Five things to know about the Grants Hub

How to contact the Grants Hub

Researchers looking to consult with the Grants Hub can call 294-4220 during business hours or email

Numerous resources also are available on the hub's website. The Grants Hub office is at 1138 Pearson.  

Researchers seeking funding from the National Science Foundation have 15 pages to make their case. For a National Institutes of Health grant, it's 12 pages. Complex proposals vying for lucrative and prestigious federal grants gobble up that real estate quickly. Brevity matters.

"A picture or a graphic can be worth 1,000 words. You can save a lot of that space," said Guru Rao, associate vice president for research.

That sort of advice is one way the dedicated experts at Iowa State's Grants Hub can help researchers. They also can design that graphic. Or prep budgets. Or edit text. Or assist in finding the opportunity in the first place. Or simplify management of the award.

With its wide variety of services, the Grants Hub has worked with more than 450 researchers and research administrators in landing more than $56 million in external funding since the office of the vice president for research established the hub in January 2015. In the hub's first full fiscal year, 2016, Iowa State secured a record amount of external research funding, topping $252 million.

"The Grants Hub was established to help investigators tackle new challenges, from their first grant as a new faculty member at Iowa State, to pursuing funding from a new agency, to large collaborative inter-institutional proposals. The staff have really made a difference in the capacity of faculty to seek funding for their research," said Sarah Nusser, vice president for research.

Here are five things to know about the program that gives Iowa State's research funding an efficient boost:

It's unique

When Grants Hub director Liz Zuercher and her staff go to conferences, they get a lot of questions. Few, if any, top research universities have similar centralized programs designed to support finding, getting and handling grants.  

"There's not too many of us," Zuercher said.

Rao said outside faculty who visit campus often are envious of the hub, and officials from other institutions have inquired about using it. 

"They go, 'Wow, you guys are so lucky to have something like this. It makes life so much easier,'" he said. "Word travels very quickly."

Walter Moss, an assistant professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, said there was nothing like the Grants Hub at Yale University, where he was a postdoctoral fellow before joining the Iowa State faculty in August 2016.

"No one was actually there to help you," he said. "They would tell you what is wrong, but they wouldn't tell you how to fix it."

It's an advantage

Proposal preparation is the most common service the Grants Hub provides. Hub staff can make sure a budget is in the required form and fine-tune writing for clarity and impact, and they can lighten the load by helping with administrative forms to describe facilities, data management plans, prior support and other non-scientific parts of the proposal.  

"Our goal is quality out the door. Not quantity, but quality out the door," Zuercher said.

Both big-picture issues and granular details can make the critical difference in an investigator's proposal, Rao said.

For instance, panels reviewing applications for major grants often include nonexperts, Rao said. It's important to remember that in writing a proposal. At the same time, funding agencies have their own specific expectations about formatting and other minutiae.

"It really is a huge, huge difference between success and failure," Rao said.

For Moss, having a hub staff member lead him through the nitty gritty details of his still-pending application for an NSF early career award – and having copy editors to catch his typos ­– made the process less intimidating and anxiety-inducing. His focus was on the science, he said.

"All the other stuff is just added stress on top of that," he said.

It's complementary

New faculty and major grants are the hub's main focus, but staff will consult with any Iowa State researcher or their staff. The hub usually will respond within 24 hours of an initial request for help, Zuercher said.

Grants Hub staff typically play a bigger-than-usual role when working with faculty in departments that don't have a high volume of major grants, Zuercher said.

But the hub doesn't replace the expectation that faculty read and understand funding requests, Rao said. "We are not dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's at some elementary level that they should have taken care of," he said.

Nor does it eliminate the need for faculty mentors and other research support systems at the department and college level, Rao said. The point is to spare researchers and their teams some of the burden of rules and regulations.

"That's what we're here for," Rao said.

It's collaborative

The Grants Hub's eight-person staff works closely with many other research support units, including the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration, which signs off on all Iowa State research proposals. OSPA's office space is in the same Pearson Hall suite as the Grants Hub.

"Both departments collaborate very well," Rao said. 

The hub also aims to work cooperatively with other research support staff. Even if hub staff are dealing directly with a faculty member, they will give that researcher's staff a heads-up.

"Usually we get, 'Oh, thank you, we really appreciate your help,'" Zuercher said.

The hub is especially critical in coordinating complicated interdisciplinary research proposals, which federal agencies increasingly are seeking, Rao said. The hub staff is working with four active interdisciplinary teams at the moment, Zuercher said.

It's growing

It's too soon to track year-by-year growth of the Grants Hub, as it's only been fully staffed for 12 months, Zuercher said.

But she said the volume of requests has been growing in the last year. Just before summer, the hub began offering a project management service, which allows researchers with multiple projects to get a better handle on their deadlines.

"We've seen investigators come back two to three times," Zuercher said. "I consider that a measure of success."

Moss said he knows of numerous assistant professors who have used the Grants Hub, and the feedback has been positive. 

"I'm definitely going to use it again," he said. "It was pretty impressive, actually."