SCRI Grant Enhancement Training with Geriatric Education & Research Institute
Submitting grant proposals can be an arduous process for some. To better equip principal investigators (PIs) and research officers with the skills to navigate this challenge, SCRI organises Grant Enhancement Training (GET) workshops every year.
On 18 and 25 May 2023, in partnership with the Geriatric Education & Research Institute (GERI), SCRI held its annual GET workshop for GERI and other healthcare institutions such as Changi General Hospital and Woodlands Health Campus. The workshop attracted a diverse audience including clinician-scientists, biostatisticians, clinical research coordinators (CRCs) and research officers.
Crafting an engaging and robust grant proposal
A/Prof Edwin Chan, Chief Scientific Officer, and A/Prof Mihir Gandhi, Head of Biostatistics, led the first session by sharing valuable insights into the key elements of a grant application, along with practical tips for crafting concise and compelling research proposals that would persuade funders.
The knowledge shared was valuable to the participants, as their proposals contribute to multidisciplinary research that may translate into tangible solutions for our healthcare system. GERI, in particular, focuses on research in health and healthcare related to ageing, so as to impact health policy and practice and improve the lives of seniors in Singapore.
A/Prof Edwin emphasised the need for proposals to possess a logical flow. He drew upon his experience, sharing how his Ph.D. supervisor likened the process of writing papers to "weaving a story" that engages reviewers. A simple linking sentence was highlighted as an effective tool to connect different sections of the proposal, ensuring a concise and coherent narrative. The avoidance of excessive technical jargon was also stressed, enabling reviewers to understand the proposal, even if they lack expertise in the specific field.
Furthermore, A/Prof Edwin spoke about the significance of conducting a systematic literature review to bolster the case for the proposal's importance. By examining key studies and identifying gaps in current management options, applicants can demonstrate the relevance and necessity of their research within the local context. This approach not only enhances the team’s credibility but also emphasises the potential impact of their proposal.
A/Prof Gandhi addressed common pitfalls encountered by new PIs in their proposals. He highlighted the importance of feasibility, a reasonable budget, proper sample size justification, and a robust statistical analytical plan.
To ensure data quality and minimise staff fatigue, he recommended planning for a study without excessive and unnecessary data points. Additionally, A/Prof Gandhi underscored the importance of describing study design, endpoint selection and other methodologies from the outset, reducing the need for assumptions by reviewers throughout the proposal. Lastly, he emphasised the need for collaboration with a statistician to write the methodology section of the grant proposal, ensuring that planned endpoints are well-supported by data and aligned with the study's specific objectives.
During the Q&A session, participants sought advice on optimal sample sizes for the planned objectives, as well as strategies for conducting preliminary studies due to resource constraints.
In their concluding remarks, both A/Prof Edwin and A/Prof Gandhi reiterated the importance of seeking input from peers outside their specific fields of expertise. Having a neutral perspective can identify areas that require further clarity or improvement, enabling applicants to refine their proposals and make them more comprehensible.
Strategies for effective data management and study operations
Ms Ng Xuanhui, Head of Data Management, Dr Cynthia Cao, Senior Project Manager and Dr Edward Tan, Lead, Research Administration (Support), GERI, led the second session.
Xuanhui provided valuable guidance on data management for teams without a dedicated data manager. She outlined a six-step process, starting with developing a study plan to identify operational challenges and ensure data collected is relevant to objectives set for the study. Data cleaning was emphasised to maintain validity and consistency, especially when verifying data against assessment results.
She further stressed on having a robust centralised system for data integration. Alternatively, participants were advised to reconcile data from different sources to ensure comprehensive information. The BEST acronym (Baseline, Efficacy, Safety, Treatment and termination) was suggested as a framework for evaluating endpoints. Finally, Xuanhui highlighted the use of standardised data entry formats to facilitate efficient data cleaning and analysis.
She also introduced a data management plan which serves as a guiding template for all involved, including research coordinators and IT teams. It provides a roadmap for data handling, practical steps to address challenges and can even be used for audit purposes to document the study's execution.
Dr Cao provided insights into five key aspects of study operations: project organisation structure, stakeholder management, high-level risks, milestones and timelines, and the inclusion of research services in the budget. She emphasised the importance of establishing a clear project organisation structure and engaging key stakeholders from the beginning to prevent oversights and delays. She provided an example where a missing test due to lack of stakeholder involvement caused significant delays in a multicentre study. Managing stakeholder expectations and actively involving them throughout the study process were highlighted as crucial for success.
Identifying high-level risks and implementing a risk management mitigation plan were recommended to address potential challenges. Tracking key milestones and timelines allows for timely decision-making and addressing delays. In addition, budget planning should consider including research services to ensure professional support, especially when collaborating with external parties.
Dr Cao concluded by sharing SCRI’s complimentary Pre-Grant Operation Support for public healthcare researchers, offering reviews of study operations in grant proposals, provision of study checklists, and consultation services on the management of the study operation. This support aims to assist researchers, particularly new PIs, in enhancing their study operation management and revising grant applications effectively.
Dr Tan led a session on budgeting for research projects, where he shared some of the broad pointers and considerations when planning and managing project budgets. He reiterated the significance of understanding the funder’s specific requirements when creating project budgets. Referring to the terms and conditions for purchases is essential as different agencies may have different requirements for allowable expenses. It is crucial to align the proposed budget with the narrative in the proposal, while being concrete and specific in budget requests. When asked about budgeting for extensions, he emphasised the need to work closely with one’s institutional administration as practices may differ across institutions.
Through this workshop, the collective insights provided by SCRI and GERI staff will serve as valuable resources for participants as they strive to stand out in a competitive environment. By establishing clear connections between their objectives and the collected data, while avoiding unnecessary repetition, they can effectively communicate their research ideas to reviewers. With newly gained strategies for effective data management, participants can better structure their data operations and enhance their research endeavours.
In addition to GET workshops, SCRI Academy offers structured training programmes designed to support the development of CRCs. Find out more here: for.sg/academy