Dr. Madhukar Trivedi on Obtaining Grants to Fund Your Work

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By Susan Kirtz, MPH
Managing Editor, Texas Health Journal
Director of Special Projects, Center for Health Communication
The University of Texas at Austin


Dr. Madhukar Trivedi is Professor, Chief of the Division of Mood Disorders, and Director of the Comprehensive Center for Depression in the Department of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. His research focuses on pharmacological, psychosocial, and nonpharmacological treatments for depression.

Dr. Trivedi has been a Principal Investigator in multiple clinical trials funded through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Texas Department of Mental Health. He currently serves as Principal Investigator of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded “Stimulant Reduction Intervention using Dosed Exercise (STRIDE)” study, which tests the effectiveness of adding exercise to treatment as usual to improve drug treatment outcomes. Dr. Trivedi also serves as Principal Investigator of the Texas Node of the NIDA-funded Clinical Trials Network.

He previously served as Principal Investigator for three NIMH grants – “CBASP Augmentation for Treatment of Chronic Depression (REVAMP),” “Treatment with Exercise Augmentation for Depression (TREAD),” and “Computerized Decision Support System for Depression (CDSS-D).” He was also the Principal Investigator of the Depression Trials Network “Combining Medications to Enhance Depression Outcomes (CO-MED)” trial, which focused on using specific antidepressant combinations to increase remission rates by treating a broader spectrum of depressed patients and by capitalizing on additive pharmacological effects. In addition, Dr. Trivedi served as the Co-Principal Investigator of the NIMH-funded project entitled “Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D).”


What is the first grant you ever received?

I received a Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in 1994 to study amphetamine challenge in brain imaging for patients with depression. My first federal grant was an NIMH grant to study the role of serotonin challenge with brain imaging in endogenous major depression.


What is the biggest grant you ever received?

I received an NIH grant for $35 million to conduct a series of large-scale, multi-center trials to evaluate the effectiveness of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy in patients with depression in primary care and psychiatry settings. The signature study from this award was the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial.


How did you learn to write grants?

I learned to write grants by reading instructions in Requests for Proposals and diving into it. My approach has been to first fine tune my innovative ideas by digesting the extant literature in areas pertinent to the idea. Following a thorough read, I start writing, recognizing that the first several drafts are likely to be very rough. Constantly revising, getting input from colleagues, mentors, content experts and developing the next drafts in a timely manner is the next major step. All along keeping in mind that, if successful, the results of such an experiment would have a lasting impact on the disorder of interest.  


What’s something you’ve learned reviewing grants that you didn’t know as a writer?

Maintaining a logical flow from section to section is extremely important in allowing the reviewer to remain engaged and excited about your idea. Remember that you may have a much better grasp of the related literature than the reviewer. Therefore, the grant writer’s task is to convey the rationale for the proposed methods and analytic sections in as simple a manner as possible.


What have you learned from getting rejected?

It is disappointing to get a rejection. However, I critically read the reviews in order to improve the idea or my presentation of the idea. In my experience, while rejection is unwelcome, reviewer critiques almost always afford me means to improve my grant application and increase the quality of my research.


What are five easy things that someone could do to make their next grant application more successful?

  1. Do not rush to a deadline before the grant is really ready. Plan well in advance.

  2. Set aside time to write and revise.

  3. Obtain feedback from colleagues and experts.

  4. Answer the question: “So what?” If you succeed in getting funding for the idea and complete the study you are proposing, will the results really have an impact?

  5. Make sure the grant tells a story.