Like many young faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin, psychologist Paige Harden has big, cutting-edge research ideas.
Also like many young faculty, Harden needs federal grants to get started. But she realizes that the average age of scholars who receive certain National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants is 43 years old.
"I'm in my late 20s. I can't wait 15 years," says Harden, an assistant professor in Psychology and the Population Research Center (PRC) who is working with a colleague to develop a registry of twins in the Austin area. "The twins project could be really incredible research. But I need money to make that happen."
That's why Harden and three PRC colleagues spent this past summer in grant-writing boot camp, an intensive program that trains faculty members to secure competitive federal research dollars.
Run by PRC Director Mark Hayward, boot camp drills the mechanics of applying for grants into the minds of young professors: be clear about your aims, present ideas concisely and understand the audience that will be reviewing the proposal. The decade-old program also promotes an honest give-and-take among instructor and participants, encouraging them to challenge each other's ideas and push one another to become better.
"A lot of people have good ideas. But many young researchers don't know how to sell or frame those ideas. They don't learn that in graduate school, where they're focused on a research product rather than getting support for it," says Sociology Professor Robert Hummer, a former PRC director who helped create boot camp.