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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Faculty Affairs Office
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Grant Writing Groups

There is no skill or activity that more explicitly marks the progression of a scientist from novice to expert, from someone doing research on others' ideas to constructing and studying their own novel ideas, than the preparation of written research proposals. Many biomedical PhD programs have recognized this essential skill and have integrated it as one of the early milestones of the PhD through inclusion as part of comprehensive or candidacy exams or as separate exercises.

Beyond this early learning phase, young or early scientists have historically learned the essential skill of writing research grants from mentors. Some mentors do a superb job of teaching the art and science of proposal writing, but at best they are in the minority and the rest range from providing minimal guidance to none at all. The presumption has typically been that this is the only way one can learn to write grants, along with the alternative of learning it "by the seat of your pants."

Recognizing the inadequacy of this as a teaching design strategy, a wide array of efforts have been mounted at institutions or through consulting and business arrangements to provide grant writing workshops. These workshops typically last a few hours to a few days, are largely focused on NIH-style proposals, and many are very well designed. However, having a conceptual idea of what goes into an NIH-style proposal is very different from actually constructing one. Furthermore, when one actually tries to write a proposal there is complex interplay between the rhetorical patterns and styles of writing and the scientific thinking and research design itself.

Over the past 12 years, Rick McGee, MD, Associate Dean for Faculty Recruitment & Professional Development, has developed an alternative approach to teaching the art and science of writing NIH-style research proposals that he has used at various levels of training. This method has become the cornerstone of faculty development efforts to assist faculty who are in their early career stages to develop research programs at Northwestern University. Read a description of the process.

New writers' groups are formed three times per year, about four months before each major NIH submission cycle deadline.  If you would like to be put on the list to be notified when new groups are forming, please email

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