Helpful tips for applying to HHS internal funding programs

Daniela Bianco, Manager – Research Development & Relations

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) takes a strategic approach in developing internal funding programs for its research community, including front-line staff. HHS invests approximately $1.6 million dollars annually to provide operating grants, career awards, and travel awards, as well as mentorship opportunities through two province-wide youth outreach programs. Funding and mentoring programs are designed to support every career stage, from senior investigators with established, large-scale research studies, to early-career investigators initiating their first research study.

A big part of my role as Manager, Research Development and Relations involves overseeing the pre-award and post-award process for all internal peer-review funding programs and related publication material. The following tips are designed to help you navigate the application process.

  • Always reference the funding program’s webpage for the most current copy of guidelines and application forms, as they reflect continuous improvements to the pre/post processes.
  • Letters of support/collaboration – Avoid cookie-cutter style; each letter should be unique and customized based on your relationship with the author, and their knowledge of your research experience, accomplishments, the contribution/added value of the proposed research, and your future direction/intentions. Select individuals who can build a strong case on your behalf to support and enhance the proposed research plan. The letter should address the following key areas: your capabilities (research training and experience); ability to succeed (research environment, collaborations/partnerships and past accomplishments/productivity); author’s knowledge of the proposed project and the contribution it will make that speaks to the importance of patient outcomes related to: (1) HHS Strategic Priorities (People, Patients, Sustainability and Research Innovation and Learning), and (2) external to HHS – at local, regional, provincial, national and international levels (as appropriate to the scope of the research plan).
  • Developing BudgetsResearch Personnel requires consultation with Human Resources to ensure staffing needs for the proposed project are met and all applicable costing is considered (i.e. benefits). We encourage hiring HHS staff to eliminate the need of managing two research accounts, as all internal funding programs require funds be held within an HHS Research Account. Supplies and Equipment ensure appropriate estimates from third-party providers are obtained to determine “an as accurate as possible” value. It is important to engage appropriate HHS/McMaster departments for costing of salaries, fees for service, consumable supplies and equipment (eg, lab work, pharmacy, statistical analysis, animal facility, IT for computers etc.). It is worthwhile to invest the time upfront to engage the appropriate individuals in determining true budget line values, as well as ensuring specific equipment requirements are met.

Early-career applicants

  • Selecting Mentors – When considering a potential mentor, it’s important that the individual has the expertise to guide you throughout the process: from initial concept to the development of a research proposal, budget, and statistical analysis and knowledge translation. Ensure the mentor has a proven track record in holding recent peer-review funding as principal investigator, as well as a strong history of supervising and publishing. Equally important is their commitment (time) to be involved in the project by providing a sound research environment, advice, and access to resources. A mentor needs to be available to guide you in growing your research career following the completion of an HHS funded study, as you then enter into the highly competitive external funding arena.

If you require any assistance, please feel free to reach out to me directly, and I will be happy to speak to you and see how I can better serve you in order to put forward a strong application!