The UF College of Medicine R01 Boot Camp wraps up its 2023-24 cycle

Boot camp. The name evokes images of soldiers trudging through mud pits and climbing obstacle courses. The College of Medicine Office of Research’s R01 Boot Camp, however, trades the military conditioning and barking drill instructors for grant writing training and faculty coaches.

A team science and mentorship-focused program, the R01 Boot Camp is designed to help College of Medicine faculty members receive their first R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health.  Originating in 2022, the Office of Research welcomed its inaugural cohort of COM faculty and is now opening its doors to eligible faculty in all colleges across the university.  The Office of Research is also expanding its program to offer two tracks, one for early-stage investigators and the other for mid-career and senior faculty.

“Getting an R01 is a pretty arduous process and researchers often have to go through quite a few attempts before finally landing one,” said Elizabeth Palmer, Ph.D., the assistant director of research training and workforce development in the College of Medicine Office of Research. “This boot camp gives investigators a structured environment so they can learn precisely what they need to do for a successful R01 grant and gives them the opportunity to get continuous feedback as they go through the process.”

During the boot camp, senior faculty with strong track records of NIH funding guide groups of mentees through the grant proposal development process, with a 1-to-2 coach-to-mentee ratio. The mentees in the program have a multitude of experience levels: some have never received NIH funding, whereas others have but are yet to crack the coveted R01.

“Having this mix [of mentees] allows them to see the successes and strengths of their team members and use each other as role models,” said Dan Wesson, Ph.D., the co-director for the 2023-2024 boot camp as well as chair and associate professor in the department of pharmacology & therapeutics. “The college is helping support the research growth of the whole UF Health enterprise. We are pleased to have many excellent faculty from throughout the university participate.”

R01 Boot Camp

"This boot camp gives investigators a structured environment so they can learn precisely what they need to do for a successful R01 grant.”

– Elizabeth Palmer, Ph.D.

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The nine-month-long program starts each September. Each mentee is placed into a thematically organized group based on ­­­­­their science or experience level and begins by providing an elevator pitch describing their project and its significance. They meet monthly with their team members and coaches and are also assisted by an internal subject matter expert, a UF researcher with specialized insight into the mentee’s scientific field of study who counsels on research plans.

Throughout the program, mentees participate in myriad activities such as: a grant writers’ workshop for writing competitive proposals, a team science studio workshop for learning how to identify and work effectively with collaborators, and a human design studio workshop for understanding how to design a rigorous and reproducible study.

Each mentee also presents a chalk talk to their department.  The chalk talk, a one-hour presentation developed in consultation with the mentee’s internal subject matter expert, provides critical feedback from experienced researchers designed to help shape the mentee’s specific aims section.

Towards the end of the boot camp, each mentee’s external subject matter expert reviews full drafts of their R01 proposal, which the mentee then revises before submitting to a mock study section review.  Mock study section reviewers treat the submissions as though they were reviewing them for an actual NIH panel, and mentees have the opportunity to witness the discussion. These intense phases are meant to prepare the mentees with invaluable feedback for the precision needed to secure NIH funding.

Historically, the R01 grant is the oldest mechanism used by the NIH to support a swathe of health-related research. It’s also one of the most prestigious. 

“You have to be able to look at your science in a raw manner,” said Elias Sayour, M.D., Ph.D., who worked alongside Wesson and Azra Bihorac, M.D., M.S., the College of Medicine senior associate dean for research, to implement the boot camp. “It’s a gift to have senior people look at and vet your proposal before submitting your first grant and getting vicious criticisms.”

R01 Boot Camp

"The college is helping support the research growth of the whole UF Health enterprise. We are pleased to have many excellent faculty from throughout the university participate.”

– Dan Wesson, Ph.D.

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Past participants have cited the monthly group meetings and check-ins as a source of camaraderie and drive to get their drafts done right.

“It’s always motivating to be going through something like that with other people, and you don’t want to let your team down,” Palmer said. “The boot camp does a fantastic job of fostering a supportive environment, fostering collegiality, and helping our researchers refine their grantsmanship skills. It’s also helping them forge relationships with faculty, offering more opportunities for future collaborations.”

This year’s class graduated from the camp in June with a closing ceremony after sending off their proposals to the NIH. Staying with them, though, will be the skills and connections they will gain by participating in the program.

“To think during this time last year, I didn’t even know how to use the NIH reporter and other tools,” Baibhab Chatterjee, Ph.D., said, a graduating mentee and an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “Now, I feel more confident about the entire process because of this experience.”