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Career Advice

10 tips for a successful CIHR application

How to improve your shot at a research training award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

BY ANQI SHEN | AUG 22 2017

Each year, CIHR receives more than a thousand applications for its doctoral and fellowship awards. The success rates vary year to year depending on the budget, but in the last three years of available data, roughly 13 percent of CIHR doctoral award applications were successful and 16 to 18 percent of CIHR fellowship applications were funded (not including the Vanier and Banting programs).

It’s a highly competitive process, says Christine Sincennes, an adviser for CIHR’s awards program, which is why it’s important to make sure your application is in top shape. Ms. Sincennes, who gave a presentation at the 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, provided a list of 10 best practices to improve your chances of a successful application. Outlined below, her advice applies to trainees from all disciplines submitting for CIHR awards:

1. Review all relevant funding information. This may come as no surprise, but it’s number one for a reason. Make sure you read the available literature thoroughly at the start of the process, including “how to apply” to your specific award program and “frequently asked questions,” Ms. Sincennes advises. Before submitting your application, revisit these resources to ensure you’ve tackled all the important pieces.

2. Contact CIHR staff for clarifications or to confirm your eligibility. Sometimes there are  grey areas – combined programs of study, for example – that could leave applicants unsure about their eligibility. When in doubt, reach out.

3. Find out your institution’s internal deadline for applications, if applicable. Although CIHR has competition deadlines, some institutions have internal deadlines that could be in advance of the CIHR deadline. You can contact your institution for internal deadline information.

4. Follow the instructions and formatting guidelines closely. Make use of full page allowances, Ms. Sincennes says, adding that many applicants don’t take advantage of the space available on their application to provide explanations or elaborations. Also, make sure you adhere to font guidelines and character limits.

5. Organize your ideas and ensure consistency between various sections of your application. Once you have completed your application, go back and revisit the questions you answered at the outset to make sure changes are accounted for. Ms. Sincennes also suggests that candidates compare their application with the reviewers’ guide for their specific program, which provides evaluation criteria and what reviewers are looking for.

6. Ensure your CV contains all degree information and order transcripts weeks before the deadline. CVs should include studies completed and in progress. Since this section also serves to validate candidates’ eligibility, it is important information to provide. Some programs will ask for transcripts, and you should order these several weeks before your deadline because your application cannot be submitted without it.

7. Clearly explain the overall goal of your project. Among other things, you should describe how your training will contribute to your productivity and research goals, Ms. Sincennes says. “Indicate why you decided upon the proposed training location and what you expect to learn from the training experience. Each program has its specific instructions and candidates should ensure that they provide information about each item listed within it.”

8. Ensure your application is free of spelling and grammar errors. These errors will leave a poor impression on reviewers, who have 10 to 20 applications (sometimes even more) to read and consider. The line between successful and unsuccessful applications can be very thin.

9. Prepare your application in collaboration with your supervisor or mentor. Your supervisor has likely reviewed CIHR applications in the past and could provide you with valuable feedback. Other colleagues or experienced CIHR reviewers may also provide useful advice.

10. Choose sponsors who know you well and follow up with them. It’s important to make contact with your sponsor, and not just ask them to fill out a form. Sponsors should be able to assess your potential and give specific examples of behaviour for each characteristic on the Sponsor Assessment Form. Sample forms can be found on CIHR’s website. Follow up with your sponsor well in advance of their submission deadline as your application cannot be submitted without their portion completed. Note that the Sponsor Assessment Form is due 48 hours prior to your own submission deadline.

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Useful links from the CIHR website

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