Professor of biochemistry - Gerard Evan

  • Scheme: Science Committee programme and project grants
  • Awarding committee: Science Committee
  • Career level: Professor
  • Research area: Cancer biology
  • Year awarded: 2010
  • Funding length: 5 years
  • Location: University of Cambridge

Career background

Education

BA Biochemistry, University of Oxford

PhD Molecular Immunology, University of Cambridge & MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Postdoc, University of California, San Francisco

Appointments

2012 to present - Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry and Head of Department, Dept. Biochemistry, University of Cambridge

1999 to 2012 - Professor, University of California San Francisco

1996 to 1999 - Royal Society Napier Research Professor, UCL

1991 to 1999 - Principal Scientist, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London

1988 to 1991 - Senior Scientist, ICRF

1984 to 1988 - Junior group leader, University of Cambridge Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

The application process

How do you decide which grants to apply for?

Basis of decision: Identify appropriate funding source and define scope and breadth of proposal (programme versus project). My major programme involves making multiple, novel mouse models with switchable oncogenes and tumour suppressors so requires a lot of person power (3 post docs, plus an animal tech).

In terms of bureaucracy, what are the most time-consuming steps in submitting a grant?

Writing takes the most time, but this is a useful exercise. Compared with the USA, grants in the UK are smaller, more idea-driven (less preliminary data required) and there are more, differing funding sources to apply to.

How do you deal with complex things, like costings and ethical approval?

Ethical approval for me is part and parcel of doing animal experiments and comes along with the license applications. Costings are not so hard to work out – they are based on our lab’s own historical data and guidelines provided by CR UK. For new investigators, getting rough figures is easy – just ask someone with a grant.

The research

What makes a successful grant?

The single most important factor is having a good question or set of questions, with clearly articulated and feasible experimental approaches that excite the reviewers. A good question is one that addresses an unknown, with a definable endpoint(s). Basically: Is the question interesting? Is it important? What discoveries might emerge from the studies – i.e. things we didn’t know beforehand? Why might they matter? How do you plan to do the proposed work? Does it look experimentally feasible (i.e. given your background, expertise and resources)?

Getting feedback from colleagues on your research proposal

In general, get your application read by several successful PIs and wear a raincoat and galoshes when you get the feedback. Don’t take ANY criticism personally.

Pitfalls and advice

Try to outthink your reviewers – i.e. identify pitfalls and offer workarounds – especially pitfalls they may not have considered. Most comments and criticism from grants panels and reviewers are useful – even if only to confirm one’s belief that most people out there don’t have much imagination.

Advice as a committee member

If you sit on grant-awarding committees, what makes you look favourably on an application?

Does it interest me? Does it excite me? Do I like the way the applicant thinks about things? Does she/he think about things?

Conversely, what makes you look unfavourably on a proposal?

I’m put off by incremental studies (e.g. I knocked out three of the isoforms and now I’ll finish off the next five) and tokenism (e.g. “CRUK want studies on pancreatic cancer” so here’s my nod to pancreatic ductal carcinoma, even though I’m not really interested in it or equipped to work on it”: or “CRUK seem to want translational research, so here’s a rudimentary target validation screen that will use a tiny compound library and will almost certainly never yield a drug but at least I’m trying….).”

Find out more about this scheme

What do you look for when reviewing an application?

"Does it interest me? Does it excite me? Do I like the way the applicant thinks about things? Does she/he think about things?"

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