Seven Tips for Writing a Strong Sponsor Statement
There are five major components of an NIH training grant, which are almost equally weighted in the review process — that includes the sponsor statement.
It’s important to know that the sponsor statement has to be as strong as the rest of the application.
Even an outstanding training grant applicant can get hung up because of a moderate concern with this section.
Write an effective sponsor statement by addressing the following areas.
1. Follow Instructions
It’s never a good idea to make reviewers work to find information they need to complete their critiques. Fortunately, online instructions from NIH for this section clearly state the information and format you must provide.
2. Make it Specific
There are places where boilerplate material is appropriate for an individual training grant. However, the sponsor statement is not one of those places, besides the general description of the environment and institutional commitment to training. Even these sections, though, should be tailored to the background and goals of the trainee. Even more essential is that the training plan developed for the trainee is specific to the trainee and reflects the trainee’s unique background and goals.
3. Be on the Same Page as Your Trainee
It’s obvious to any reviewer when the trainee and sponsor don’t appear to have discussed the training plan. This statement should reinforce themes established in the trainee’s background and goals sections. The goals in both sections, as well as the plan to achieve these goals, should be consistent.
Inconsistencies are what get noticed. They don’t have to be as glaring as, for example, a trainee who plans to take no courses and a sponsor who plans for the trainee to take a series of courses throughout the project. I’ve seen reviewers comment on discrepancies in the number of times the trainee and sponsor plan to meet each week.
The simple precaution here is to read the trainee background and goals sections before writing the sponsor statement.
4. Organize Information into the Correct Section
It’s surprising how often this critical detail is overlooked. The sponsor’s take on the training plan should go in section C, along with a description of the environment and research Facilities. As already noted, a short boilerplate may be needed for these latter sections, particularly if your institution has put time and money into a training program for postdocs and graduate students. However, these sections read better if they have been personalized according to the interests and needs of the trainee.
5. Distinguish Sponsor and Trainee Projects
For at least one mechanism, the K99/R00, a specific statement from the sponsor is required to clarify what the applicant can take with them when they start the R00 phase of the grant. These statements read even better if the sponsor indicates they will not compete with the trainee on the line of research proposed.
However, reviewers will invariably focus on the question of how much of the proposal is the sponsor’s and how much is the trainee’s. This issue is addressed in part in the respective contributions statement. For a line of work whose premise is established in the previous work from the sponsor, if not ongoing grant support, the sponsor statement should make it easy for the reviewers to articulate how the sponsor’s and trainee’s projects are distinct.
6. Address Red Flags in the Appropriate Section
Reviewers will notice if this is the sponsor’s first trainee. They will notice if all of the sponsor’s funding is set to run out next year. They will likely assume the sponsor is busy if they are a department chair or provost with many other postdocs in the lab. These are all red flags that can and should be addressed.
The section in which they are addressed will depend on the nature of the red flag. For example, funding issues would be addressed under Section A, Research Support Available, while a time issue would be addressed in Section C, The Training Plan.
The trainees’ red flags may also be addressed in the sponsor statement. It may be the most appropriate place to do so. Is there an explanation for a semester of poor grades? A gap in the educational time line? A period of limited productivity? These issues can be addressed in Section E, Applicant’s Qualifications and Potential for a Research Career.
7. Consider Co-Sponsors
While not essential, co-sponsors can be a great addition to an application. They may bring a different expertise or perspective, and/or may play an essential role in the career development plan. However, the co-sponsors must also provide the requisite information in the appropriate places within the statement so that reviewers have a clear idea what the co-sponsor brings to the application and how they will be integrated into the training and research plan.
To learn more about NIH funding processes, watch SfN’s on-demand webinar for members, Demystifying the Funding Process for Fellowship and Career Development Awards.