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Office of the Vice President for Research

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Propel Research Mentorship Program

Developing competitive grant proposals is a skill faculty members build over time. The Propel Research Mentorship Program aims to reduce the time it takes to round that learning curve by providing workshops, intensive mentoring, presentation coaching and editing support to give selected early-career faculty the boost they need to take their competitive proposals to the next level of funding success.

Supporting early-career faculty is one of the key missions of the Office of the Vice President for Research. By investing time, attention and resources in junior faculty members with long careers ahead of them we can help them succeed in every area, including the highly competitive arena of federal grants, for years to come.

To further this mission, the Office of the VPR is pleased to offer the Propel Research Mentorship Program, which provides participating faculty nine months of intensive mentorship, education, editing support and more as they plan, draft, finalize and submit a proposal for a significant federal grant from either the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Examples of a significant federal grant for the purposes of Propel include, but are not limited to, NIH R01 grants or medium/large NSF awards of about $500,000 or more.

Propel, initiated in the 2021-2022 academic year, has two tracks for NIH and NSF applicants, but the Office of the VPR aims to expand the program to include tracks for additional agencies in future years.

 

Prospective Participants

Each year, early-career faculty from any UofSC college or campus may be nominated for a spot in the fall Propel class. Selected participants will then spend nine months in the program, at the end of which they will have a polished grant proposal ready to submit to their target agency, either NIH (June submission cycle) or NSF (no-deadline proposals).

To qualify for the program, prospective faculty participants must:

  • Be nominated by another faculty member (self-nominations are not allowed).
  • Be at a relatively early stage in their academic career, with the current title of assistant or associate professor.
  • Be employed at UofSC Columbia, the UofSC schools of medicine in Columbia or Greenville, a four-year UofSC comprehensive institution or a UofSC Palmetto College campus.
  • Have demonstrated success in securing relatively small external/internal research funding, especially from federal sources.
    • For example, a health sciences faculty member who has received an NIH R03 or R21 grant, but has not yet secured a larger R01 award, or a faculty member in the sciences with a small NSF award who has not yet obtained a larger/collaborative NSF grant.
    • Propel welcomes faculty members who have applied for larger federal awards but not had them funded.

 

Requirements for Selected Participants

Propel participants are expected to:

  • Attend seven in-person program sessions held on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. between September and April (session details are below), in preparation to submit their proposals at the end of the program life cycle. (In-person attendance is required for all sessions except in rare cases with approval from the program director.)
  • Meet proactively and often (at least monthly) with their assigned mentor throughout the program life cycle. Program participants are expected to take the lead in scheduling time with mentors.
  • Submit deliverables (draft proposal sections) to their mentor and editor on schedule and implement their feedback.
  • Plan, develop and submit a competitive grant proposal to their targeted funding agency at the end of the program, typically in June.

 

Program Life Cycle

The Propel Research Mentorship Program kicks off in the fall semester (mid-to-late-September) and wraps up in June (of the following year), with required activities throughout the program’s life cycle. Specific dates and times for workshops and deliverables are subject to change year-to-year but will follow the order shown in the schedule below. A light breakfast and full lunch will be provided for participants at all program sessions.

Kickoff session for all participants

  • Welcome and introductions
  • “Know Thyself” activity
  • Expectations, timeline details and overview of program sessions and deliverables
  • Introduction to successful proposals: Early State Investigator (ESI) considerations, panel discussion on what reviewers look for in a proposal, key features of successful proposals and “The Long Run – Beyond the first submission” presentation

NIH Breakout

  • NIH R01 ESI perspectives from the NIH Review Panel
  • Panel Discussion: The specific aims page

NSF Breakout

  • NSF mechanisms overview (Pros/Cons)
  • Panel Discussion: The project summary

General session for all participants

  • Budgets, budget justification, sub-awards and international postdocs

NIH Breakout

  • Panel Discussion: Significance and innovation – “Why should we do this?”
  • Panel Discussion: Preliminary studies

NSF Breakout

  • Panel Discussion: Project description – Intellectual merit
  • Panel Discussion: Collaborative proposals – Pros/cons
  • Bios, conflict of interest, current and pending support

Session Three Details

General session for all participants

NIH Breakout

  • Panel Discussion: Statistics, power and study design
  • Multiple PI applications
  • R01 – Clinical and non-clinical trial specifics
  • Identifying a study section
  • Panel Discussion: Approach section

NSF Breakout

  • Panel Discussion: Project description – Broader impacts
  • Panel Discussion: Multiple-PI, collaborative proposals
  • Panel Discussion: Identification of co-PIs and developing a team
  • Panel Discussion: Identifying a study section
  • Panel Discussion: Review panels ins-and-outs

 

Deliverable One Details

Participants will submit their first deliverable to their assigned mentor for initial review after session three.

Deliverable one:

  • NIH Specific aims section
  • NSF Project summary section

Overview of deliverable cycles
In November, Propel participants will begin the process of developing their proposals. Each step of proposal development will begin with drafting and submitting one proposal section, or deliverable, to the assigned mentor for initial review. After incorporating the mentor’s feedback, the participant will present the revised proposal section/deliverable to the NIH or NSF group for their feedback. After incorporating the group’s feedback, the participant will send the twice-revised deliverable to the assigned editor for a readability review. After incorporating feedback from the mentor, group and editor, the participant will have a polished proposal section.

Session Four Details

Session four will focus on participant presentations of their first deliverable. Each participant will give a 10-minute presentation, with five minutes for Q&A.

Deliverable one presentations:

  • NIH Specific aims section
  • NSF Project summary section

 

Deliverable Two Details

Participants will submit their second deliverable to their assigned mentor for initial review after session four.

Deliverable two:

  • NIH Significance/innovation section
  • NSF Intellectual merit section

Overview of deliverable cycles
Each step of proposal development will begin with drafting and submitting one proposal section, or deliverable, to the assigned mentor for initial review. After incorporating the mentor’s feedback, the participant will present the revised proposal section/deliverable to the NIH or NSF group for their feedback. After incorporating the group’s feedback, the participant will send the twice-revised deliverable to the assigned editor for a readability review. After incorporating feedback from the mentor, group and editor, the participant will have a polished proposal section.

Session Five Details

Session five will focus on participant presentations of their second deliverable. Each participant will give a 10-minute presentation, with five minutes for Q&A.

Deliverable two presentations:

  • NIH Significance/innovation section
  • NSF Intellectual merit section

 

Deliverable Three Details

Participants will submit their third deliverables to their assigned mentors for initial review after session five.

Deliverable three:

  • NIH Preliminary studies and approach section
  • NSF Broader impact section

Overview of deliverable cycles
Each step of proposal development will begin with drafting and submitting one proposal section, or deliverable, to the assigned mentor for initial review. After incorporating the mentor’s feedback, the participant will present the revised proposal section/deliverable to the NIH or NSF group for their feedback. After incorporating the group’s feedback, the participant will send the twice-revised deliverable to the assigned editor for a readability review. After incorporating feedback from the mentor, group and editor, the participant will have a polished proposal section.

Session Six Details

Session six will focus on participant presentations of their third deliverable. Each participant will give a 10-minute presentation, with five minutes for Q&A.

Deliverable three presentations:

  • NIH Preliminary studies and approach section
  • NSF Broader impact section

 

Deliverable Four Details

Participants will submit their fourth deliverables to their assigned mentors for initial review after session six.

Deliverable four:

  • NIH Research strategy section
  • NSF Project description section

Overview of deliverable cycles
Each step of proposal development will begin with drafting and submitting one proposal section, or deliverable, to the assigned mentor for initial review. After incorporating the mentor’s feedback, the participant will present the revised proposal section/deliverable to the NIH or NSF group for their feedback. After incorporating the group’s feedback, the participant will send the twice-revised deliverable to the assigned editor for a readability review. After incorporating feedback from the mentor, group and editor, the participant will have a polished proposal section.

Session Seven Details

Session seven will focus on mock proposal review presentations. Each participant will give a 10-minute presentation of their full proposal, with five minutes for Q&A.

Mock review presentations:

  • NIH mock review
  • NSF mock review

 

Deliverable Five Details

Deliverable five is the full, complete proposal. After the mock review presentation, participants will incorporate final group feedback into the full proposal. Next, they will submit the full proposal to an external reviewer and incorporate the external reviewer’s feedback. Then they will submit the full, revised proposal to the editor for final review.

Participants submit their final proposal to the targeted sponsor agency.

  • NIH proposals submitted via ASSIST
  • NSF proposals submitted via FASTLANE

 

Propel Nominations

Any UofSC faculty member may nominate any other faculty member(s) that fit within the eligibility criteria below. (Self-nominations are not allowed.)  A faculty review committee will score nominations to inform the selection process.

Eligibility

To be considered for Propel, faculty members must

  • Hold the title of assistant or associate professor.
  • Have received relatively small external grant awards (or subawards) in the past.
  • Be employed at UofSC Columbia, the UofSC schools of medicine in Columbia or Greenville, a four-year UofSC comprehensive institution or a UofSC Palmetto College campus.
  • Not have received a large federal grant (such as an NIH R01 or a medium/large NSF award of about $500,000 or more). Propel welcomes faculty members who have applied for large awards but not had them funded.
Nomination Package Components

Nominators will initiate the nomination process (explained below) online using the Office of the VPR’s nomination system, which is built on USCeRA. After the nomination is initiated, the nominee will complete the nomination package.

Required Nomination Materials

The nominee will answer two simple questions inside of the system, and will prepare and submit the following materials as PDF documents:

  • Cover letter (letter of intent) of one to two pages in length, explaining why the nominee is an excellent candidate for Propel
  • Curriculum vitae
  • NIH or NSF biosketch
  • Past three years of completed/current/pending support documentation
Nomination Procedures

To initiate a nomination, the nominator will log into our awards nomination website at vprinitiatives.research.sc.edu, using the same university network username and password they use to access USCeRA, etc. 


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