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iGAP: Helping Indian researchers access international grants

Shantala Hari Dass & Zill-e-Anam

In 2019, IndiaBioscience launched the International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP), an initiative that aims to raise awareness about international funding opportunities available to Indian researchers, as well as to train and motivate them to apply for the same. This article looks back at some of our past activities and provides a snapshot of all the resources we have created under this project.

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Success is where preparation and opportunity meet - Bobby Unser

Research is increasingly becoming more global in nature, traversing geographical and thematic boundaries. This is reflected in the growing numbers of international funding opportunities, some of which India even contributes to. The international funds available to Indian life science researchers include schemes such as postdoctoral fellowships, research grants, support for networking, skill-building, and team awards amongst others. IndiaBioscience launched the International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP) in late 2019 to facilitate the Indian life science community’s pursuit of international funds. The iGAP program follows a three-pronged approach, by aiming to educate by spreading awareness about various international funding opportunities, to equip by training aspiring applicants to draft successful applications, and to inspire by boosting the confidence of researchers to apply for more international funds by sharing success stories from India. 

In order to bridge the gap in awareness, build confidence, and provide skill-sets to build a strong application, we have been creating resources and hosting events for prospective applicants. Through these events, we expose them to the perspectives of the funding agencies, selection/​review committee members, and awardees. Till now, we have created a pool of resources for PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, and independent investigators. The resources are in various formats — informative articles, in-depth conversations, podcasts, webinars, and in-person workshops (prior to the pandemic). In Oct 2020, Smita Jain and Shantala Hari Dass received financial support for 1 year in the form of the IRMI Research Management Grant from DBT/​Wellcome Trust India Alliance to execute and grow the iGAP initiative.

In its first year, iGAP has covered funding opportunities (available to Indian researchers) from three agencies — the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). We began with Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowships through an informative article, an interactive podcast and an Ask-Me-Anything session with past Indian MSCA awardees — Amey Redkar and Mahipal Ganji. An interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse is that it was the community’s interest in the MSCA fellowship that led us to delve into the MSCA schemes in our first year.

Next, we moved on to a deep dive into the EMBO schemes for Young (independent) Investigators and EMBO Fellowships with representation from EMBO (Gerlind Wallon, Betsi Flores and David del Alamo) and insights from EMBO Young Investigator Minhaj Sirajjuddin, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bengaluru. We also shone a light on success stories from India in the Awardee-in-Focus’ column. Our first offering here is a conversation with Dimple Notani, a group leader at National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru who was among the first cohort of EMBO Global Investigator Network (GIN) awardees, describing her experiences and insights into the application process and what the award will mean for her scientific career. 

Lastly, we conducted two informational webinars on the HFSP-Research Grants and Postdoctoral Fellowship, bringing in perspectives from HFSP directly, as well as from Review Committee members Shubha Tole, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, and Gautam Menon, Ashoka University, Sonipat, and past awardees Satyajit Mayor (NCBS), Anjana Badrinarayanan (NCBS) and Rashna Bhandari, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad. Driven by the questions asked during our live sessions, we recorded a podcast with Vidita Vaidya (TIFR), who has been on the selection committee for the HFSP Fellowships, and Guntram Bauer (HFSP), breaking down the HFSP mindset and addressing misconceptions.

All of these resources have been compiled into funding-body-specific infographics that serve as a one-stop source of information. During the course of building these resources, many experts came forward as mentors to prospective applicants. For this, a database of mentors and resource people has been (and will continue to be) built. This growing database currently includes about 20 mentors and resource people. Our live sessions (5 webinars + 1 workshop) drew a cumulative attendance of over 900 researchers from across India. Through our live sessions, we give researchers an opportunity to ask and interact with the panel of experts. We also conducted an Ask-Me-Anything session to address more candidate-specific questions closer to the application submission deadline. The recorded videos of these webinars have had about 1500 views while our website (where all the informative articles are housed) has a monthly viewership of over 1 lakh. The response of the community — applicants, prospective applicants, and mentors — to iGAP resources and events has reinforced its need.

We have exciting plans for the coming year. While 2020 was dedicated to laying the foundation for iGAP, 2021 will be our period of extensive growth. We plan to grow the repository of iGAP resources, share existing resources as per the application cycle calendars of the various funding agencies that we have created resources for, and foster interactions with our expanding database of mentors and resource people. We plan to do this via moderated discussion forums and periodic Ask-Me-Anything sessions a few months prior to the application deadlines. 

In order to integrate resources all in one place, we are happy to launch a dedicated iGAP webpage housed at the IndiaBioscience website. Please check out the iGAP webpage, share it with your network, participate in our sessions, and engage with us.