Faculty and young investigators pose at the most recent Young Investigators Workshops, held April 27-29, 2007, in Rosemont, Ill.


Published 6/1/2007
Jennie McKee

Workshops open doors for young investigators

USBJD guides the next generation of musculoskeletal researchers

Musculoskeletal research is not keeping pace with the increasing burden of disease—and that’s bad news not only for the patients who have musculoskeletal conditions but also for the orthopaedic surgeons who treat them.

“The key way to increase the amount of research in today’s environment is to increase the number and quality of grant applications being submitted, specifically, to the National Institutes of Health (NIH),” says Toby King, director of the U.S. Bone and Joint Decade (USBJD), an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness, research, and prevention of musculoskeletal diseases. To give young clinicians the skills and knowledge they need to obtain research funding, the USBJD launched its Young Investigators Initiative and Workshop Program in 2005.

“We’re focusing on young clinical investigators with this program to put more funded researchers into the pipeline,” explains King.

Program basics
The Initiative consists of two three-day workshops–one focused on grant writing skills and the second on refining proposals. Both workshops are held concurrently each spring and fall. During the workshops, early-career investigators learn about the process of developing, submitting, and revising research proposals from experienced researchers who have successfully obtained funding.

Participants are assigned one to three faculty members as mentors to provide guidance during and after the workshops, as the participants continue to work on their research proposals, and until they become funded. Attendees also learn “survival skills” that address issues such as maintaining a balance between their personal and professional lives while pursuing an academic career.

Who may participate?
Promising junior faculty and postdoctoral researchers are eligible to take part in the program, as are senior fellows and residents who are engaged in research and have a faculty appointment confirmed or in place. All applicants must be nominated by their department or division chairs. Approximately 50 percent of this multidisciplinary program’s participants are orthopaedists; rheumatologists make up the next largest group of participants, followed by researchers from other specialties.

How workshops build skills
Workshop 1 focuses on grant writing skills. Faculty members present didactic sessions covering “how-to” topics such as writing an effective proposal for the NIH or Canadian Institutes of Health Research, developing a strong hypothesis and specific aims, selecting literature, interpreting research results (and avoiding pitfalls), incorporating humans and animals into research, and negotiating research time.

Participants have many opportunities to learn from their mentors during one-on-one sessions that usually total several hours over the course of the workshop. Mentors hold “office hours” during which they review the proposed research study and applications with participants.

On the final day of the workshop, three grant applications are selected and attendees observe a mock study section to get an inside look at how reviewers will assess their submitted proposals. Before returning for their second workshop, participants should develop their research proposals and apply for funding.

Andreas Gomoll, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Chestnut Hill, Mass., attended Workshop 1 in spring 2007. Dr. Gomoll found the interaction with his mentors—Nancy E. Lane, MD, Stuart B. Goodman, MD, PhD, and Hans J. Kreder, MD—to be one of the most important aspects of his participation in the workshop.

“The presentations provide general guidelines, which are then refined during the one-on-one sessions with the mentors, which is very helpful,” says Dr. Gomoll. “Participants’ proposals vary widely from basic science projects to epidemiologic studies, and the mentors are able to apply the general guidelines to the specific proposal at hand.”

Sharpening their proposals
Before participants attend Workshop 2, they should have received a summary statement from the organization to which they applied for funding after attending the first workshop. During workshop 2, participants solicit feedback from faculty members about comments they received on their proposals. In addition, the group takes part in a roundtable discussion that focuses on issues identified by returning participants as their top priorities.

Other sessions address topics such as building a collaborative team with researchers at other institutions, securing mentors, managing employees, and working efficiently with well-established researchers. Faculty members offer guidance on maintaining a work/life balance, discussing issues such as joining a journal’s editorial board and balancing multiple research projects with one’s interests and clinical commitments.

J. Brian Gill, MD, a resident at Texas Tech University Health Science Center, completed Workshop 2 in fall 2006.

“It was an honor to be selected to participate in the program,” says Dr. Gill. “It gave me the inside information about how to write a grant and the overall picture of grantsmanship.” He also added that the guidance he received from mentors J. Edward Puzas, PhD, president of the USBJD, and Neil Duncan, BEng, PhD, while he refined his research proposal was invaluable.

“This is the launching point toward applying for an NIH grant,” says Dr. Gill, who received an institutional grant based on the research proposal he worked on during his participation in the program. “I hope to apply for an NIH grant within the next 6 months, after generating some preliminary data.”

A workshop success
Kevin Bozic, MD, MBA,
who has a dual appointment as an orthopaedic surgeon and health policy researcher at the University of California at San Francisco, obtained funding from the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) after participating in the USBJD’s program in the spring and fall of 2005. Although Dr. Bozic received a good score from the OREF the first time he applied for funding, he did not obtain the grant until after his workshop participation.

Dr. Bozic believes that the workshops and mentors Joshua J. Jacobs, MD, and Kurt P. Spindler, MD, provided key information and advice that helped him obtain funding.

“The didactic lectures help investigators understand the basics of the grant review process, which is something that’s very foreign to junior investigators,” says Dr. Bozic. “Learning how proposals are scored, how to interpret that score, and how to improve your proposal, was very helpful. So was discovering that most grants are not funded on the first go-round,” he adds, noting that “having access to experienced investigators who have been successfully funded through a number of different mechanisms was also beneficial.”

Dr. Jacobs, who has participated in OREF and NIH review panels and has successfully competed for extramural research grants, has participated in the program as a lecturer and mentor since its inception.

“Grant writing is an exacting skill that is not taught in medical school or in residency training programs,” he says. “I strongly encourage young clinician scientists to avail themselves of this wonderful opportunity, which may well jump-start their budding academic careers.”

Applying for upcoming workshops
The next Young Investigators workshops will be held in Toronto, Oct. 26-28, 2007. The application deadline is July 15, 2007. See the box for application requirements.

For additional information
www.usbjd.org/research to learn more about the USBJD’s Young Investigators Initiative and Workshop Program.

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now.

Applying to the Young Investigators Initiative and Workshop Program
Young investigators must submit the following materials to the USBJD to be considered for admission to the program:

  1. Letter of nomination from his or her division or department chair that includes the following information:
    • Complete contact information for the candidate and the individual writing the letter of support
    • Description of the candidate’s work
    • Description of the internal institutional support the candidate can expect to receive while pursuing his or her research
    • Approval for the applicant to spend 2 days twice a year at the clinical investigators workshops
    • Pledge by the division or department chair that the organization will pay for roundtrip airfare for the applicant to attend both workshops and will contribute $500 to defer the costs of the workshops, if the candidate is accepted
  2. One-page document with program title and outline of a proposed grant application. This document must include the proposed research study’s question, specific aims, and a brief description of design and methods.
  3. Curriculum vitae of the applicant, which must include the applicant’s complete contact information and discipline specialization

Address the application to “Young Investigators Initiative” and e-mail it to usbjd@usbjd.org (preferred) or mail it to the U.S. Bone and Joint Decade, 6300 N. River Road, Rosemont, IL 60018. Name electronic files with applicant’s last name, followed by Letter, Proposal, or CV, such as ‘Jones_Letter.doc’. The subject line of the e-mail should be “LastName - Application - Young Investigators.”