Tips and Tricks for Applying for Research Funding

We know it can be hard to get started with a major research project. A few years ago, 2019 Faculty-Generated Research Grant recipient Tami Ritsema took a deep dive into strategies to get your research projects off the ground — and her advice still holds true today.

As you prepare to apply for the Faculty-Generated Research Grant (by September 15) or the Don Pedersen Grant Program (by October 31), we’ve compiled some of the best tips and tricks we’ve heard from our previous grantees — so you can get to work on the “scholarly activity” leg of the three-legged stool.

Identify Your Topic

The first step is deciding on the topic for your research. Anthony Miller, PhD, MEd, PA-C, and co-investigator C. Jayne Brahler, PhD, winners of the 2017 Faculty-Generated Research Grant, recommend that faculty “begin to find a problem within their program that they would like to solve or a question that needs to be answered.” Those recurring challenges might shed light on a direction for your research

Ziemowit Mazur, MEd, PA-C, 2016 Don Pedersen grantee, agrees. “Consciously seeking examples from everyday work in academia provides a treasure trove of potential topics, and being on the lookout for problems that need further investigation is one way to transform data you already possess into meaningful tools,” he said. In other words — be mindful.

Develop a Thoughtful Research Question

James Stoehr, PhD, co-investigator of the 2017 STAR Award, recommends asking yourself, “How would the information in which you’re interested directly benefit PA education?”

In a similar vein, “Ask a question that you think can lead into a greater research agenda,” suggests Christine Everett, PhD, MPH, PA-C. She and Perri Morgan, PhD, PA-C, co-investigators on a 2015 Faculty-Generated Research Grant. Morgan later received funding from the 2018 Faculty-Generated Research Grant program for her study of best practices in onboarding new PAs — so these wise words come from considerable experience.

To help develop your question into a testable research project, Nick Hudak, MPAS, PA-C, the primary investigator of PAEA’s most recent STAR award, recommends that you read the relevant literature on your potential topic “within PA education and more broadly in the health professions education literature.” 

Partner with a Seasoned Researcher or Co-Investigator 

The process of your first funding application will have ups and downs, but identifying the right collaborators and “seeking guidance from colleagues can be instrumental throughout the entire process,” noted Hudak.

“My co-investigator and I contacted experts on the issue we were interested in and solicited feedback from multiple colleagues,” said 2017 STAR awardee and 2018 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellow Bettie Coplan, MPAS, PA-C.

Ritsema also reminds us that sometimes you don’t have to look far for collaborators: “Faculty on your campus in departments of education, psychology, public health, or other health professions may be willing to work with you, especially if you are willing to start as the junior partner.” And if you need to look outside of your institution? “Consider collaborating with private entities outside of academia and government to access high-quality data,” she said.

Put It All Together

Once you’ve decided to apply, Joanne Rolls, MPAS, PA-C, 2018 STAR Award winner, offers this succinct advice: “Be open to making changes and applying feedback. Consistently seek out feedback at every step of the way, in writing and rewriting.”

Additionally, Miller says “the key to a successful proposal is to realize that you will need to write many drafts. Enlist someone with a critical eye to review the proposal and give you critical feedback.”

Utilize All of Your Resources

The world of research is broad and full of scholarly opportunities where you can “get an inside view” on how to apply for funding or collect data. Volunteering to be a grant reviewer for the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Primary Care Training Enhancement grants or becoming a peer reviewer for JPAE/JAAPA may also give you a valuable perspective if you are just starting out as a researcher.

Whether you have been awarded grants before or you are applying for the first time, ask your university’s office of sponsored projects to review your budget and provide feedback. PAEA is also dedicated to helping you succeed. Attend the Research and Publishing Made Easier mentoring sessions at the 2019 Education Forum and/or email to be connected with a Research Mission Advancement Commission member who may be able to offer mentorship.

PAEA also makes available data from our surveys for independent research, as well as a research-focused Professional Learning Community, where you can share ideas, find co-investigators, and get feedback on your work from other PAEA member researchers.

By using these tips from past PAEA grant recipients to prepare your applications for the Faculty-Generated Research Grant and Don Pedersen Research Grant, you are already well on your way to becoming a PAEA grantee yourself.