Clinical Researchers Strengthen Grant Writing Skills Through Harvard’s Global Clinical Scholars Research Training Program

A doctor writing at a desk in their office.

Clinical researchers today need strong grant-writing skills to get their high-impact research projects approved and funded. Yet effective writing techniques typically aren’t taught in medical school, leaving many researchers struggling to create opportunities to further their work. That’s why the Harvard Medical School Postgraduate Medical Education’s Global Clinical Scholars Research Training (GCSRT) program fills in the gaps to strengthen participants’ skills in this area and equip them with a valuable competitive edge to move the field forward.

Preparing Clinical Researchers for Success

GCSRT is a year-long certificate program designed for clinicians and clinician-scientists to provide them with advanced research training to advance their careers in exciting directions and prepare them to lead teams across a range of health care settings. This includes a strong focus on grant-writing skills, since this is such a critical part of a clinical researcher’s success, according to Djøra Soeteman, PhD, MA, a research scientist affiliated with the Center for Health Decision Science, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who serves as co-director of GCSRT.

One Promise, Two Models

She points out that GCSRT is presented in two different program models. The first option is an online winter program that consists of pre-recorded seminars, real-time virtual workshops, and tools to connect with content and classmates remotely. The second option is a summer program that has the same virtual and recorded modules but also adds an in-person component. Both program offerings provide the same high-level training from experts in the field, and both make it possible for clinicians and scientists internationally to enhance their advanced research skills to maximize their value while continuing to manage their personal and professional responsibilities.

The Capstone Project: Practicing Effective Grant Proposals 

Scholars in both GCSRT options also complete a mentored capstone project that consists of writing a grant proposal for research funding, which provides them with a real-world opportunity to put their learnings into action. As part of the capstone, each scholar submits a brief pitch of their idea, as well as a plan on how they will achieve it. These pieces are used to build the proposal itself. Harvard faculty members work with students to help them hone the writing and framing of their ideas to make them most likely to be effective, Soeteman says.

She adds that some GCSRT scholars have been able to get their capstone grant proposals approved and funded, which has been so exciting to watch. 

Gaining Other Essential Skills

In addition to sharpening their grant-writing abilities, GCSRT scholars strengthen essential research skills and knowledge in several areas, including leadership, advanced statistical tools, and research ethics. This deep dive into these areas prepares participants to develop and manage their research plans when they graduate from the program.
Some of the key takeaways for participants include:

  • A deeper understanding of statistical analyses: Scholars are introduced to statistical software and computing methods to empower them to analyze their own data and put it into the right context. This advanced familiarity allows researchers to work closely with statisticians to guide the process and to ultimately be able to produce manuscript-quality figures and graphs to support their work. “Ideally, you want to do those statistical analyses yourself—or at least know what kind of options exist—so you can explain exactly what you want. This advanced knowledge gives students the confidence to do their own research, to write papers, to present at conferences, and to hold leadership positions in clinical research,” Soeteman stresses. 
  •  Recognizing the hallmarks of high-quality research: Scholars will get an in-depth look at the elements of high-quality research and will learn to critically assess research findings they are reading or reviewing to see how they measure up to the standards of high-quality research. Such insights can help scholars better interpret clinical findings while also taking a more critical view of their own work. 
  • The value of building and leveraging important connections: One of the struggles researchers often face is forming important connections in order to build a team to support their efforts. “Scholars often want to conduct research at their institute or at their hospital, but it’s difficult to set up a research study like a clinical trial or an observational study in your own center if you're the only one working on it,” Soeteman explains. Both GCSRT models (fully remote winter program and the summer version with the in-person workshop components added) provide a valuable forum through which participants can meet other, like-minded professionals and form relationships that they can build on to move their efforts forward.  

Mastering Time Management

While some clinical researchers who want to boost their research and grant proposal writing skills may be worried about juggling the demands of the GCSRT program with their family and work commitments, Soeteman points out that, although this may be a challenge, the concern is usually unfounded. In fact, she says that all the scholars somehow find a way to manage their responsibilities and school quite successfully. She credits this to the tremendous motivation most participants demonstrate, coupled with the commitment from the GCSRT faculty and staff to support each person’s journey. A strong camaraderie among students also helps everyone stick together and support one other throughout the year. In addition, upon completion of the program, graduates often stay in touch with their classmates and other experts they met through GCSRT and share advice, support, and networking. This can even lead to new opportunities to work together on high-impact research studies and other projects that are advancing our understanding of health care.

Driving Innovation in Clinical Research

“Scholars are often motivated to start doing research—or to keep going on existing efforts—because they get inspired through the program,” Soeteman says. She adds that by combining the knowledge they gain in GCSRT over the course of the year with their newfound effective grant-writing abilities, scholars are well positioned to develop their careers as clinical researchers and as leaders, helping them to ultimately drive innovation and achieve better outcomes.

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