Mokrova in new role to help faculty refine grant proposals

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Even before the Department of Medicine Research Strategic Plan was completed in the summer of 2019, Scott Palmer, MD, MHS, vice chair for research, was looking for effective ways to develop a larger pipeline of NIH-funded investigators in the department.

Anticipating the plan’s call for more support to junior investigators as they prepare their first major grant proposals, Dr. Palmer recruited Irina Mokrova, PhD, to be director of research development. She started in August 2019 and jumped right in.

“Irina came to the department with a track record of success in her own research and in supporting others’ grant development,” says Palmer. “I knew that she could jump in and have an immediate impact with our faculty.”

Mokrova’s role includes helping to demystify the NIH proposal process, as well as assisting faculty through the time-consuming, laborious process of preparing, revising, and submitting a proposal – and doing all that again – until the proposal gets funded.

“It’s an iterative process of perfection,” says Mokrova.

In her first year in the role, Mokrova focused her time and attention on junior faculty preparing proposals for a career development award (K01, K08, or K23) or an independent research grant (R01, R21, or R41). To date, she has supported 12 women and 12 men from eight divisions who have submitted proposals. Faculty must have a primary appointment in the Department of Medicine.

Mokrova also has conducted one-on-one faculty consultations, provided copy editing services, and has taught a grant-writing presentation for the Office of Physician Scientist Development and a K24 development workshop for mid-career faculty.

“Writing grants is a learned skill,” she says. “There’s nothing magical about it. You have to start somewhere, get better at it, and keep perfecting the story.”

She emphasizes the importance of knowing your audience and writing for them as clearly and directly as possible to help them comprehend the specific project you wish to pursue.

Previously, Mokrova was an advanced research scientist and statistician in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her PhD in human development and family studies and an M.S. in human development from the UNC Greensboro, and a BS in psychology from Moscow State University in Russia.

Powered by her passion for effective narratives, and in her spirited Russian accent, Mokrova helps faculty to clearly articulate a proposal’s premise, hypothesis, and aims. Her efforts complement support from the department’s Research Development Council, in which Michael Dee Gunn, MD, and Matthew Crowley, MD, organize concept review sessions to give an individual investigator focused feedback and guidance refining the scientific aims portion of a proposal.

[See Research Development Council offers concept criticism without judgment]

In addition to mentoring an investigator through the writing process, Mokrova helps to identify and complete all auxiliary documents for a grant proposal. Importantly, she looks at the package as a whole to check for consistency in describing the science and the methods.

While she is dedicated to working with only faculty with a primary appointment in the Department of Medicine, Mokrova is part of the School of Medicine research development team lead by Joanna Downer, PhD, associate dean for research development. That team has had tremendous success assisting PIs on large institutional grants, says Palmer. Mokrova says she benefits from Downer’s wisdom and deep knowledge of the NIH as well the rest of the team’s backup support and collaboration.

How to get help

Palmer and Mokrova invite DOM faculty, particularly junior faculty developing NIH grant submissions, to reach out as early as possible to ask for assistance, and to plan for Mokrova’s process to take three to five months.

To request assistance, send a message to irina.mokrova@duke.edu.