cancer treatments. Researchers can ask colleagues whether they agree with the feedback, whether they think that the reviewers missed an important point because it was not fully explained in the proposal, or whether they consider the proposal’s argument to be flawed. Researchers also need to determine whether they should reapply to the same funding scheme or seek alternatives (see ‘Rejection resources’). If an application fell at the first round of screening — in which reviewers assess the overall suitability of an applicant and proposal for that particular scheme — an alternative funder could be a better fit. For example, some government-supported agencies, such as the NSF, give grants for only basic research, whereas others, such as the US Department of Energy, are mission-focused and fund more-applied projects. “It is also important to consider funders that are not in one’s own nation,” says Jameel. REJECTION RESOURCES Every grant writer will experience rejections. Here are some resources to help you find alternative funding and boost your chances of success. • Seek help from your peers. Blogs run by academic researchers often contain useful career advice and information about the challenges of winning funding. Examples include The Research Whisperer in Australia and US-based blog The Professor Is In. Some are dedicated to research funding in specific regions, such as Research Fundermentals, which covers UK grant news. • Find another grant scheme. It might be that your chosen funder wasn’t the best fit for your proposal. Searching portals such as www.grants.gov in the United States and the funding-opportunities database SPIN (run by US firm InfoEd Global) could reveal schemes you hadn’t previously encountered. • Consider different funders. If your application for a government grant was unsuccessful, try obtaining funds from industry. Also look at small foundations — their remits vary widely (see, for example, http://fdnweb.org/eppley) but your work might align perfectly with one foundation’s mission. • Do some training. Look for short courses aimed at writing grant resubmissions so you can learn the most effective ways to reapply. • Network. Join a group of early- to mid-career researchers to gain advice and support. This might be a national organization or one at your institution. Grant-writers should keep industrial funders in mind, Evans says. He notes that applicants might be able to reshape a proposal to show its value to a particular business, adding that scientists who engage with businesses can diversify their grant portfolio and boost the resilience of their research income stream. Exploring potential applications of one’s work to industry could keep a researcher going until the next round of funding agency grants. “Industry partnerships are now one of the hot topics around the water cooler,” he says. Nailing the details Rejection also lurks after the preliminary screening stage when a grant application enters peer review. “If there’s a particular approach the reviewers don’t like, sometimes you may just need to explain it better — but sometimes there’s a mismatch,” Tilbury says. She adds that many early-career scientists seek to apply a technique or expertise they honed during a postdoc to a new area of research. If the reviewers weren’t sold on the idea, the grant-writer needs to think carefully about the proposal, Tilbury says. “Are the reviewers right? Am I using the wrong hammer to pound this nail?” If a grant-seeker is certain that their proposal — and their expertise — do fit the grant scheme, they need to make that clear to reviewers. “A common reason for rejection is that the applicant has made assumptions about what the reviewers know about them,” Hassall says. “If a technique or method is critical to what you are proposing, you have to include it. Make it easy for people to get the information that they need.” Similarly, if referees rejected a grant because the applicant had no experience in a particular technique, it pays to get it and include that information in the next round. Before reapplying, researchers should seek collaborators who are experts in that area or technique, or spend a week working in the collaborator’s lab to gain experience. It is the applications that just miss out on funding that can be the hardest to revise, Noble says. “Sometimes there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with somebody’s application. It just didn’t make it to the top of the list. Those can be the harder ones to try to repackage and put in again.” Yet perseverance is key, says Mariane Krause, a psychologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and president of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) in Chile, which funds research in the country. She encourages researchers to refine their applications and continue to apply. “I have many young researchers who get a grant the third time,” she says. Reapplying to the same organization for funding can work if the funder allows it. “The success rate of reapplications is significantly higher than for first-time applications,” says Alex Martin Hobdey, head of the unit at the European Research Council (ERC) that coordinates project calls and follow-ups. For example, new applicants to ERC grants have a 9–10% success rate. “For people reapplying, the success rate goes up to 14 to 15%. We have people who got their first grant on their seventh application,” he adds (see go.nature.com/2vrfugk). Some schemes impose a specific hiatus period before accepting applications, or have an annual or biannual application deadline. Others, including Cancer Research UK, don’t impose specific limits. But programme officers recommend resisting the temptation to rush in a revised application as quickly as possible. “Take time — don’t knee-jerk,” Noble says. “Will you really be in a better position to reapply in a month?” Nature 578, 477-479 (2020) doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00455-0 Originally posted on nature.com on 18th February 2020 - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00455-0