Graphs and stethoscope stock image.

Polishing Scientific Gems

The Office of Scholarship and Research Development helps nurse-scientists burnish their investigative ideas.

April 29, 2019
By Kenneth Miller

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Columbia Nursing Magazine and is Part III of the issue's Special Research Report.

The nurse-scientists profiled in this issue all have one thing in common: They’ve been supported in their efforts by Columbia Nursing’s Office of Scholarship and Research Development (OSR). The mission of the OSR is to increase the scholarly and research capacity of Columbia Nursing’s researchers by helping improve the quality of grant applications and manuscripts submitted for publication. Its work complements that of the Grants Management Office, which assists with the nuts and bolts of putting grant applications together, such as filling in forms, developing budgets, and ensuring regulatory compliance.

For the past 15 years, the OSR has been an essential resource for faculty, associate research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and predoctoral students in their pursuit of external research funding and in their dissemination of the resulting findings via peer-reviewed articles and conference presentations. Through its broad scope of services and programs, and its one-on-one mentorship and guidance, the OSR plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of scholarly inquiry at the school and in advancing research that improves nursing practice and patient care.

Helping Researchers Secure Funding

The OSR provides a variety of services to help researchers strengthen their case for external funding. An intramural pilot grant program supports small research projects that enable new and early-stage investigators to generate preliminary data that they can use to apply for larger grants. When grants get to the project development and writing stages, investigators can draw on statistical support from two dedicated faculty members—Haomiao Jia, PhD, and Jianfang Liu, PhD—who have expertise in biostatistics, data analysis, and data management and programming.

To ensure that applications are as persuasive as possible, OSR director Kristine Kulage, MA, MPH, leads grant-writing workshops for all levels of investigators, beginning with a three-day intensive session for predoctoral students seeking to fund their dissertation research. She also assists postdoctoral trainees and junior-level researchers by editing their drafts. “I look at each document as a piece of writing,” she explains. “I help with clarity, conciseness, and cohesiveness, as well as consistency in formatting and compliance with guidelines.”

Internal grant reviews are another valuable service coordinated by the OSR. Before submitting a grant application, all Columbia Nursing researchers participate in a process called Specific Objectives and Aims for Research (SOAR), during which they present their proposals’ specific goals to faculty members for feedback and suggested revisions. They also take part in a mock review protocol, modeled after an NIH study section, in which they receive a real-time, presubmission peer-review from experts.

Providing Technical Help

The assistance continues after a grant is funded and the research gets underway. For projects dealing with “big data,” the OSR offers sophisticated database support from Liu. Office coordinator Joshua Massei, MBA, helps researchers master the intricacies of complex software—for example, survey programs such as Qualtrics and REDCap—and find creative solutions to the IT challenges of interdisciplinary research.

Helping the Work Find an Audience

Once a research project has been completed, it is critical for nursescientists to disseminate their findings. The OSR provides tools to help them do so effectively. One key offering is Writing Workshops, inaugurated in 2013, which have become a staple part of the dissemination process at Columbia Nursing, with nearly 50 participants to date. Led by Kulage, the workshops enroll from four to seven participants per semester, including predoctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, as well as faculty members; after an initial orientation session, each one-hour meeting is devoted to constructively critiquing one manuscript intended for publication in a specific peer-reviewed journal.

In addition, the OSR recently hired a dedicated informationist—John Usseglio, BS, MPH—who consults with individual faculty and students one day a week on researching and writing scholarly manuscripts. To support researchers who plan to present their findings at professional conferences, the OSR arranges rehearsal sessions at which they can practice in front of colleagues. The office also provides presenters with financial support to help offset travel costs.

Finding the Most Effective Ways to Help

An important priority for the OSR is to systematically examine the impact of its own initiatives—and to disseminate these findings, so that nursing leaders at other institutions can judge whether similar measures might be worth pursuing. For example, a 2017 study by Kulage and Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, senior associate dean for research and the Anna C. Maxwell Professor of Nursing Research, published in the journal Nursing Outlook, found that the OSR’s intramural pilot funding and internal grant review programs significantly increased the school’s research capacity.

“Grant applications that underwent any type of internal review were more than twice as likely to be funded compared with those that did not undergo internal review,” the co-authors wrote. Out of 88 applications, 42 percent of those that underwent SOAR and/or mock review received funding, compared with 20 percent of those that did not participate in any internal review process. Over a five-year period, 14 intramural pilot grants—with a total outlay of just over $127,000—resulted in 16 peer-reviewed articles, 33 presentations, and 11 externally funded grants totaling over $3 million. In addition, the internal review process “stimulates interdisciplinary collaboration and models a professional attitude of openness and mutual support for predoctoral students,” the researchers noted. “Based on our results,” they concluded, “it would seem that these initiatives represent a clear return on investment in the future success of nursing faculty as well as expand the funding portfolio of the school.”

By evaluating the effectiveness of such programs, the OSR helps ensure that they are focused in areas of greatest need and that they have the strongest possible impact.