Oct 13, 2015
Applications for 2016 Conquer Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Awards (YIAs) and Career Development Awards (CDAs) recently closed—which means, according to Eduardo M. Sotomayor, MD, that this is the ideal time to start working on applications for 2017 grants and awards. As 2015-2016 Chair of the Grants Selection Committee, Dr. Sotomayor explained that the most common mistake applicants make is not giving themselves enough time.
“Reviewers can always tell when you’ve rushed to put an application together. It is clear that the proposal is not well thought out. The mentor letter is vague and does not clearly indicate the plan for professional development. Trying to put together an application in one or two months is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “To put together an excellent proposal, you should really start preparing and working with your mentor a year ahead of the application deadline.”
AC: Besides not spending enough time on the application, what other common mistakes do applicants make?
ES: Every year, we emphasize the importance of biostatistical considerations. Sometimes we see well-written applications with a strong scientific premise, but there is no biostatistical support to provide the reviewers with the certainty that the project can be accomplished within the one- or three-year scope of the grant. Starting this year, YIA and CDA applicants will be required to submit a onepage detailed statistical plan.
AC: What other factors does the Committee consider when reviewing grant applications?
ES: For YIAs, we carefully consider mentorship and environment. We look at how the applicant will interact with the mentor, and how the applicant will take advantage of the clinical research enterprise at their institution. We also consider whether the proposed project can be carried out in the single year of the award.
For CDAs, we consider the track record of the applicant, whether the person has already been working and publishing in the area of the proposed research. Environment is also important: Is the institution going to provide this junior faculty member with mentorship, protected time for research, and adequate resources? Because this is a three-year award, we want to see that the applicant has a plan in place to deliver what they’ve written in the proposal. For both YIAs and CDAs, we >are looking for the potential of the applicant and the proposed project to advance patient-focused research.
AC: Are there any hallmarks of truly exceptional applications?
ES: Exceptional applications show us the academic trajectory of the applicant. This person was involved in basic science or population studies in college. In medical school, this person took extra time to conduct research activities. In residency and fellowship, you see this person start to focus on a specific area of research. This shows the reviewers that the applicant has passion and commitment.
AC: Why were you interested in serving on the Grants Selection Committee?
ES: Reviewing the grants for young investigators is extremely important for the future of ASCO, by giving confidence to the future academicians who are going to be moving the field forward. Receiving a Conquer Cancer Foundation grant is very prestigious and indicates ASCO and the Foundation’s sense of confidence in the investigator, which may inspire them to continue pursuing their clinical and translational research in oncology.