Grant Application Tips

by MAJ David Tennant

Types of Grants Available
When looking for grant opportunities it is important to consider your previous experience in research, your experience with grant applications and the scope of what you are wanting to acquire funding for. An honest assessment of your previous research experience and career timeline may help determine what grant opportunities are most fitting. This will also help determine the feasibility of the proposed plan. It is also important to determine what your desired goal is. If it is to have a multi-centered, multi-year trial, it is best to ensure that you have the infrastructure and capabilities to support this. For early career clinical scientists and residents it may be easiest to start with limited goals until a history of strong research support can be established prior to attempting to apply for a larger government funded grant.

In general grants pertaining to orthopaedic surgeons fall within 4 broad categories:

  1. Industry sponsored

    Industry sponsored grants can be found through inquiry with the companies themselves. The majority of orthopaedic related companies have dedicated research division that may be willing to fund various projects of interest to the use of their products. Those studies that will likely show favorable results or that may display an additional use of their product generally have a higher likelihood of funding through this mechanism. Unfortunately, this also will likely introduce some bias in your study and the funding source should be disclosed in all circumstances to maintain objectiveness. For smaller studies and/or resident studies this can be a good option.

  2. Society sponsored

    Society sponsored grants are those grants that are endorsed and/or funded through a medical specialty or state medical society (SOMOS, OTA, ORS, AOSSM, etc.) These can be found on each organization’s society webpage and generally have very specific criterion for selection. Many of these society funded grant opportunities are specifically designed for residents, fellows and early career clinician scientists. Along these same lines, many of the grants have lower limits on what they will financially support and assume that there is some basic research support and infrastructure that will assist in the completion of the study. One example of a society sponsored grant is the SOMOS Research grant that offers up to $20,000 to support pre-clinical or clinical research investigating musculoskeletal conditions or injuries of relevance to the warfighter and the Society. As noted, these grants are specific to particular research goal and any grant proposals should directly address these objectives.
  3. Government funded 

    Government funded grants are often associated with a significantly higher level of funding and research experience. There are several government agencies that help facilitate these grants with specific goals and aims (NIH, DARPA, CDMRP, etc). These grants range from early career grants to fully funded multi-year grants. Generally speaking, researchers who are applying for these grants will have a significant degree of research experience with the institutional support and time to dedicate to research endeavors. These grants often are associated with significantly more oversight and have significantly more reporting requirements. 

  4. Internally funded

    Internally funded grants can be obtained through individual institutions and local programs that are supportive of conducting research. The funds available through internal means vary greatly depending on the institution and the goals of the institution. Many GME programs have funds available for limited studies that will support resident education and training requirements.

Finding Grant Opportunities
Finding grant opportunities can be somewhat difficult until you know where to look.

Below are some resources that may help as a starting place to look for information on various funding opportunities.

Grant Workshops
Several grant workshops are available for orthopaedic surgeons through various subspecialty societies. Most notably, SOMOS provides the opportunity for early-career orthopaedic clinical-scientist to attend the Clinical Scholar Development Program (CSDP) as part of the annual CDR Michael T. Mazurek Clinician Scholar Award. This program is intended to provide promising orthopaedic surgeon clinical scientist with a working understanding of clinical research opportunities and development while providing mentorship opportunities. The US Bone and Joint Initiative Grant Mentoring and Career Development Program is another opportunity to improve grant writing abilities through hands-on education and mentorship focused on constructing well-founded research proposals. Each of these require an application process focused on showing the individuals potential as a surgeon-scientist.

Helpful tips
Attention to detail
Grant applications need to have a high level of attention to detail. The committees assigned to review your application will use the level of care associated with your grant application to determine the subsequent attention to detail that will be applied to your proposed research. Failure to follow simple formatting guidelines or failure to submit a portion of the application will limit the success of your grant application.

Building the right team
Having the right team for a grant application cannot be understated. Depending on the type of grant and level of funding requested, details of your research team will also be requested at the time of the application. In order to be successful, you will need to display to the selection committee that your research team is experienced in the field of study and that the investment of funds into your proposed research will yield meaningful results. Having strong mentors and clinicians with a history of research and grant management will help you be successful.

Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those people who have been successful before you.
There are plenty of people who have been successful in the grant application process who are willing to help. Also, do not hesitate to reach out to the organization that you are applying to as they will often be able to help make sure that you have answered all requirements an can help guide you on what may be helpful.

Be on time
A late application is a dead application. Make sure you hit all deadlines as required or the likelihood of success will drop precipitously.

Stay focused on the topic
Ensure you stay focused on what your grant application is proposing. If you are unable to produce a focused grant proposal, it is likely that your study itself will lack focus and may produce substandard results or fail altogether.