Finding Meaning in the F31
In my current role as Grants and Contracts Specialist, I support the Psychology Department at Ohio State University. Over my first two years in this role, a few grad students approached me to apply for the F31 fellowships. I was new to that mechanism and so I dove into learning about its unique requirements and helped the students navigate it and submit. And then promptly forgot about it. When another student approached me, I had to relearn. After several cycles of relearning, I resolved to improve my approach.
The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) is awarded to enable promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research in scientific health-related fields relevant to the missions of participating NIH Institutes and Centers. Applications are due three times a year (April 8, August 8, and December 8).
Seems straightforward? Not exactly.
- PI Status: At my institution, grad students do not have investigator status in our systems. From the moment I request the CV to the moment they have access in the system can take between 2-8 weeks.
- eRA Commons: I work with my sponsored program office to get the grad student an eRA Commons account.
- Cayuse: I set up the proposal shell and the budget. I provide basic training on how to access and use Cayuse to upload documents and review errors and warnings. I often provide proposal examples of F31 application documents.
- Reference Letters: I liaise between the student and our sponsored program office if there are any issues with reference letter submissions through eRA Commons.
- Tuition: I need to get approval from the grad school to cost share the other 40% of tuition, if we are awarded. This typically takes a couple of weeks to hear back from the grad school after I submit the request to them.
- Proposal Routing: I route our budget and proposal details through our electronic proposal approval system for signatures.
- Proposal Review: I review the proposal a final time and let our sponsored program office know we’re ready to submit.
The bureaucratic hurdles we need to overcome require us to plan for these submissions early. The first year, I created a checklist for students who planned to apply. Use of the checklist dramatically improved our process. The submissions were much smoother, and I had more students stick with the submission and complete it, rather than abandon as the deadline loomed.
The next year I reached out to the department’s grad student association to present about the F31 mechanism. Their executive board distributed my slides to all grad students after the meeting. I went from having 1-2 students submit a year, to 2-3 students submitting each cycle. I plan to present to the students each year and am excited about helping make F31 awards a key part of the psychology department’s grant portfolio. I’m hoping it will become part of the department’s reputation and will help attract students.
What began as a desire to simply improve a process has turned into something powerful and meaningful. Providing guidance for the F31 applications is helping me feel like I’m part of the mission of education at my institution. Engagement can be hard to locate when projecting grant balances and approving travel expenses. This is a tangible way I can support the mission of education in my own way. It wasn’t the goal I sought when I started out trying to better understand the F31 process, but every time now that a graduate student reaches out to me to submit, I feel thrilled. I keep a little tally of them, and that tally and the resulting awards, are my own contributions to our success.
Authored by Amy T. Raubenolt, M.A., CRA, Senior Grants & Contracts Specialist
The Ohio State University