5 Keys To Writing A Shared Instrument Grant

I’m a scientist, not Perry Mason. I’m not a defense attorney or a detective.

Why would I say that? Because well before March grant writers need to be a Perry Mason – make the case and defend it to have a successful Shared Instrument Grant (SIG). For those running core facilities (or Shared Resource Laboratories), then March is a critical time of the year, and we’re not talking basketball.

A grant is a true story. This year’s deadline is March 21. It’s critically important in this tight funding climate to make sure nothing moves your grant from the “must-fund” to the “next” pile. The most important piece of any story, and a grant is a story, is the first 50 words.  The first line of the grant has to provoke the sense of urgency on why this grant needs to be funded.  After those 50 words, everything is justification.

Like Perry Mason, a case must be built, a solid argument with a single conclusion: the instrument is critical to the continued success of the institution and that the institution will be a good steward of the funds that will go to purchase the equipment. SIG grants follow a formula, and there are some critical expectations you need to check off to move to the Final Fourand get funded.

1. Address Biosafety

If a cell sorter is on the list, make sure the grant has addressed the recommendations from the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC) biosafety taskforce about cell sorting. And as per all grants, make sure to have a letter from the institutional biosafety officer.

2. Engage Major Users

The major users bring the grant to life.  Three users are needed with P01, R01, U01, R35, R37, DPI or DP2 level funding. The limit is 8-10 users. While NIH allows up to 6 pages, the reviewers will appreciate fewer pages tightly focused on the critical components.  Work with your major users until you can articulately highlight their research, the limitations of their current technology, and how a new instrument will enhance or speed up their research. For each accessory, list 3 users who need it and spell out why they need it.

3. Know What You Want

Make sure you and your users know the capabilities of the instrument you’re requesting.  If a major user highlights what the instrument can’t do (talking about sorting on an analytical instrument), it could blow the grant.  Do not write “FACS” when you mean flow cytometry.  FACS is the Becton Dickinson trademark. When reviewers see “FACS”, they assume the person writing the grant is too confused about the instrument to be taken seriously.

4. Garner Institutional Support

Historical support doesn’t guarantee future support.  Make sure you get a firm commitment for future support, whether it is a service contract, a technician, or space. Get as many commitments as possible. End of story.

5. Prepare Administration and Budget

In preparing the administrative and budget sections, highlight the skills in the facility.  Which people can help with the new instrument?  What is the training program like?  How will you and the major users deal with the data?  Questions like these must be addressed. Make sure you prepare a one year detailed budget for integrating the new instrument, as well as a five year projected budget. Establish exactly how the instrument will be worked into the workflow of the facility on both a short-term and a long-term basis. Case closed.

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Tim Bushnell, PhD
Tim Bushnell, PhD

Tim Bushnell holds a PhD in Biology from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a co-founder of—and didactic mind behind—ExCyte, the world’s leading flow cytometry training company, which organization boasts a veritable library of in-the-lab resources on sequencing, microscopy, and related topics in the life sciences.

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