Grant Strategies for 2020

Have you turned your energies toward writing grants and articles while quarantined at home during the past few months? That’s wonderful—an efficient use of your valuable, limited time! After all, undisturbed writing time will be hard for you to find once your office or lab opens again. But, by that time, you will have articles and grants ready to submit, so you are ahead of the game!

Or are you? Because it is a safe bet that pretty much every other researcher has been spending their time the same way.

More articles and grants are likely to be submitted to publishers and funders over the coming months. While e-publishing and preprint servers will provide outlets for article publication, grants are another matter. Available grant funding has not increased, unless you work in a COVID-related area, so more grant applications will be in competition for funding in the coming months.

[The week’s new funding opportunities from the NIH can be found here every Friday.]

In America, a recession began in February, and all indications are that businesses and academic institutions in many countries face some tough financial times in the coming months. Non-dilutive (grant) funding may be the lifeline for many small businesses that otherwise would have relied on venture capital, increasing the competition for funding sources on which academic researchers typically rely (e.g., R01s). Similarly, SBIR/STTR funding for small businesses and tech transfer collaborations between academic labs and small businesses, will likely receive more applications. Likewise, programs in Ireland, the Netherlands, and other EU countries with vigorous small business R&D support programs are likely to see an uptick in interest.

[New to finding funding? Here are five easy ways to get started!]


Now that the pool of competitors has increased, grant seekers will find that the enlarged pool of applications will make the already competitive pursuit of grant funding more fiercely competitive. Grants have always been competitive, and simply crossing the finish line of providing all of the information required by a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) does not necessarily put an applicant in the running for a grant, let alone in competition for one.

Competition can be fierce and success rates low, but that doesn’t mean researchers and small businesses shouldn’t compete for funding. It means applicants should approach the process with solid strategy.

Focus your efforts on research ideas you think will be the most competitive and pick the funding sources with which your research best aligns. Take advantage of the resources your institution provides, including statisticians, data specialists, and, of course, medical and scientific writers and editors who can help you refine your proposal. And, of course, stay current with changes being made to programs and the application process.

Take the time to communicate with the personnel of the agency or foundation to which you are applying. They can provide you with insights into how the award process within the agency has changed, the funding available, timelines, and what to expect overall.

Last, but not least, if you are working on tech transfer to develop a startup, think about how the supply chain and work restrictions of the academic institution and business may impact the balance of work required by the STTR program. And, while we cannot predict a second wave of COVID-19, do realize that funders will require you to provide them with a thoughtful plan outlining how your proposed project will move forward should that second wave happen.

The Ongoing Problem of Predatory Journals

In late September, the number of predatory journals on the Journal Blacklist surpassed 12,000. For context, the number of journals on the list has tripled since the list was established in 2017.

While issues of integrity, ethics, and tenure bubble to the surface in any discussion of predatory journals, it’s important to remember the potential practical impacts. That is, the potential for harm when the outcomes of a flawed study spread into the clinical, research, and policy arenas.

This danger arises not only through the initial publication of the article (which may have low initial visibility due to the lack of quality of the journal), but via references to these studies in the legitimate scientific literature, “citation contamination.” In the same way ill-gotten profits can be spent in the open after being passed through legitimate businesses, these articles gain legitimacy by being cited in established publications and databases. These associations enable the dissemination of these studies far beyond the level offered by their initial publication in the sub-standard journal.

The Scholarly Kitchen published the findings of a study to determine the impact of citation contamination and found that, while the percentage of contaminated citations is relatively few, the sheer volume of output by the predatory journals makes that percentage significant. The author indicates that 36% of one predatory journal’s articles had been cited in the legitimate literature.

What should researchers/editors/writers do?

  1. Understand the threat predatory journals present to your research and your reputation. At the end of July, AMWA-EMWA-ISMPP* released a joint position statement on predatory publishing and its “threat both to researchers publishing the results of their work and to the peer-reviewed medical literature itself.” You can read the full statement in Current Medical Research and Opinion here.
    *AMWA – American Medical Writers Association
    EMWA – European Medical Writers Association
    ISMPP – International Society for Medical Publication Professionals
  2. Proactively research a journal before submitting your research for publication. Unfortunately, journals are bought and sold, so don’t assume a journal you found legitimate last year still meets your standards this year. Do a little research before subsequent submissions to rule out big changes.
  3. Closely review any published research you consult for development of your own research and publications. Eschew the use of research published in predatory journals.

If you mentor researchers, editors, or writers who are new to the field, you occupy a key position in the fight against predatory publishers. That’s not to imply that professionals at any point in their career are immune to the problem of predatory journals (and conferences). But it is to say that the ease with which one can garner a first publication via one of these journals can obscure the decision-making process of a new professional without specific knowledge about the peer-review and publishing processes. By educating your new colleagues about these processes and the threats posed by predatory forces in these industries, you safeguard not just a reputation or a career, but also the integrity of research, public policy, and clinical practice.