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Ask Dr. Editor

How to articulate your training plan in funding applications

A four-part outline for developing a SSHRC or NSERC module on training highly qualified personnel.

BY LETITIA HENVILLE | APR 20 2021

Question:

I’m applying for my first major grant and have never before had to describe a “training plan.” What do I need to include in this part of a grant application?

– Psychology

Dr. Editor’s response:

Although the content of your training plan will vary depending on the competition to which you’re applying – for instance, the NSERC Discovery grant requires a description of your training philosophy, while the SSHRC Insight grant doesn’t ask for this level of detail – I generally advise following a similar structure for all modules of this sort. In addition to walking you through my preferred structure for this module, I’ve also sought the input of Brianna Wells, a research development officer in the UBC-Okanagan office of research services, who brings expertise in social science and humanities research support.

  1. Your opening frame

Dr. Wells recommends starting your training plan with “an introduction statement or paragraph that frames the student training module in context of the project questions, goals or objectives.”

So, you’ll want to say how many trainees your project will support, their degree level or status at your institution and – if it’s a substantial number – the percentage of your overall budget that is dedicated to their salary or to other supports like travel and conference fees. Yet this description alone is insufficient if you don’t also make clear how their participation in your work will advance the project’s objectives. Without a sense of cohesion, your training plan will risk appearing as an afterthought, diminishing your implicit claim that your budget is appropriate and your training is high-quality.

  1. Illustration through detail

To attest to the quality of your training plan, describe what training looks like in your context. How often do you meet with your trainees, and for how long? Do you host a journal-reading club, hold weekly lab meetings, have regular group discussions of writing-in-progress?

Paint a picture of what your training looks like and connect your approach to some of the best practices for mentorship and training. Nathan Hall provides the evidence behind a number of supervisory strategies in this 15-minute video:

You might also demonstrate how your training aligns with the training and development section in the New Frontiers in Research Fund’s Best Practices in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Research, or, if appropriate, with the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s New Directions to Support Indigenous Research and Research Training in Canada.

  1. Breakdown of responsibilities by degree level

I then suggest including a bulleted list of tasks for each level of trainee – that is, what your postdocs, PhD students, Masters students and undergrad students will achieve over the course of the grant and the skills they’ll develop in doing this work. Ensure that the tasks you’re assigning are appropriate for the degree level and experience of your trainees.

Dr. Wells adds:

“I often suggest that applicants include ‘process’ statements alongside ‘outcome’ statements in the training plan. For example, if you claim that a student will build skills in archival work, then I would also suggest including a statement about what activities of mentorship will help them get there. Will you take them on archival trips? If so, what pre-trip tasks will help them prepare? It doesn’t prove they’ll learn, but it demonstrates to readers that you have a thoughtful plan to support their opportunity to learn.”

Including these “process” statements will ensure that you’re clarifying how your trainees will gain specific transferable skills.

  1. Demonstration of feasibility

At the close of each section, describe the relevant departmental, faculty or institutional training opportunities that are available to your trainees. These may include supplemental funding, professional development or writing workshops, or specific programs like the University of Waterloo’s Problem Lab or the University of British Columbia’s Arts Amplifier (disclosure: I’m the project lead on the latter). This description demonstrates that your institutional environment has the resources necessary to foster a range of skill development, increasing your chances of success in achieving your project’s aims.

You can supplement this section by describing your proven track record in training success, pointing to, for instance, awards your previous trainees have won or the number of papers you have co-authored with trainees. For early-career researchers, you might also name key awards you won as a graduate student, to show that you can provide high-level training in related areas. As Dr. Wells notes, in this part of the module, you have the chance to “reinforce some areas of your own experience and expertise while you describe your students’ experiences.”

This suggested structure should help show that your training plan is achievable, appropriate, high-quality and well-integrated into your proposed project.

ABOUT LETITIA HENVILLE
Letitia Henville
Ask Dr. Editor is a monthly column by Letitia Henville, a freelance academic editor at shortishard.ca. She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto. Have a question about academic writing or editing? Send it to her at shortishard.ca/contact or on Twitter @shortishard.
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