A suit-clad arm is extended to support a GPS location icon.

New Faculty GPS program application open until September 28

The New Faculty Grant Planning and Support (GPS) program is a professional development program designed to support new tenure-track faculty in developing competitive applications for extramural funding programs. Specifically, the program:

  • Helps new faculty map out a plan for which funding opportunities to target in their first five years at Miami
  • Offers new faculty grantsmanship mentorship and support

Program components

New Faculty GPS consists of two phases.

Phase 1 – Individual Development Plan

In Phase 1, each participant works with an external consultant to create an individual development plan (IDP). The IDP will include goals for teaching, research, and service, and will emphasize external grant-seeking. IDPs are meant to be living documents that can grow and change as participants move through the early stages of their careers.

Phase 2 – Proposals for External Funding

Faculty who are selected to participate in Phase 2 will work one-on-one with a consultant-mentor to develop competitive proposals for external funding — one in each of their five years of participation. The consultant-mentor will provide a complete and comprehensive review of the draft application, and provide:

  • An overview of important elements of the proposal
  • Constructive criticism on the draft proposal
  • Guidance on exploring different options for the research agenda and other elements (e.g., education, professional development) that need to be integrated into certain proposals.

Each Phase 2 participant is expected to work with Research & Sponsored Programs to submit at least one proposal for external funding per year of participation and will submit a brief report to their dean and Research & Innovation annually.

Community meetings and other opportunities

Community meetings

Community meetings will be open to both Phase 1 and Phase 2 participants. All participants are expected to attend these meetings in their first two years of participation. Attendance is optional for those in their third through fifth years of participation. Meetings will be held approximately once a month during the academic year.

The overarching goal of these meetings is to build a community of support, so not all meetings will include formal programming. When formal programming is offered, topics will be selected by participants, and may include:

  • Talking to program officers
  • Developing proposal budgets
  • Developing broader impacts plans for NSF proposals
  • Tips/advice from funded researchers
  • Agency-, program-, or opportunity-specific information
  • Research-related intellectual property – publications and patents
  • Research ethics and integrity
  • Research computing support

Programming may be delivered by Research & Innovation staff, other Miami faculty or staff, the participating consultants, or other experts.

Other opportunities

New Faculty GPS is not a writing workshop. However, faculty who would like additional peer support and accountability may choose to join other program participants in optional writing groups. Additional program-specific opportunities for networking and professional development may occasionally be offered, and participants are among the first to be notified about opportunities Research & Innovation makes available to Miami’s broader research community.

Results from previous cohorts

The GPS program began in 2018-2019, and in 2019-2020, we welcomed our second cohort of participants. The majority of participants have reported feeling more confident about future proposal submissions. Many participants also said they had or would apply to a “bigger” or more competitive program and that their proposals were of higher quality than they would have been without their participation in the program. The following were things participants mentioned especially liking about the program:

  • “The accountability and support.”
  • “[Having an] experienced consultant to work on identifying opportunities and writing applications.”
  • “Access to consultants and more connection with [Research & Innovation].”
  • “I have loved working with my consultant, and I also enjoyed some of the professional development sessions quite a bit.”
  • “The flexibility and feeling that the program is responsive to my needs.”
  • “The program helped familiarize me with different resources available at Miami University.”
  • “Learning about the variety of research happening across campus.”
  • “[The] sense of community.”

Application for 2020-2021 cohort

New Faculty GPS is open to tenure-track faculty (including librarians) in their first or second year of appointment. All eligible faculty were emailed directly with an invitation to apply to the program. Any eligible faculty member who did not receive an email invitation should contact me at johnsthb@MiamiOH.edu or 9-1760 if they are interested in applying. Applications are due by 8:00am on Monday, September 28.


Image by mohamed_hassan via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons license.

Sketch of the letters X, Y, and Z

Using SciENcv to create compliant biosketches

SciENcv biosketches will be required for NSF proposals with submission deadlines on and after October 5, 2020. With that date coming up quickly, we want to give all of the faculty at Miami a heads-up about creating their biosketches on SciENcv. Please follow the directions below.

  • Click the NSF login button to connect SciENcv with your profile on research.gov.
  • You will be redirected to research.gov’s sign-in page. Enter your login information and click the Sign In button.
  • After you log in, you will be redirected back to the NCBI website, where you will now be logged in. Click the Create New Document link.
  • Once on the “Create a New Document” page you will need to name your bio-sketch. We highly recommend naming it with a date so you know when updates will be needed in the future. In the format section, select NSF Biosketch.
    • Select an option in the “Choose data source” section.

      • If you select National Science Foundation from the “External source” drop-down menu and you have nothing in your NSF profile, you will see a message warning you that some SciENcv fields will be left blank.
      • If you select Start with a blank document and then click Create, you will be taken to a page where you can input your professional preparation, appointments, products, and synergistic activities.
        • Under “C. PRODUCTS,” clicking the Select citations link will allow you either to connect your ORCID account or to visit “My Bibliography,” where you can select citations to add to your ScieENcv.

 

        • If you do not have existing citations uploaded to NSF or ORCID, you will need to add them in SciENcv individually, but you will only need to do this once because the system will save the information and auto-populate it in future bio-sketches. Clicking the add citations link in the “Products” section allows you to access PubMed citations.
  • Once you have completed your bio-sketch, click Download: PDF in the bottom right of the page, below “Synergistic Activities.” Select PDF download your biosketch in the format shown below.

If you need more help creating a biosketch in SciENcv, please contact me (danielct@MiamiOH.edu) or the proposal consultant assigned to your department!


Public domain image from Max Pixel.

Closeup of number keys on an old-fashioned manual calculator.

FY2021 grant budget template available

Fringe benefit rates are set each fiscal year by the university’s budget office. Because these rates change from year to year, our grant budget template — which calculates fringe benefits for personnel on proposed projects — must be updated each fiscal year. The budget template for FY2021 is now available. (Please note that there is now only one budget template for all proposals, including those submitted to NSF.)

Submitted grant budgets must reflect the correct fringe benefits, so no outdated budget templates can be accepted by Research & Sponsored Programs. Please take a minute to download and save the FY2021 template and delete any outdated ones you may have saved.


Photo by George Hodan, via PublicDomainPictures.net.

Tablet device with the word "policy" and parts of the definition of the word policy visible on the screen.

Changes announced for policy on tuition waivers for grant-funded research assistants

As of July 1, 2020, Miami University discontinued waiving the full amount of in-state tuition for grant-funded graduate research assistants. Under the new policy, in-state tuition waivers will be scaled to the amount of direct costs in a grant. The additional out-of-state surcharge above in-state tuition will continue to be waived for all grants. Investigators are now required to include a minimum of 4.3% of the direct costs of a project as tuition for each graduate student stipend, unless a funding agency specifically prohibits charging tuition. If you are requesting more than $250,000 per year in direct costs, or there is no limit on the amount that can be requested, full in-state tuition must be included at the current rate of $523 per credit hour. Tuition is not subject to facilities and administration (F&A) charges. The established minimum percentage will be evaluated annually and may change as tuition rates change.

Rationale

As part of a benchmarking exercise during strategic plan formulation, the research office learned that as recently as five years ago, most universities in our research expenditure bracket in Ohio and in the Midwest made it a common practice to waive fully both in-state and out-of-state tuition on grants that included a stipend for a graduate research assistant. Last year, as the research office updated its strategic plan, the same benchmarking exercise demonstrated that nearly every university that had, five years ago, been waiving full tuition was now expecting principal investigators to cover at least a portion of tuition on smaller grants and to cover full in-state tuition on major grants (≥$250,000 per year). This change means that Miami’s practice of waiving full tuition made us an outlier. The new policy aligns our practices to national norms.

As a result of the benchmarking and program review, beginning this past academic semester, Research & Sponsored Programs staff started asking some PIs to include partial tuition on their grants. On June 4, Jim Oris, then-Vice President for Research & Innovation, held an online forum with over 30 attendees to discuss a possible change in policy. Provost Osborne subsequently approved the change to take effect July 1, 2020.

The percentage calculation

Nearly all universities consider an NIH R01 grant the standard for a “major grant” and require grant budgets to cover the full cost of in-state tuition for their graduate research assistants. Typically, an R01 uses a modular budget that allows up to $250,000 in direct costs per year.

Using this same standard – an NIH R01 grant with a modular budget (i.e., $250,000 per year) – full in-state graduate tuition for a single research assistant was calculated as a percentage of the annual direct costs. Assuming full time graduate enrollment of 9 hours during each fall and spring and 3 hours during summer, for a total of 21 credits per calendar year, full in-state graduate tuition for a single research assistant amounts to 4.3% of $250,000. The fairest approach is to apply the 4.3% standard evenly across all grants that include stipends for GAs, as an offset to the cost of tuition. In cases where the 4.3% does not cover full in-state tuition, the remaining in-state tuition will be waived (as will the full out-of-state surcharge).

Examples

NIH grant

Our most common NIH grant is an R15 (AREA) mechanism, which is $300,000 in direct costs over three years, or $100,000 per year. Applying the 4.3% to such a budget will require the proposed budget to include $4,300 per year per GA in tuition, for a total of $12,900. The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.

An NIH R21 has a direct cost limit of $275,000 over two years. This is typically budgeted as $150,000 in Year 1 and $125,000 in Year 2. Applying the 4.3% minimum tutition requirement, the proposed budget will include $6,450 in tuition for Year 1 ($150,000 x .043) and $5,375 in tuition for Year 2 ($125,000 x .043). The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.

NSF grant

A typical NSF grant averages $123K in direct costs per year for three years. Applying the 4.3% to a budget of that size will require that $5,289 per year be included for tuition for each GA. The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.


Image by Nick Youngson for Alpha Stock Images via The Blue Diamond Gallery, used under Creative Commons license.

Dots used to represent data points.

Professional development opportunities for research data management available

If you are among the many researchers who are using the down time created by COVID-19-related curtailment of research for professional development, you might want to check out the data management resources below. The list was compiled by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Associate of American Universities (AAU) as part of an ongoing collaboration on public access to research. The APLU’s Council on Research, which distributed the list, offered special thanks to Utah State University; Lisa Johnston and Jim Wilgenbusch at University of Minnesota; and Cynthia Vitale at Penn State University.

  • Data Management Short Course for Scientists – From Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) in cooperation with NOAA and the Data Conservancy.
  • Data Management Training Clearinghouse – A registry for online learning resources focusing on research data management, hosted by ESIP.
  • DataONE Education Modules – DataONE provides several downloadable lessons in PowerPoint format that can be incorporated into teaching materials. Also available are webinars and screencast tutorials.
  • Research Data Management and Sharing – Coursera offers this five-week, introductory-level course [course started April 6]. Enrollment for is free; and optional certificate of completion is available for a $49 fee.
  • Research Data Management: A Primer – Offered by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) this primer covers the basics of research data management.
  • Data Management & Curation – The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), an international consortium of more than 750 academic institutions and research organizations, provides training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis for the social science research community.
  • Guide to Social Science Data Preparation and Archiving – Offered by ICPSR.
  • ETD+ Toolkit – Designed by the Educopia Institute for Graduate Students learning how to manage research for theses and dissertations, but useful to anyone involved in research.
  • MANTRA Research Data Management Training – A free online course from the University of Edinburgh for those who manage digital data as part of their research project. Modules include data protection, rights, and access; sharing and licensing; and metadata and curation.
  • Disciplinary RDM Training – Lists discipline-focused training units by RDMTrain. In addition to MANTRA (see above), units focusing on performing arts; archeology and social anthropology; health studies; and psychology are available. Maintained by the Digital Curation Centre of the U.K.

Image by Jisc, used under Creative Commons license.

Graphic of digital 1's and 0's on a high-tech looking background.

Data management plan resources are available

Screenshot of DMPTool.org. Links at top of page: Learn. Sign In. Title: DMPTool: Build your Data Management Plan. Ribbon: Welcome. Create data management plans that meet institutional and funder requirements. Get started [button]. Below image: DMPTool by the numbers: 28,787 users; 25,051 Plans [More link]; 229 Participating Institutions [More link]. Top 5 templates: NSF-SBE Social, Behavioral, Economic Sciences; DMP Template from DCC; Department of Energy (DOE): Office of Science; Digital Curation Centre; NIH-GEN: Generic. DMPTTool News: New DMPTool launched today [link]. Go to blog. Rss feed icon [link]. Links: About; Terms of use & Privact; Accessibility; GitHub; Contact us. Twitter and RSS feed icon links. Footer: DMPTool logo. DMPTool is a service of the University of California Curation Center of the California Digital Library. Copyright 2010-2018 The Regents of the University of California.

For some time, the NSF has required data management plans, and now the NIH has released a draft policy on making data sets used in NIH-funded research available to other researchers. (Read more about the new NIH policy from ScienceMag.org.)

Thankfully, resources for managing data are available to Miami faculty:

  • DMPTool.org allows you to create, review, and share data management plans that meet institutional and funder requirements.
  • Staff in the Center for Digital Scholarship are available for personalized reviews of data management plans prior to proposal submission.

To get started with DMPTool. org:

  • Navigate to DMPTool.org.
  • Click the big Get Started button in the middle of the screen.
  • Select Miami University (OH) from the drop-down list of institutions on the next page.
  • Click the green Next button.
  • Enter your Miami unique ID and password on the MUNet Login Page.
  • On the next page, click the green Create New DMP button and follow the prompts.

For questions about using DMPTool.org or to arrange a personalized review of your data management plan, contact Eric Johnson, Numeric and Spatial Data Librarian, Center for Digital Scholarship, King Library (513-529-4152).


Data image by By DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

 

A gone-to-seed dandelion in a green lawn.

A proposal doesn’t have to be perfect to be funded

Three checkboxes on a piece of paper. Each checkbox has, respectively, a smiley, neutral, or sad face next to it.

We recently updated the proposal writing workshop that we’ve been running for years to include more active learning elements. One of the activities we introduced — small group work to analyze sections of sample proposals — resulted in some unintended consequences.

As anyone who has scoured the internet for publicly available sample proposals can attest, they’re really not that easy find, especially if you’re interested in representing a range of disciplines and funding agencies. And hardly anyone posts the ones that did not result in funding, the ones that –to put it bluntly — failed.

So when we distributed sample proposals to workshop participants, they were all proposals that had resulted in awards. But, as participants soon discovered, that did not mean they were flawless. To be sure, there were good things going on in these proposals. But, in comparing these sample proposals to information we had provided about effective proposal writing, workshop attendees also found that the sample proposals fell short in a range of ways. Some failed to provide necessary context. Others lacked a clear needs statement or didn’t manage to articulate explicit connections between goals, objectives, activities, and evaluation. There were inconsistencies between narratives and budgets. There was tortured writing.

My colleagues and co-presenters, Amy Cooper and Anne Schauer, and I have reviewed countless proposals. We take it for granted that a proposal need not be, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way to be funded. Perhaps to our shame, it didn’t occur to us let the workshop participants know that all of the examples we were sharing were successful in securing funding. I have to admit to having been a little gobsmacked then, to receive this request from a participant about halfway into the six-session workshop: “I wonder if it is possible to also [share] some successful proposals/good examples.” That’s what we’d been doing all along.

It turned out to be a teachable moment for both our team and the workshop participants. The lesson we learned as workshop facilitators was that we need to make our assumptions explicit, especially when providing guidance to beginners. The lesson we were able to share with the developing proposal writers is that there is no such thing as a perfect proposal.

The truth is that there are many of factors in grantmaking beyond what appears on the page. For better or worse, politics, professional reputations, and social networks all matter. Sponsors’ hidden values and practices matter. The need to balance research/project portfolios matters. These factors can all help explain why a flawed proposal might be funded, and many of them are beyond the PI’s control.

Our argument — the very reason we even offer a proposal writing workshop in the first place — is that it’s in every PI’s best interest to control the things they can, and that includes the writing. I don’t remember the source, but someone once put it this way: No amount of good writing will save a bad idea, but bad writing can doom a good idea. In analyzing some less-than-ideal — yet funded — proposals, our workshop participants discovered that the system will tolerate some imperfection. That should come as a relief to anyone who will ever submit a proposal.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office of Research & Innovation, Miami University.

Checkbox photo via Pxfuel. Dandelion photo via Peakpx. Both used under Creative Commons license.

 

Hand tapping one star in a five-star review system.

Editor offers advice for handling a difficult peer review

We’re pleased to reblog this Duke University Press post by guest blogger Courtney Berger. Berger is an executive editor with a university press, so this post focuses on peer review of books under consideration for publication. However, most of her advice applies just as well to peer review of grant applications (just substitute “editor” for “program officer!”).


On a not-too-infrequent basis I see posts and memes in my social media feed denouncing the dastardly deeds of Reviewer #2—that querulous and impossible-to-please peer reviewer. I usually hover over the post, thinking that I might chime in with a bit of helpful advice. I am a book editor after all. Surely I can say something to help alleviate my friend’s experience of feeling misread, misunderstood, or even personally attacked by an anonymous peer reviewer/colleague. But I always resist weighing in, knowing that at that moment my friend just needs to voice their frustration and receive some affirmation. It can be painful to receive this kind of criticism, especially when facing the pressures of tenure and promotion. However, while momentarily painful, even a negative peer review can be a good thing, and you can use the report to strengthen your book. So, here’s a bit of practical and philosophical advice to help you work through a tough peer review.

1) Go ahead and vent—but be careful about where and how you do so.

As I mentioned, I see plenty of social media posts railing against Reviewer #2. No judgment. It’s good to get your community to support you through tough times. But I would caution against offering too much detail in a (semi)public forum or lingering in this phase for too long. It’s a small world—and although there should be an appropriate amount of distance between you and the reviewer, it’s always possible that they are in or adjacent to your social circles. You never know when the person you’ve declared to be the enemy of your book project will turn out to be the person you most wanted feedback from. (Yes, that happens!) After your initial venting, share the report with a trusted friend or colleague and get their feedback. Perhaps they will have a different take on the reader’s comments. They may identify productive advice that it was tough for you to see at first. If it helps, write a scathing response, voicing all of your frustration with the reader’s misapprehensions and misreadings. Get it all out. Then file it away.

2) Focus on problems, not solutions.

My colleague Ken Wissoker touched on this in his blog post on the merits of peer review, and it’s a strategy that I frequently employ to help authors shift their perspective on a review (even a positive one!). It’s easy to get hung up on the reader’s suggestions for how to improve your book. Maybe they recommend adding a chapter or including analysis of a topic or critic that you think is tangential to your project. Or, perhaps you feel like they didn’t “get” your argument or missed a point that’s already in the manuscript. Your job is to figure why the reader is tripping up. If you said something and they missed it, that may not be the reviewer’s fault. Chances are the point is buried at the end of a chapter or not articulated with enough force. In that case, you need to clarify and highlight your claims so that the reader does get it. It’s not uncommon to have two readers—one more positive, the other more critical—pointing to the same issue. It’s just easier to hear the person who presents their comments more constructively. As the author, it’s your job to make the leap and to figure out what your readers need in order to be convinced. Once you do that, it will be much easier to come up with a revision plan.

3) Clarify your vision.

Use the reader’s comments to sharpen your own vision for the book. I often ask authors early in the process: what do you want your book to accomplish? Are you aiming to shift a scholarly conversation, revise an accepted history, offer a new theoretical tool? Do all of the parts of the book support that mission? Clarity on this point will help you to decide which advice to take on board and which to leave by the wayside. The goal of the review process is to help you write the book you want to write, but even better. Let me repeat that, since it’s easy to forget as you’re wading through frustration, self-doubt, or any of the other feelings that this process provokes. You should use the review process to help you realize your vision for the book and to help you say what you want to say in a way that will reach your readers. For a peer-reviewed book, you need to do that in a way that is convincing to other experts in your field; but the book is yours. (Note: I am setting aside exigencies such as tenure review, departmental pressures, and disciplinary policing, which can make this more complicated. But I always urge people to come back to their own ambitions for the project. The audiences and conversations you initiate or enter into with the book are the ones you’ll likely be engaging with for a while, and so they should be ones you care about.)

4) Talk to your editor.

Sometimes a negative review might mean that a press decides to turn down your project, and you may not have an opportunity to get substantial feedback from the editor. But other times, if the reports indicate that the project has great promise, an editor might be eager to work with you to see the book to publication. So process the report, get through the venting phase, and then set up a time to talk to your editor or send them an email with your preliminary thoughts and questions. As the editor, I have a different perspective. First, I know who the readers are, and while I keep their identities anonymous, I can also help an author think critically about the book’s audience and why a particular reviewer might be frustrated with the manuscript in its current state. For example, maybe you thought the book was for a history of science readership. Reviewer #2’s comments might help you to realize that this audience won’t be as receptive to your work. Is this who you are really writing for? If so, you may need to make some adjustments. If not, you may need to reframe the book for the readership you want. Also, I appreciate authors who can take a tough criticism and respond productively. I take it as a good sign when an author is willing to tackle Reviewer #2’s comments and use the feedback to make their book even better.

5) Remember that the review process is part of a larger scholarly conversation.

For many the review process simply feels like a set of hoops to jump through. And it can be that. But it’s also a chance to learn from your peers—just as you would when presenting a paper at a conference—and to respond. While there is the occasional mean-spirited reviewer, most readers are trying to be helpful. Try to receive the comments in the same spirit. Be grateful that someone took the time to read and think with you and take what you can from the conversation.

6) Make your response about you, not the reviewer.

Your editor may ask you to write a response to the reader reports, addressing the readers’ questions and laying out a revision plan. It’s tempting to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate all the ways that Reviewer #2 was wrong. (See #1 above: if you do this, keep it in your drafts folder.) Instead, focus on what you plan to do to improve the book. Now is the time for solutions! For example, if the reader didn’t think the book’s argument was cogent, offer a clear and concise overview of the book’s intervention. If the structure wasn’t working, explain how you will either adapt the structure or make the structure more visible so that the reader will understand it. And hold your ground when you need to. If you really don’t agree with a reviewer’s take on your project, say so and explain how you will make your vision for the project come to life.

6) Know when to cut your losses.

Sometimes a negative review is just a negative review. As difficult as it sounds, you may need to set it aside and move on—to a new press or to a new reviewer, depending on the situation. But hopefully with some of these strategies you can get the most out of the review process, and maybe someday you’ll even be thanking Reviewer #2 in your acknowledgments!


Source: What to Do About Reviewer #2: Advice for Handling a Difficult Peer Review

One-star review image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Reviewer 2 image by KotaYamaguchi via imgflip.

 

Image improperly rendered on digital screen.

eRA Commons glitch prompts reminders about preparing proposals and checking submissions

Order forms and packing box, with text reminding viewer to compare numbers on forms and box to ensure they match. "Check here. And here. Be sure it's right. Check and double check!"

Earlier this fall, there was a glitch in NIH’s electronic submission system electronic submission system, eRA Commons, that caused blank pages to appear in place of content in some grant application submissions.  NIH attributed the error to PDF attachments that were generated from scanned documents, rather than text files.

Although the eRA Commons issue has now been resolved and our proposal facilitators, Anne Schauer and Amy Cooper, did not notice this error happening with any Miami proposals, we thought this was a good opportunity to issue a few reminders about submitting proposals, whether using Miami’s Cayuse system any other submission system.

Reminder 1

It’s always best to generate PDFs from text files created in Word or another word processing program. Using scanned images to create PDFs should be avoided whenever possible.

Reminder 2

It is the PI’s responsibility to ensure that the submission is complete and accurate. Your proposal facilitator reviews your application prior to submission, but because they don’t have expertise in your field, they won’t always recognize when something — a technical figure, for instance — has not rendered properly. You should always check your proposal in the sponsor’s system (e.g., NIH’s eRA Commons) following submission to verify that everything appears the way it should.

Reminder 3

Many sponsors allow a period of time during which a PI may review and “fix” a submitted proposal. For example, NIH allows submissions to be reviewed, withdrawn, and resubmitted in eRA Commons for two days following submission. However, with many sponsors — including NIH — once the submission deadline has passed, no changes may be made to a proposal, even if the allotted review window has not yet passed. This is one of many good reasons not to wait until the last minute to submit a proposal. If you submit at the last minute, there may not be enough time for you to review the submitted proposal, let alone withdraw it, fix it, and resubmit it.


Digital screen glitch image by Rosa Menkman via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license. Check and double check image from the National Archives at College Park, public domain.

A teacher listens while a young student reads aloud from a book.

Insights about applying to Spencer Foundation emerge from program officer visit

Roey Ahram, Spencer Foundation Associate Program Officer, visited Miami on October 3.

At the invitation of Dean Michael Dantley, Spencer Foundation’s Associate Program Officer, Roey Ahram, spent October 3 with Miami’s College of Education, Health, and Society. Ahram gave a detailed presentation in the morning and met with individual faculty members to discuss their research throughout the afternoon.

Ahram explained that Spencer is interested in education broadly defined and wherever learning occurs from birth through adulthood. They are responsive to education researchers’ needs, and as Ahram explained it they, “fund whatever the field thinks we should fund.”

Ahram described the Foundation’s areas of interest, including creating and sustaining equitable education spaces, emphasizing the foundation’s view that “learning is a social justice process.” Another area of interest is innovative research approaches. Ahram explained that Spencer funds across the full range of educational research approaches and that the Foundation believes more research on the methods themselves is needed. Other areas of interest include learning and flourishing and high-quality teaching and leaders.

The Spencer Foundation funds three types of grants:

  • Field-building activities (including conferences and mentoring)
  • Training fellowships for dissertations and post-doctoral work
  • Tenure-track faculty, and field-initiated research

A great deal of Ahram’s presentation focused on field-initiated research, which would likely be of most interest to Miami faculty. Please refer to the Spencer website for more details.

As Ahram explained, the Spencer Foundation is deeply interested in reflecting the diversity of educational researchers, as well as learners and educators, in the proposals they fund. He indicated that, historically, Spencer has supported primarily West Coast, Northeast, and large R1 Midwestern universities and colleges. They specifically want to diversify their geographic reach, which may make this an ideal time for Miami faculty to consider applying. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to the Spencer Foundation, contact Amy Cooper to get started. Staff from University Advancement are available to help with relationship building and even writing and editing.

Ahram offered the following four tips for grant-seekers:

  • Start with a question.
  • Know your audience. Reviewers for Spencer research grant proposals include, at minimum, a subject expert, a research method expert, and a generalist.
  • Align the sections of your proposal. Ahram suggests specifically stating in the research methods section, “I’m answering my research question by . . .”
  • Learn from feedback. For full proposals, Spencer provides detailed reviewer comments. While Spencer grants are becoming ever more competitive — with some having as low as a 5% funding rate — resubmissions are faring better and better.

What makes a Spencer application stand out? Ahram says well-done literature review and methodology sections are critical, with a research question clearly driving the research. He emphasized that the methodology should include a well-articulated analysis plan, joking that “you’ll need more than T-tests!” Applicants should also justify their choice of analysis method with citations. See the “Resources and Tools for Applicants” section of the Spencer website for details.

Spencer program officers are also education researchers themselves and Ahram’s area of interest is special education. He stated that program officers are happy to discuss project ideas with applicants, but aren’t permitted to review proposal drafts. Finally, Spencer is looking for diversity in proposal reviewers; contact a program officer to volunteer.


Written by Amy Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Research and Innovation; Brian Furnish, Assistant Vice President, Corporate and Foundation Relations; and Carrie Powell, Director of Development for the College of Education, Health, and Society, Miami University.

Photo of Roey Ahram by the Spencer Foundation. Photo of Urban Leadership Intern Madison Cook with students by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.