Junior investigator, Julia Gerson, attends NIH mock study section

Julia Gerson recounts her experience:

As a REC mentee I had the opportunity to travel to NIH to participate in a mock study section and attend the 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementias Summit with other REC mentees representing each Alzheimer’s Disease Center. This is the first year the NIH has provided this opportunity to young trainees.

On the first morning, NIH staff members provided advice and guidance on how best to succeed not only in grant writing but also in selecting the appropriate grant, communicating with NIH and strategies for achieving independence. After lunch it was time to form our mock study sections. In the weeks leading up to the meeting we had all submitted our own R03 grants to be reviewed and had reviewed one of our fellow trainees grants. I came away with a number of lessons from participating in the mock review:

  1. Reviewing grants is difficult, exhausting work. We’ve all heard this before but until I did it myself, I didn’t fully understand just how draining the exercise is. So do anything you can possibly do to make your reviewer’s job easier!
  2. If you’re not in the room, you can’t have an impact. There are documented biases and flaws in the system of grant review and path to tenure. The NIH is always looking for new reviewers so if you have a perspective that is missing from the average room of reviewers, apply so your voice can be heard.
  3. Don’t expect reviewers to take your word for how novel and significant your research is. Superlatives and overselling yourself in grants are not useful and can raise suspicions or frustrations for a reviewer. Show them the impact and significance of what you’re doing, don’t tell them.

In the days following the mock study section, I enjoyed learning about the accomplishments and current priorities in the field of dementia research and came away with new ideas and broad perspectives outside my own research niche. However, possibly the greatest thing I took away from the experience were the connections I made with the amazing group of REC mentees who attended the conference with me.