Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund
The Reviewer’s Perspective: Insights into an NIH Study Section
We are pleased to introduce a new guest blogger, Dr. Carol Lutz. This is part one of a two-part blog on writing fellowship applications.
Hello, my name is Dr. Carol Lutz, and I am a faculty member in the Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. I am also an Assistant Dean for Curriculum at the School of Graduate Studies on the Rutgers Newark campus.
I currently serve as a regular panel member and Co-chair of an NIH study section that reviews pre-and post-doctoral fellowship applications. Although my personal experience is in the biological/biomedical sciences, many of these points are applicable to any fellowship application in any discipline.
You want to make sure that the reader understands your proposal immediately. Use clear language and define unfamiliar terms. Chances are, the reviewer or reader will not be directly in your field but may have a general understanding. Don’t use too many catch phrases, acronyms, or jargon words that may frustrate him/her. If the reviewer is reading your application late at night (likely!) you want them to be excited and enthusiastic about the work you propose.
Attention to detail
This is a very important part of the application that is all too often overlooked in the haste to complete and submit a fellowship.
Make sure that your grammar and spelling are completely accurate. Sentences should be complete. Verbs should all be in the same tense. “Passive” vs “active” voice may vary by discipline.
Ask others to review your work. Pay attention to comments you get from them; they are trying to help you, not to be critical in a negative way.
Make sure that your citations are appropriate and accurate. It’s okay and desirable to describe your contribution to development of the ideas.
Be sure that all parts of the applicate are completed thoroughly. A missing or incomplete part will not help you.
You can underline or bold statements that are very important for the reader to note, but don’t overdo it. True story—I once had an application to review that every other sentence was bolded. You might imagine how that went over.
Make sure your application is legible. Don’t use a font that is too small. If you include diagrams or figures, make sure they are of a reasonable size so that the reader can see them as well as immediately identify the point you are trying to make.
Reasonable scope of work for the time frame
Keep in mind that most fellowships are designed to support one PhD student or post-doctoral fellow for a defined period of time, usually 1-3 years. Your proposed project should keep that in mind. Don’t propose enough for 5 students for 10 years! The reviewers will likely see that approach as “overly ambitious” and “lacking focus.”