Dissertation Grant Funding - Is it worth it?

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BrainStormer

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PhD student here wanting to obtain some form of funding for my dissertation. Can anyone speak into their experience of applying for an F31? I am already in the data collection phase of my project and will still be collecting data next year, but given how drawn out the grant application process is, I'm not sure if I am too far along in my research. It would be nice to start compensating my participants and would increase my N exponentially.

I am also thinking about applying for smaller grants such as APA, etc. How competitive are these? I would ideally like to demonstrate a track record of funding but am wondering if this is necessary for someone who looking towards both clinical and research at an AMC.

Any advising and/or shared resources would be helpful!

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I am already in the data collection phase of my project and will still be collecting data next year, but given how drawn out the grant application process is, I'm not sure if I am too far along in my research. It would be nice to start compensating my participants and would increase my N exponentially.
I'm not sure that's how it works....
 
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I'm not sure that's how it works....
I am sampling from a niche population and thought a monetary incentive (pending funding) might help with recruitment. Can you still apply even if you've already started data collection? My thought process was that I would clearly explain in the application why funding is needed and how it will benefit my existing data collection efforts.
 
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My point is the bolded sections. Would you be changing your sample size and recruitment goals? Did you not do an a priori power analysis? What is your justification for increasing your sample size "exponentially," especially since you already started collecting data?
 
I am sampling from a niche population and thought a monetary incentive (pending funding) might help with recruitment. Can you still apply even if you've already started data collection? My thought process was that I would clearly explain in the application why funding is needed and how it will benefit my existing data collection efforts.
The F31 is a training grant. The application process is onerous (though well worth it). Your mentor has to be fully invested in your training plan (and have funds to support you and your project). Finally, speaking directly to comment above, none of the funds can be used to pay research participants (that has to be covered by your mentor, and they have to prove they have the funds to do so). So, it seems the F31 is probably not the mechanism you're looking for. That said, there are a lot of smaller dissertation grants out there that would be less intensive to write and have a higher probability of success, while also allowing you to use the funds for research participants.
 
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110% worth it if you are planning a research-heavy career. 0% worth it if you are not. So I guess this depends whether you see yourself as 80% research/20% clinical or the reverse.

Forget internship/post-doc, it matters more for your first faculty job. Obviously best if you get the grant, but learning to write a grant is critical and in my view should be virtually mandatory for anyone even considering an academic path - at the latest on post-doc, ideally with folks at least getting exposure earlier. They are the lifeblood of AMCs and virtually any other negatives in an application will be overlooked for someone who pulls in meaningful funding. In psychology departments a bit less so, but it is becoming increasingly important. "Potential for funding" is probably the #1 thing we look for on search committees I've sat on. Someone with 15 publications and an F31/F32 looks immensely better than someone with 50 publications who has never been PI on anything meaningful. Admittedly, it is also partly about the type of work that they usually do - almost no one runs an intensive RCT with multimodal data collection without serious funding - but funding is critical. And I don't mean this as an "in theory" example, we've legitimately discarded applications with huge numbers of publications in favor of people with substantially fewer but a record of at least trying to secure funding and some indications of potential for success.

RE: APA dissertation grants, might as well go after them. My approach at that stage was "apply for everything." They're comparatively easy to write. Competitive but nowhere near as competitive.

RE: participant incentives, have they changed the rules? Its not a lot of money, but I didn't see anything explicitly prohibiting participant payments when I applied for one back in the day. Some schools might limit this, but I didn't think NIH did...
 
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110% worth it if you are planning a research-heavy career. 0% worth it if you are not. So I guess this depends whether you see yourself as 80% research/20% clinical or the reverse.
I think right now I see myself doing clinical work 2 days/week and research 3 days/week or visa versa, so maybe its not absolutely necessary for an F31/32 (?). But, if in the future, I want to pivot to be more research-heavy, I am not sure if I would be competitive without that track record of funding. If I obtained a few different 'smaller' grants during grad school and post doc such as APA, would this still set me up well for the potential to pivot to a more research-oriented position?
 
At least at our AMC, research postdoc positions run aplenty. You could probably ask for a free kitten as a hiring condition and get multiple offers.
Wow this is surprising to me. Is it only research and no clinical?

The caveat for me is that I need a postdoc that also offers clinical hours, because I'm aiming to obtain board certification in neuropsychology.
 
Wow this is surprising to me. Is it only research and no clinical?

The caveat for me is that I need a postdoc that also offers clinical hours, because I'm aiming to obtain board certification in neuropsychology.

Research and clinical, but not neuropsych. If that's what you want, you need to go through the APPCN, I believe.
 
It is generally very easy to get "a" post-doc. The challenge is that by that stage (and this is true for researchers in particular) many have extremely specific skills they want to learn on post-doc. This often coincides with a time when people are starting to think long-term and give greater consideration to partners/families/etc. than they could for graduate school/internship so pile geographic restrictions on top of that. If you want to study depression somewhere in the continental US I can't envision anyone having troubles. If you want to do a post-doc looking at acute effects of SSRIs on computational models of neural reward response while only looking in northern Arkansas or southern Missouri, it is going to get a lot harder. Depending on the department and position it can actually be easier for someone who wants clinical hours as it can mean part of your salary gets covered through clinical work. Easier for me to cobble together 40k/year for 60% effort than 65k/year for 100% effort. Obviously this varies by area/institution as post-docs can't always bill.

I don't think small grants really set you up to pivot in quite the same way. Its mostly about "learning to write an NIH grant and demonstrating you can do so competently." On the spectrum of complexity, the process of applying for an APA dissertation grant is closer to a conference travel award then it is to an NIH grant. No doubt they look good and you might as well, but it is not remotely the same thing.
 
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I recently had an F31 that funded three years of my training. Based on that and what I’ve read, I have a few questions before I can give my opinion:

1) What is your current year in your program?
2) What year (fall season) do you plan to apply to internship?
3) Has your mentor had students with F31s in the past?
 
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I recently had an F31 that funded three years of my training. Based on that and what I’ve read, I have a few questions before I can give my opinion:

1) What is your current year in your program?
2) What year (fall season) do you plan to apply to internship?
3) Has your mentor had students with F31s in the past?
I’m a third year applying for internship Fall 2025. I’m not entirely sure if my mentor has had students with F31s but probably not. I come from a clinically oriented program and out of the 10 in my PhD cohort, I can say only 2-3 of us actually want to integrate research into our long-term career, so most students aren’t interested in big grants.
 
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I’m a third year applying for internship Fall 2025. I’m not entirely sure if my mentor has had students with F31s but probably not. I come from a clinically oriented program and out of the 10 in my PhD cohort, I can say only 2-3 of us actually want to integrate research into our long-term career, so most students aren’t interested in big grants.
Thanks for the extra info. It could be worth applying with some caveats I explain below. I agree that having an F31 looks positive in general but frankly my internship sites and neuropsych post-doc site didn’t care that much.

As a third year, assuming you can apply this August 2024 cycle for the F31 the soonest funding would commence would be March or April 2025. a A lot of people don’t get the F grants period or need to re-apply (I had to reapply after being not discussed my first try). So, in the best scenario you would have about 16ish months of grant funding if you begin internship in summer 2026, as you can’t have F31 funds while on internship. If you don’t get it on the first try, with the time to reapply it would reduce the duration of the grant by a minimum of 4 months.

I don’t think what others have said about not being able to pay participants is accurate unless something changed. I did use some of my funds to pay participants. Maybe this was a policy of their university grants office? It really isn’t that much money that you get… it’s like 4k in direct costs that are not tuition or education related. Go to one conference and between 25-50% of that is eaten up.

If your mentor hasn’t had a recent F awardee, I would highly recommend getting a co-sponsor for the application who has sponsored recent F awardees. I had two mentors from the get go, which was important because my main mentor was very junior and didn’t have a track record of mentoring successful F awards. Sadly this really matters, but maybe someone else in your department or university working in a related space could be a co-sponsor.
 
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Apply for all the neuropsych/psychology awards while in grad school -- SCN does a pilot study award for early career NPs (used to be available to grad students, but may want to verify)... APA and AACN has some awards ..... there's the Benton-Meier Neuropsychology Scholarship through APF (which is research $$, not money to you like a typical scholarship).

Some questions to ponder about your future career ... do you envision yourself being a PI with NIH level funding and running a lab? Or do you envision yourself as a Co-I - assisting on someone else's projects in a meaningful manner but not necessarily developing the research ideas that get you the big grant $$? Thinking more about your preferences based on these questions may help guide your path moving forward...
 
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Some questions to ponder about your future career ... do you envision yourself being a PI with NIH level funding and running a lab? Or do you envision yourself as a Co-I - assisting on someone else's projects in a meaningful manner but not necessarily developing the research ideas that get you the big grant $$? Thinking more about your preferences based on these questions may help guide your path moving forward...
At this stage of grad school, I can see myself doing either, but I know at some point I'll need to make a decision. I do not want to shut the door on running a lab as PI due to not pursuing funding, so maybe it wouldn't hurt to just go for it. Or try for an F32 in postdoc.

SCN has the Benton-Meier Neuropsychology Scholarship linked but it takes me to an unavailable page, so I'm not sure what happened with that one.
 
Thanks for the extra info. It could be worth applying with some caveats I explain below. I agree that having an F31 looks positive in general but frankly my internship sites and neuropsych post-doc site didn’t care that much.

If your mentor hasn’t had a recent F awardee, I would highly recommend getting a co-sponsor for the application who has sponsored recent F awardees. I had two mentors from the get go, which was important because my main mentor was very junior and didn’t have a track record of mentoring successful F awards. Sadly this really matters, but maybe someone else in your department or university working in a related space could be a co-sponsor.
Good to know research-oriented internship/postdoc sites are not opposed to lack of funding.

I've heard that F31 reviewers are also evaluating your mentor on their track record and investment in the student. Is this a fair assumption? I guess it would make sense to fund students whose mentor has been successful with previous students, but I do wonder if anyone has heard otherwise.
 
As for small grants/awards, there's a few within APF, AACN, APA, Psi Chi, and APS. Any others I'm missing?
 
I've heard that F31 reviewers are also evaluating your mentor on their track record and investment in the student. Is this a fair assumption? I guess it would make sense to fund students whose mentor has been successful with previous students, but I do wonder if anyone has heard otherwise.
100% true. They want mentors to have had other graduate students go on to academic careers and that the mentor also has a record of meaningful NIH funding. Reviewers are literally explicitly instructed to look for things like this. Some of these can be mitigated through co-mentorship - for instance, if your primary mentor is fresh out of post-doc but is a hot shot with multiple papers in IF > 10 journals but no funding yet, a senior colleague in the department doing somewhat related work would make a nice pairing and you'd be less likely to get dinged on review. So you have co-primary mentors (and likely 2-3 additional "co-mentors" with less direct involvement at your home institution or elsewhere). To some degree the project/training need to be shaped around the team.

If you haven't done so, please get examples of successful F31s from your department, colleagues at other universities, etc. before even attempting this. Especially so if your primary mentor doesn't have a lot of experience with these things. Good grants follow a recipe (to some degree). If you don't have some examples to base it off you are pretty much sunk from the start. I've reviewed enough training grants at this point to be able to say it is VERY obvious when someone doesn't know the recipe. The applications are inevitably scored terribly, it reflects badly on the student and reflects TERRIBLY on the mentorship team.
 
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At this stage of grad school, I can see myself doing either, but I know at some point I'll need to make a decision. I do not want to shut the door on running a lab as PI due to not pursuing funding, so maybe it wouldn't hurt to just go for it. Or try for an F32 in postdoc.

SCN has the Benton-Meier Neuropsychology Scholarship linked but it takes me to an unavailable page, so I'm not sure what happened with that one.
It's possible that the deadline for the B-M scholarship has passed, so it's not showing up on the APF website. Keep an eye out to see when the application opens up (as I'm not sure).

I will say that I had some small grants in grad school and was on a T32 training grant. No F31 or F32 (my postdoc was fully clinical neuropsych, but I kept publishing with previous mentors). I ended up at an R1 institution pursing the NIH funding path. Perhaps my trajectory is not linear, but it's still possible to end up where you want without having the F31 or F32 under your belt. Just some food for thought.
 
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No.

The only good dissertation is a done one.

If you need funding, then you're already being too ambitious. You need to do your dissertation on a topic that has already completed data collection or is currently getting data collected, or something can be easily collected. What's your backup if next year fails?

No one ever rocks the world of science with your dissertation.

Save it for your first year as an assistant professor.
 
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100% true. They want mentors to have had other graduate students go on to academic careers and that the mentor also has a record of meaningful NIH funding. Reviewers are literally explicitly instructed to look for things like this. Some of these can be mitigated through co-mentorship - for instance, if your primary mentor is fresh out of post-doc but is a hot shot with multiple papers in IF > 10 journals but no funding yet, a senior colleague in the department doing somewhat related work would make a nice pairing and you'd be less likely to get dinged on review. So you have co-primary mentors (and likely 2-3 additional "co-mentors" with less direct involvement at your home institution or elsewhere). To some degree the project/training need to be shaped around the team.

If you haven't done so, please get examples of successful F31s from your department, colleagues at other universities, etc. before even attempting this. Especially so if your primary mentor doesn't have a lot of experience with these things. Good grants follow a recipe (to some degree). If you don't have some examples to base it off you are pretty much sunk from the start. I've reviewed enough training grants at this point to be able to say it is VERY obvious when someone doesn't know the recipe. The applications are inevitably scored terribly, it reflects badly on the student and reflects TERRIBLY on the mentorship team.
Ollie, you give solid advice. This is also good to know even thinking ahead for internship/postdoc that I should look for supervisors/mentors that are more research oriented with a history of funding so that I’m not dinged on any grant applications. If I match at a more clinical site though, that could be a potential research mentorship barrier.
 
The only good dissertation is a done one.
I’ve heard this phrase tossed around :rofl: it’s in my nature as an eager and ambitious grad student to go big or go home. I find research so exciting when things finally start to make sense.

But yes to answer your question, I do have a back up plan.
 
Ollie, you give solid advice. This is also good to know even thinking ahead for internship/postdoc that I should look for supervisors/mentors that are more research oriented with a history of funding so that I’m not dinged on any grant applications. If I match at a more clinical site though, that could be a potential research mentorship barrier.
I don't think you understand how competitive Fs and similar awards are, what the application process is like, or how applications are reviewed.
 
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I don't think you understand how competitive Fs and similar awards are, what the application process is like, or how applications are reviewed.
Yeah, I'm getting that impression too.

@BrainStormer This isn't remotely your fault, but it is sounding like faculty in your program also don't have much grant funding either (or at least aren't sharing relevant information with students) and you haven't quite gotten much of a handle on what the process looks like. That is quite common in psychology departments, as focus on funding has really only come about the last 10-15 years or so as it has become a much more interdisciplinary science. I'm reading between the lines a bit, but I would advise not worrying about an F31 right now as I think it is going to be more of an uphill battle than you realize and not going to get you enough for the time (i.e., multiple hundreds of hours) you will spend. Again, I'm not saying this to be mean - your posts just increasingly seem to convey a general naivete about this that makes me think you didn't even get much exposure to "grants culture" in your program.

If I suddenly "adopted" a mentee at your stage, I'd advise focusing on smaller awards/grants for now, publishing like crazy, getting an internship and then REALLY focusing selectively on research-focused post-docs (T32s, ones with formal grant-writing seminars and faculty heavily involved in research, etc.). You can learn grant writing later. You'll probably skip F grants (which is fine) and write a K23 (/K01/K08/K99R00). If you have 10-20 pubs including some strong ones and some awards, not having had an F isn't a big deal at all. Being a clinician will give you more opportunities to "hang around" and keep at it while waiting for a grant to get funded if it takes multiple submissions since once you have licensure hours you can cover yourself with clinical work.
 
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As someone who wrote my first draft of my F in the first year of my program (under the mentorship of someone who had mentored dozens of Fs over the years + a junior co-mentor), I agree with others above that this is not something to take lightly. There were numerous times I almost stopped because it’s a grueling process, even with the best supports in place. I think between my initial application and re-submission after I wasn’t scored on the first go I spent upwards of 400 hours on the grant when factoring in reading the literature, writing (and revising) dozens of documents, and talking about my idea in meetings with mentors and peers. I think my grant eventually was scored well and funded because I was able to make a very clear case about the supplemental training the award would give me. It’s not really a “research” award, IMO. Yes, your dissertation is a big chunk of it, but the F is designed to train future scientists above and beyond what is expected in your traditional training path.

I never say to not go for something if you truly want to, but if you don’t have the infrastructure of mentors and a program that knows what goes into an F you’re likely destined to not be scored from the get-go. Even my seasoned mentors didn’t think of things that really hurt my first submission (e.g., using only archival data vs. running my own study).
 
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Good to know research-oriented internship/postdoc sites are not opposed to lack of funding.

I've heard that F31 reviewers are also evaluating your mentor on their track record and investment in the student. Is this a fair assumption? I guess it would make sense to fund students whose mentor has been successful with previous students, but I do wonder if anyone has heard otherwise.
Already lots of good advice in this thread, but wanted to reply to this. All career development awards at NIH have a dedicated section of the review critique template that is focused exclusively on the mentors. That is a scored criterion, along with other scored criteria focused on the candidate, training plan, research plan, and environment. This is true for Fs and Ks, although the anticipated, more streamlined change to grant review structure in 2025 might also include changes to the career development review structure, I haven't heard how career development awards will be impacted (if at all). Bottom line, your mentors' record of success in successful mentoring toward independence, obtaining funding, and publishing work in your area of focus will all be critiqued in a review of your own application!
 
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Already lots of good advice in this thread, but wanted to reply to this. All career development awards at NIH have a dedicated section of the review critique template that is focused exclusively on the mentors. That is a scored criterion, along with other scored criteria focused on the candidate, training plan, research plan, and environment. This is true for Fs and Ks, although the anticipated, more streamlined change to grant review structure in 2025 might also include changes to the career development review structure, I haven't heard how career development awards will be impacted (if at all). Bottom line, your mentors' record of success in successful mentoring toward independence, obtaining funding, and publishing work in your area of focus will all be critiqued in a review of your own application!
Well, I guess I have a crystal ball. New announcement of how NIH fellowship applications will be reviewed, coinciding a bit with the new, more streamlined review criteria that are being rolled for regular applications in 2025.

 
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