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I have always wondered about the differences between one having "training potential" versus him/her not with enough professional knowledge.

For the F31 fellowship and many other PhD/Post-doc grants, NIH seems to care a lot about whether or not the applicants have training potential. I understand that, but if I say I would need this grant support so that I can learn C++ in the near future, wouldn't the reviewers can naturally argue: if you don't know some C++, how can you manage this project like you proposed to?

In another word, how should I phrase my training potential to make it not misleading please? Thank you.

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    Are you sure the term potential here does not refer to the ability to receive the training, rather than lacking the training? – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 18 '17 at 20:24
  • @TobiasKildetoft Good point. I believe it should partially means the ability to receive the training. However some of the post-doc grants specifically say they look for applicants who are going for a relatively new field, which is considered as training potential. Please feel free to correct me if I misunderstood this. Thanks for the comment. – Helene Jan 18 '17 at 21:08
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I don't know about the specific grants, but in general many of these early career fellowships are intended for the applications to develop the necessary skills to become independent researchers. Grant writing is always a balancing act: on the one hand, you want to have interesting and challenging research questions (indeed, if you already have all the answers, why should they give you the money). On the other hand, as you rightly note, reviewers should be confident that the applicant has the skills (or potential) to complete the project succesfully.

In my view, this also applies to the "training" part of the grant. More specifically, I believe that they want to see which skills you hope to acquire, and how they will help you in your research project and future career. You should also be able to convince the reviewers that your plan is feasible. For example, for your example of learning how to program in C++, you could outline previous programming experience. Or perhaps your supervisor has succesfully used it in various projects, and will be able to help you learning C++. Or the university might offer training programs addressing this.

In short, it is expected that you may not yet have all the skills for the project, but you should be able to convince the reviewers that you have a well thought out (and realistic) plan to acquire them and bring your research project to a successful conclusion.

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Here is another suggestion on interpreting this "training potential"... Part of it is that NIH does not want to fund dissertation writing directly. Essentially, they want to see you are a work-in-progress, not someone that has done all that needs to be done experimentally and now you just need some bridge funding to complete your dissertation. I think NIH is expecting departments to pick up slack there if needed, they want to fund the students earlier in the process instead.

What they want to see is "this person is positioned well to learn the skills they want for this project, and if only we send them a little funding they are going to succeed." Just as important in highlighting the skills you need to learn is highlighting how your advisor/institution will get you those skills. Also, you shouldn't just be asking for the grant to learn a specific skill, but to apply it to something: that's your research project.

  • Great points. Thank you very much for your answer. – Helene Jan 18 '17 at 21:38

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