Key messages from the IMHA Early-Career Researcher webinar

Dr. Stuart Phillips and Dr. Katie Birnie

On May 4, 2022, CIHR-IMHA hosted a webinar for Early-Career Researchers (ECRs) striving for their first CIHR Grant. CIHR-IMHA Institute Advisory Board members Dr. Stuart Phillips and Dr. Katie Birnie engaged with three ECRs who have recently received their first CIHR grant: Dr. Lihi Eder, Dr. Sreenath Arekunnath and Dr. Etienne Vachon-Presseau. The investigators shared their insights and offered some personal tips & tricks. A 20-year veteran of strategic research development, Dr. Dawn McArthur, anchored the session with her top 10 grant writing tips. The webinar concluded with a lively Q&A segment.

Highlights from the webinar include:

Preliminary best practices:

  • Scrutinize the resources offered by CIHR (funding overview, webinar info sessions, specific calls, deadlines, ResearchNet, etc.).
  • Self-assess upon reading the review criteria — Is it the right time to apply? Do you have the capacity to put your best effort forward? Is another funding opportunity better suited to your ideas?
  • Ask to review a successful grant proposal from a colleague in the same field.
  • Engage in conversations with stakeholders and knowledge-users on the relevance of your proposal.
  • Participate in the CIHR reviewer training program or attend a CIHR New Investigator Forum to participate in a mock peer review panel.
  • If given the opportunity, review grants for smaller organizations in your field to experience the reviewer's role.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to participate in a proposal review irrespective of the role.
  • Keep Canadian Common CV (CCV) up to date
  • Demonstrate feasibility through preliminary data (e.g. seed grants and/or available data).

Formatting tips:

  • Create a strong research question – address what you are trying to achieve, the gaps in knowledge/care that your study aims to fill, how your approach stands out from previous publications and the significance of your topic.
  • Be pragmatic with your rationale – build upon your strongest data, evaluate all assumptions, secure the availability of resources and don’t over-propose (i.e., don’t add a study 3 if you only have a rationale and pilot data for two studies).
  • Section your proposal to directly address evaluation criteria and peer review instructions.
  • Ensure you present your research in a manner that responds to the funders’ criteria. Be persuasive!
  • Include sufficient details on the study design and justify the selection of methods.
  • Ensure that the key concepts are straightforward and repeated throughout the proposal.
  • Use graphics effectively as tools to reduce complexity and enhance retention.
  • Ensure your authentic passion for your science comes across seamlessly.

Personal review tips:

  • Have your proposal reviewed by a colleague from another field.
  • Utilize editing services if available, and if not, organize a group of your peers to create an editing community of practice.
  • Check proposal readability by running through it in various ways (e.g. aloud, on paper, digitally).
  • Ensure you do not forget any important attachments (e.g., data management plans, Sex and Gender-based training certificates etc.).
  • Be prepared to revise and adapt your proposal through several rounds of adjudication. Take review feedback seriously and use it to create your next grant proposal.


  • Do not treat your grant proposal like a detailed study protocol – ensure your grant is readable by keeping it simple, clear, and positive.
  • Leave “white space” in the proposal, do not cram things in. Densely packed proposals become hard to read
  • Avoid the temptation of trying to include everything you know.
  • Avoid the temptation of choosing complexity for the sake of novelty.
  • Many experienced writers (not just academics) separate the editing phase from the creating phase. You don’t need to go from a blank page to perfection in the one draft. Trying to do that blocks creativity for some people.
  • Get ideas down on paper first, refine later
  • Do not be discouraged if your first, second, or third application is not successful – be resilient!
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