IPPH Funding - Tips and Frequently Asked Questions
Writing a Winning Grant Application
On June 29th, 2011 during an IPPH-hosted webinar on applying to the CIHR Open Operating Grant Program (OOGP), invited guest Dr. Patricia O’Campo provided helpful points to consider for writing a grant application. Dr. O’Campo is the Director of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital and a Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health Sciences. She also has experience as a CIHR peer reviewer and is a former chair of a CIHR peer review committee. Needless to say, Dr. O’Campo has spent many hours preparing grant applications given her broad research interests and academic background. Her “10 good practices for writing a winning application” have been adapted to provide some general guidance for applying to CIHR grants.
- Take plenty of time to write up the proposal to ensure effective communication of your ideas. It can take approximately six (6) months to write a very good proposal.
- Writing the proposal means developing each of the sections in parallel and iteratively
- Use clear language that scientists from any discipline can understand
- Clearly state the significance and innovative potential of your grant.
- Don’t be shy about stating it a few times in a few different ways. Often the reader is not an expert in your specific area
- Include a summary paragraph highlighting gaps and stating just how the research proposed in your application fills those gaps
- Choose a research project that you are excited about. Let your enthusiasm come through as you write up your grant.
- Grant reviewers appreciate exciting materials to read
- Be sure to communicate the expertise and experience of the Nominated Principal Applicant and all team members (i.e., brag).
- Describe expertise of team in the body of the proposal
- Ensure each CIHR CV is updated and complete
- Ensure that the “most significant accomplishments” section of the CV is up to date and clearly communicates accomplishments and expertise
- Don’t just list out articles that have been highly referenced, provide context to someone reading the CV as a whole
- Ensure that you have the right research team composition.
- Bring on expert co-investigators or use consultants as needed
- Ensure that your methods are sound and completely described including participant recruitment methods, anticipated response/loss to follow up rates/statistical power, etc. that are in line with your research questions.
- Provide justification for your approach
- Consider the timeline and budget early on in the process. Fully justify your budget. Ensure that your grant is not too ambitious.
- Pay attention to all the “small parts” of the grant application.
- Abstract/lay abstract, one-page description
- Some committee members pay attention to and raise questions based upon these sections
- Complete your grant application early and have experienced researchers review and provide feedback well before submitting.
- For resubmission be very responsive to the reviewers’ comments.
We would like to hear your best tips for writing a grant application! To submit your tips, or to get more information on Dr. O’Campo’s strategies, please e-mail IPPH at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open Operating Grant Program
- Consider applying to the CIHR Open Operating Grant Program! Approximately 55% of CIHR’s grants and awards budget is allocated to the Open Operating Grant Program. Competitions are held twice per year.
- When applying to the CIHR Open Operating Grant Program, be sure to review all Priority Announcements to see if there is a fit between them and your research proposal.
- Review the peer review committee mandates and past peer review committee membership on the CIHR website prior to selecting your suggested peer review committee(s).
- CIHR accepts renewal applications to renew funding of a currently-held CIHR open operating grant to continue the same line of investigation. To learn more about renewals, please see section 1C of the Grants and Awards Guide.
- Research summaries provided at the time of application registration are used to help assign applications to a peer review committee and to determine which peer reviewers have the level of expertise required to review applications. Give careful consideration to what you want to convey in the summary about your research questions, research design, theoretical and methodological approach. Use key words that indicate what expertise you consider to be essential for the review of your application (e.g. population health interventions, comparative case study, mixed methods design).
Frequently Asked Questions
Open Operating Grant Funding Opportunity (OOGP)
Are the scores applied to each of the five criteria? Or just an overall rating? Do you need at least 3.5 in each five criteria?
The five individual criteria are not rated separately; it’s just one overall rating for the entire proposal.
Are scores and ranking available to all applicants (even if unsuccessful) after the announcement is made?
Yes. In the OOGP, after peer-review is complete, you are told your final computed rating, rank in the committee, number of applications reviewed and funded in the committee, and your percent rank (rank/number of applications in committee). This gives you a sense of how close you were to the funding cut off.
Since many social scientists typically work as solo investigators (under SSHRC funding), is it recommended that they consider adding a co-investigator or collaborator with medical / clinical type expertise?
No, committees review “like against like”. It is not a matter of biomedical individuals reviewing social science proposals. Adding a clinical/biomedical investigator is recommended only if this individual’s expertise directly contributes to achieving the objectives of your proposal. It is not a requirement. Adding more people on your team is not necessarily better, it is important to think about who is on your team and their contributions to the research.
What is the process for being a reviewer? What factors are taken into account for recruitment?
There are a number of different inputs including consultation with chairs/different committee officers. CIHR undertakes the recruitment. There is no formal process at CIHR for self-nominations. If you are interested and have not been contacted by CIHR, contact Greg Huyer directly. Include your CV (we look not only at the expertise of the potential reviewer but also their research productivity – publications, etc). We want people who are productive in the field, and have the necessary expertise. We are working on a re-vamped recruitment system that can include people in a larger database and match them more effectively to peer review committees as needed – hopefully this will come online in the next few years. It is also helpful for CIHR to know other peer review experience you have had (with other organizations).
Do you have any advice for social science type applicants concerning the relative importance of training of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP), especially in smaller universities with limited or no graduate students or programs?
Unlike NSERC and SSHRC, training of HQP is neither a stated objective of the OOGP nor an expectation. It is not required that funding for students are included in the proposal and it is not an evaluation criterion. It depends on what is appropriate to the type of research. What gets you funded is having an important, original, relevant research question. If training of students is relevant – great. If not, do not include it in the proposal.
Can you clarify the maximum amount and duration of an OOG application?
There's actually no limit to duration and budget, save for the $12.5M large grant envelope: the maximum total budget request over the full term of a grant is capped at $12.5M.
Are large research undertakings — such as global health research — eligible for OOG funding? If so, is bridge funding an option?
Definition of Bridge Funding: The objective of bridge funding is to offer short-term support to researchers who submit excellent research operating grant applications in areas that are not funded through the regular CIHR competition to which they were submitted. This funding will be awarded to allow these excellent researchers to reapply to future competitions.
Global health research is an important part of CIHR's mandate. The Nominated Principal Applicant must be based in Canada, but the other co-Principal Applicants and co-Applicants can be from outside of Canada. The research can be conducted entirely outside of Canada, but the funds are provided to an eligible institution in Canada that manages the expenses. All proposals in the OOGP are eligible for bridge funding. Certain types of bridge funding are untargeted, and others are targeted to specific priorities. Applications that receive bridge funding are fundable (3.5 or above) but typically ranked just below the overall funding cut-off and the funding amounts are normally only a portion of the total request (often a max of 1 year, $100K).
If a grant is re-submitted, will it automatically be reviewed by the same committee?
No, it won’t automatically be reviewed by the same committee, but there is a very good chance it will be. There are times where it may be changed (following discussion with the applicant, and agreement that the previous committee was not the best for the review), but it usually goes back to same committee.
However, even if it goes to the same committee, it may not be reviewed by the same reviewers because they may have rotated off the committee, are away, or have other applications that are more relevant to them.
Population Health Intervention Research Funding Opportunity
What do you mean by a population health intervention?
Population health interventions can include program, policy and resource distribution approaches in public health and other sectors (e.g. education, recreation, transportation, employment and housing).
Population health intervention research involves the use of scientific methods to produce knowledge about policy and program interventions that operate within or outside of the health sector and have the potential to impact health at the population level.
Does my research study have to focus on health equity?
Research supported through this Funding Opportunity is expected to contribute to our understanding of how contextual conditions may intersect with population health interventions to promote health and health equity.
Health equity suggests that everyone can reach their full health potential and that they should not be disadvantaged from attaining this potential as a result of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, social class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance.
What do you mean that the intervention must not be under the direct control of any member of the team?
This means that any member of the research team is not directly responsible for designing or implementing the intervention.
Can decision-makers be named as co-PIs or co-applicants if they are directly responsible for the intervention under study?
No. The intervention must not be under the direct control of any member of the team, including co-PIs or co-applicants. They can, however, be listed as collaborators.
What do you mean by a "natural experiment"?
This means the investigator does not have control over the timing and nature of the intervention or to allocation of those exposed to the intervention. For more information please consult the following reference: Petticrew, M., Cummins, S., Ferrell, C., Findlay, A., Higgins, C., Hoy, C., Kearns, A. & Sparks, L. (2005). Natural experiments: An underutilized tool for public health? Public Health, 199, 751-757.
Can an ongoing intervention or an intervention that has not yet been designed be the subject of the proposed research?
This Funding Opportunity will support research that examines rapidly unfolding; time-sensitive population health interventions. This includes population health interventions that are about to be implemented. Ongoing population health interventions can be studied provided the research aims to understand a change in the delivery of that intervention (e.g. a program is about to be cancelled or major changes to a policy are about to be implemented).
Relevance Review/Peer Review
Is ranking of proposals affected based on which partner is being linked to at the relevance review stage?
Proposals (specifically letters of intent) are not ranked during relevance review. Relevance review is a process undertaken prior to peer review of the letter of intent in order to determine alignment between the submitted anonymized project title, summary and relevance form and the objectives and eligible research priority areas listed in the "Objectives" section of the Funding Opportunity.
If the anonymized project title, summary and relevance form are deemed to be not relevant the application will be withdrawn from the competition.
If the proposal is ranked relevant at the relevance review stage the associated letter of intent will be sent to peer review for grading. Partners will be considered during peer review.
Is balance between social sciences and medical sciences a requirement in proposals?
It is wonderful to see social scientists working with medical scientists. We are targeting researchers inside and outside of the health sector from a variety of disciplines including the social sciences and humanities. We encourage relevant collaborations based on the proposal, but there are no requirements for the disciplinary background of researchers.
There is a strong international focus in the Funding Opportunity, but will local issues also be appealing and successful?
We made explicit reference in the Programmatic Research Funding Opportunity to global health so that global health researchers know they are included; however, decisions to fund Programmatic Research will not be based on whether the proposal is on global health, national, or local health issues.
What is programmatic research?
Programmatic research involves:
- Multiple research projects that are conceptually linked and implemented over several years, based on an analysis of gaps in current knowledge in the field, especially gaps of importance to research users engaged in relevant policies and programs;
- A series of research projects (addressing the eligible research area(s) of this RFA), inside a clearly conceptually linked programmatic theme;
- An assessment of related research capacity in the eligible research area(s) to be examined and a clear rationale for the proposed program for strengthening that capacity; and,
- An interdisciplinary group of researchers and knowledge-users engaged in the program's development and implementation.