A well-crafted grant proposal does more than just outline a project; it pinpoints its specific objectives with clarity and precision. The “specific aims” section of a grant proposal is pivotal, as it delineates the targets the project seeks to achieve.

The Specific Aims section must be coherent and sharply focused. Grant proposals needs to convince reviewers to invest in your research. As investors are often risk-averse, funders are inclined to favor well-defined, tightly focused projects rather than ambitious ones clouded with uncertainties.

In constructing the specific aims of a grant proposal, the focus must remain on presenting coherent and clear aims (Santen et al., 2017). Let’s explore three iterations of the same grant proposal, as real examples can provide illuminating insights.

First Version: June 2018 (NIH Submission)

I proposed to:

  1. Develop two bioinformatics tools (iDEP and ShinyGO) for analyzing genomics data
  2. Expand the knowledge base supporting both tools
  3. Use these tools to study gene regulation in embryonic development

Though noble, these specific aims were neither coherent nor focused. An entire career could be devoted to such expansive goals. Unsurprisingly, this proposal was Not Discussed.

Revised Version: November 2018 (NIH New Application)

I narrowed the specific aims to focus on iDEP, proposing:

  1. Improve reproducibility and add essential functionalities
  2. Expand the knowledge base
  3. Conduct testing and documentation
  4. Create a standalone app to map raw RNA-Seq reads

This version earned an impact score of 57, ranking at the 53rd percentile. It marked progress but remained unfunded.

Third Version: July 2019 (NIH Revision)

After criticisms of Specific Aim 4, I further refined the goals:

  1. Redevelop and improve iDEP
  2. Expand the knowledge base
  3. Conduct testing, documentation, and user outreach

These aims were coherent, naturally related, and specifically tailored. Additional support letters from users reinforced the proposal. With an impact score of 30, this version ranked at the 15th percentile and was awarded in September 2020.

Conclusion: Clarity and Focus Are Key

These examples demonstrate the vital role of defining and focusing your aims in a grant proposal. Funders are attracted to projects with clear, risk-free paths to success. Tailor your proposal to emphasize coherence and don’t hesitate to narrow your aims to present a strong, persuasive argument. The diligence and precision in crafting your proposal can yield success, as my own experience attests.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ge lab

Professor of Bioinformatics


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