Montana State University

MSU’s success training new female faculty in grant writing featured in national publication

August 2, 2017 -- MSU News Service

MSU's ADVANCE Project TRACS adapted a successful grant writing program used by MSU professor Suzanne Held, seen here with other MSU faculty, into a boot camp that trained female faculty to find success in winning research grants. MSU's grant writing boot camp program was highlighted in the prestigious journal BioScience. Photo courtesy of MSU ADVANCE Project TRACS.

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A Montana State University program that trained female faculty to find success in winning research grants was highlighted in the prestigious journal BioScience.

An Intervention to Enhance the Research Capacity of Academic Women in STEM,” published in the June issue of BioScience, found that the six-week grant writing boot camps conducted by the MSU ADVANCE Project TRACS program had a four-fold positive effect on women winning grants at the university. The number of external grants submitted increased, as did the number of proposals led by women as principal investigators. The camps also increased the number of grants awarded to women and the dollar amount awarded to them.

“This MSU program that made purposeful changes in university practice successfully enhanced the research capacity and opportunity of women faculty,” said the paper’s co-author, Jessi L. Smith, an MSU psychology professor and a principal investigator of the ADVANCE Project TRACS grant that made the boot camps possible. “This is important because success by women seeking grants is vital to enhancing the research capacity of a university, just as increasing the amount of research conducted by women is paramount to a thriving national research agenda.”

Smith said that the paper’s publication is the latest indicator of the success of the ADVANCE Project TRACS program, which was fueled by a $3.4 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012 to increase the number of MSU female faculty in STEM fields. STEM fields are science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The grant was successful: Every year since the first year of the grant in 2012, the university has hired an equal number of men and women — or close to it — for tenure-track jobs in STEM fields. This uptick in female STEM faculty has drawn national attention, including articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the journal Science as well as the most recent paper published in BioScience.

Smith said while ADVANCE Project TRACS successfully increased the number of women STEM faculty, there remained an inequity in research grants won by women at MSU. University data indicate women have received only 26 percent of research grants since 2010. Another inequity was that women were listed as principal investigators, or leaders of the grant, just 21 percent of the time.

To change that inequity, the ADVANCE program adapted effective grant writing sessions that were developed and conducted by Suzanne Held, a professor and researcher in the College of Education, Health and Human Development. The retreat-styled program met once a week for six weeks. New faculty — the majority of them women — who attended were taught successful techniques for writing grants and provided mentoring and networking opportunities

“One of the benefits is the collaborations among participants that developed, especially through the peer feedback,” said Chatanika Stoop, project manager for ADVANCE Project TRACS as well as grant training coordinator for the MSU Center for Faculty Excellence and a co-writer of the BioScience paper. “The participants got to know faculty in other disciplines and learn about other areas of research. We found that was one of the best outcomes.”

Brittany Fasy, a tenure-track assistant professor in the Gianforte School of Computing, concurred. She said in addition to meeting colleagues, and not only in her college, she learned about hidden resources on campus.

“Now, I am aware of quite a few resources throughout the campus,” said Fasy, who has had success receiving grants after participating in the grant writing boot camp.

Stoop said the ADVANCE group researched the success of a participants a year before and a year after the boot camps, and they also compared it with those who did not participate in boot camps. While the sample size was small, the results demonstrated a significant positive impact of those attending the training. The boot camps were so successful, that new versions were developed. For example: a session is planned to help deal with revision and resubmitting proposals that were not funded.

Smith said she believes one of the most positive outcomes of the boot camps that she observed is that as women became principal investigators in the grant process, they also became academic leaders.

Smith said that the materials for running the boot camps, which are freely available, have already has been downloaded “hundreds of times” and she expects that other campuses will adapt the idea.

In addition to Smith and Stoop, other MSU faculty and staff who were co-authors of the BioScience paper included Micaela Young, pre-award specialist from the Office of Sponsored Programs; Rebecca Belou, research analyst at the Office of Planning and Analysis.

Smith said while the ADVANCE grant has now run its course, MSU is still finishing research and programs made possible by the grant.

To learn more about ADVANCE Project TRACS, visit

Jessi Smith (406) 406-994-5228,