March 28, 2012
Opportunities and Resources
- Small Business Funding Opportunities for Alzheimer's Research
- Seeking New Research on Chronic, Persistent, and Latent Infections
- Now Online: Videocast on Leadership Group for a Clinical Research Network on Antibacterial Resistance
In The News
- Manage Extramural Activities, Help Lead a Division
- Electronic Contract Proposals—New Pilot
- This Summer's Feature: Uniform Progress Report, RPPR
- Register for NIH's SBIR/STTR Conference
- News Briefs
- Foreign Institutions: Time to Renew Your Animal Assurance?
- Your Application Is Assigned to Study Section . . . ZRG1?
- Reader Questions
New Funding Opportunities
Ten Steps to a Winning R01 Grant Application series.
- Create an appealing application that gives reviewers guideposts to your organization.
- Write for two audiences: 1) your assigned reviewers who are experts in your field and 2) those who are experts in other fields.
- Make the case that your project will have a high impact on its field and is important to NIH's mission.
- Include enough detail in the Approach section to enable your reviewers to assess your experimental design.
- Make clear that you have access to necessary resources and expertise.
Now that the design phase is over, you are ready to put all that planning to the final test: writing the Research Strategy.
In this final step, we give you tips on creating that winning application by keeping its audience—your peer reviewers—in the forefront of your mind.
Organization, Organization, Organization
Make no mistake: reviewers will not excuse a poorly organized or otherwise unappealing application.Let's start by acknowledging that your reviewers—your application’s judge and jury—have day jobs.
In their “spare time,” they do us all a great service by agreeing to peer review applications on behalf of NIH. For each review meeting, they look at hundreds of applications and carefully read through those assigned to them.
So while you can expect your reviewers to take their role seriously, they have expectations of you too.
Make no mistake: reviewers will not excuse a poorly organized or otherwise unappealing application.
It won't matter how elegant your science is if your reviewers can't find or understand information they seek. And if that task is too hard, they'll give up and move on to the next application.
NIH gives you broad guidelines for organizing the application, for example, including headers for each section of the Research Strategy.
Beyond that, its organization is up to you, and there are surely dozens of ways to go about it.
But whatever path you choose, be sure to give your reviewers guideposts to your organization. Here are some tips:
- At a minimum, use headers that reflect the application sections, and in the Approach section, your Specific Aims. Add others for clarity as well.
- Use graphics as visual aids.
- Add emphasis with bold or bold italics.
- Label all materials clearly to make it easy to find information.
Instead, spend time editing useless words (see an "in order to?"— just "to" is enough) so you have the space to give your reviewers some visual breaks. (See how hard it is to read without white space in our Example of Text Without Formatting linked below.)
In addition to the guidance we give you here, follow all the instructions in the Grant Application Guide, including font and page limits, so you don't risk having your application returned to you without a review.
Perform for Your Audience
Answer likely concerns proactively to mitigate the possibility that reviewers will raise them at the meeting when you are not there to respond.Although all your reviewers will score your application, not all will be experts in your field or familiar with your science.
How to get through to them all? Write for both audiences: 1) your assigned reviewers who have expertise in your field and 2) the others who are experts in other fields.
You’ll need different lingo and more background information to convey the significance and feasibility of your research to the "non-expert" committee members, especially in the parts they are most likely to read:
- Specific Aims
- Significance section of the Research Strategy
You'll want to answer likely concerns proactively to mitigate the possibility that reviewers will raise them at the meeting when you are not there to respond.
If you look at our sample applications, you'll see how the successful PIs who created those applications did just that.
(See Step 4: Identify a Study Section and Know Your Audience linked below for help investigating and writing for your reviewers.)
Try to get as many people excited about your project as you can. Let them know why they should give you the best score by showing how your research is unique and will make a difference.
Score With Impact
When considering the review criteria, reviewers will look at different parts of your application, so you want to know where to cover your bases.At NIH, success requires impact. You'll need to lay out a convincing case that your project can make a high impact on its field.
The effectiveness of your argument helps to form your reviewers' judgment of your application, which in turn, results in its overall impact score, the main basis for our funding decision.
To arrive at that all-important score, reviewers use NIH's five review criteria—significance, innovation, approach, investigator, and environment.
Impact reflects both the importance of your research (significance and innovation) and its feasibility (approach, investigator, and environment).
When considering the review criteria, reviewers will look at different parts of your application, so you want to know where to cover your bases.
Significance, innovation, and approach correspond to sections of the Research Strategy.
Reviewers assess the investigator criterion largely from your biosketches and gauge environment from the Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment attachments on the Other Project Information form of the Grant Application Package.
Here are some items to contemplate so you can make sure your application leaves no doubts about significance and innovation:
- Show you are aware of the opportunities and roadblocks in your field.
- Highlight the significance of your research in the context of your field, long-term plans, and preliminary data.
- While you will delve into significance in detail in that section, also think about highlighting significance in your abstract and aims, especially if you think some of your reviewers will need this information to appreciate the importance of your research.
- Explain your innovation: how your research is new and unique and can push the frontiers of your field's knowledge ahead.
While all the criteria are important, NIH data show that scores correlate closest with your application's Approach section.
Don't skip the details. Reviewers expect them, so include enough details that they can assess your experimental design and feel confident you are using appropriate methods to get the results you anticipate.
You also want to include enough background and preliminary data to highlight the context and significance of your plans.
To reach your goal, do the following:
- Show how your experiments will yield meaningful data that test your hypothesis.
- Include details to show reviewers you understand and can handle a method, especially if you are new to the field or a new investigator.
- Give alternative experiments and approaches in case you get negative or surprising results.
Also consider addressing any concerns you feel reviewers may have directly in the Research Strategy.Make a strong case to your reviewers that your team can perform the research, and you have access to necessary resources.
While you will put the details in the Resources and Biosketches forms, also consider addressing any concerns you feel reviewers may have directly in the Research Strategy.
You'll also do well to make clear where you excel and what unique skills you and your team bring to the research.
Keep it All in SyncAn application is a complex system with interrelated information and parts, so be sure everything is in sync for people, money, resources, and time.
Check for accuracy and consistency, taking these steps:
- Make sure your references and figures are placed and cited accurately.
- Check all factual information.
- Then recheck all factual information.
- Find a lot more items in our Checklists in Inspect Your Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
Strategy for NIH Funding
- Step 4: Identify a Study Section
- Part 3. Write Your Application
- Part 5. Assignment and Review
Investigators at small businesses can benefit from some of these funds, thanks to two recent funding opportunity announcements (FOAs)—an SBIR and an STTR—on Alzheimer's disease research.
Proposed projects must fit into the topics listed in the FOAs. For NIAID, they are:
- The relationship between cytokines, chemokines, and other mediators of inflammation on the initiation, progression, prevention, or treatment of Alzheimer’s.
- Development of therapeutics for the neurocognitive changes related to HIV disease and the development and progression of Alzheimer’s.
Applications for both opportunities are due by April 30, 2012. For complete details, read the February 29, 2012, SBIR and STTR announcements.
Take a look at a funding opportunity for basic and early-stage translational research that can lead to a breakthrough on these fronts. (Applications proposing to study HIV are not permitted).
This opportunity is a two-phased R21/R33, which has the potential to allow a transition to the next phase without a break in funding.
For the first phase, PIs conduct milestone-driven exploratory or feasibility studies while the second phase expands development for PIs who have achieved their negotiated milestones. Go to our R21/R33 Phased Innovation Award SOP to learn more.
Read the March 15, 2012, Guide notice for details, instructions, and a list of areas we are interested in. Application deadline is July 13, 2012, with optional letters of intent due June 13.
Now Online: Videocast on Leadership Group for a Clinical Research Network on Antibacterial ResistanceYou may have missed this videocast a few weeks ago but good news: it's now on the NIH VideoCasting and Podcasting site so you can watch it at your leisure. Just go to Leadership Group for a Clinical Research Network on Antibacterial Resistance: Information Session.
Since it provides more information on the related funding opportunity—see the January 13, 2012, Guide notice—you'll find it helpful to tune in.
For example, hear from program staff about the structure and function of the new Leadership Group as well as current NIAID-supported antibacterial resistance-related research activities. And, learn about application requirements and peer review procedures from grants management and scientific review staff.
You can find a list of questions, including those submitted during the videocast, at Frequently Asked Questions and Answers Related to the Antibacterial Resistance Funding Opportunity Announcement on the Restructuring the NIAID Clinical Trials Networks site.
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA). Is this executive career opportunity for you?
The DEA director and deputy director oversee the management of NIAID awards as well as the review of contracts and certain grant applications. They implement extramural funding policies while managing areas within their purview: international, small business, and training and career development programs.
As deputy director, your reach will extend beyond NIAID as you represent the Institute on trans-NIH committees and at national and international conferences, and enhance partnerships with public and private organizations.
To learn more about the position and how to apply, read the Deputy Director of the Division of Extramural Activities announcement.
Electronic Contract Proposal Submission (eCPS) system. Our pilot effort for eCPS begins with the NIH Tetramer Core Facility opportunity.
eCPS is one component of our integrated, secure system for submitting, capturing, reviewing, and tracking NIAID R&D contract proposals.
Eventually, we hope to phase out paper proposals for R&D contracts. That change would make the proposal process easier for offerors and reviewers as well as eliminate the need for us to store paper proposals.
This summer, NIH will roll it out as an option for all members of the Federal Demonstration Partnership (most major grantee institutions are part of the FDP; see a list of Members). A pilot has already started at the following institutions:
- Duke University
- University of Michigan
- Oregon Health and Science University
- University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
- University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
- Rush University Medical Center
- University of Washington
For complex grant types and non-SNAP awards, NIH has not decided on a schedule or implementation plan yet.
Though the RPPR will be optional at first, we expect it will become mandatory sometime in the next fiscal year.
Watch for news on NIH's Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) site. We'll also write follow-up articles and update our Web pages as the process evolves.
NIH announced pilot details in a March 9, 2012, Guide notice. The RPPR has been in the works for a long time; we last wrote about this topic in our May 26, 2010, article "Coming Not So Soon: PHS 2590 Changes."
You'll find it worthwhile to attend since you can learn about the SBIR and STTR programs, find out how to prepare a competitive application, and meet one-on-one with NIH staff.
You'll also have a chance to attend a poster session to see types of funded projects, network with awardees, and discuss possible collaborations.
To learn more, go to NIH's 14th Annual NIH SBIR/STTR Conference.
Tutorial on Financial Conflicts of Interest. A new Web-based Financial Conflict of Interest Tutorial clarifies HHS’s revised 2011 regulations for promoting objectivity in research. For details, read the March 9, 2012, Guide notice.
Sign Up for IACUC 101 Workshop. Join NIH for a workshop on institutional animal care and use committees on April 11, 2012, in Irvine, CA. Read the March 2, 2012, Guide notice for more information.
Previously, you could renew your assurance whether or not you had an NIH grant. But with the new policy, you may renew it only if your institution has NIH funding or funds are pending.
Don’t delay renewing your assurance as soon as you may do so. For NIAID to award or continue funding a grant involving vertebrate animals, the institution must have an assurance on file with NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW).
If the assurance expires due to a lack of funding, your institution will need to quickly negotiate a new assurance with OLAW when your grant has been selected for funding and your institution has received its just-in-time request.
You’ll need that assurance if your institution is either the grantee or a subaward partner to a domestic grantee. To learn more, see Animal Welfare Assurance for Foreign Institutions.
ZRG1 is code for a CSR special emphasis panel (SEP), an ad hoc group of reviewers assigned to review your application in special situations, for example:
- One or more standing study section member has a conflict and no other study section has the expertise to review your application fairly. For example, CSR may balk at assigning your application to a review panel that has any members mentioned in your application—even consultants who contribute materials only.
- You're eligible for continuous submission.
- You apply for a fellowship or small business award.
When CSR does post the rosters, it often aggregates several panels into one list. SEPs are often very small, and consolidating rosters prevents applicants from identifying who reviews their applications.
CSR treats SEPs like standing study sections, with the same rules and practices governing the review of your application.
Contact your scientific review officer with questions about your assignment, such as the review date and areas of expertise on the panel. Any SRO should be able to give you this information and explain why your application went to a SEP.
For our advice on making sure your application is reviewed by the most appropriate reviewers, read Ensure You Get the Right Assignments in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
Feel free to send us a question at firstname.lastname@example.org. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
"Can my institution support trainees on non-federal fellowships if they are also receiving a stipend from an NRSA grant?"—Susan Lau, University of California, San Francisco
Yes. Your institution may supplement stipends from non-federal funds as long as there isn't any additional obligation for the fellow. Your institution determines the amount of stipend supplementation it will provide based on its own established policies.
For details on this NIH policy, read 11.2.10 Supplementation of Stipends, Compensation, and Other Income in the Grants Policy Statement.
"I read the concepts cleared at January Council. Should I wait for a concept to become an initiative before I write an application?"—anonymous reader
No. When you review our Concepts: Potential Opportunities, consider whether your expertise lends itself to any of the research topics. If it does, discuss a potential investigator-initiated project with the program contact listed in the description of your concept of interest.
Investigator-initiated applications in high-priority areas may qualify for above-the-payline funding if NIAID does not publish an initiative.
For more advice, read Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding. Learn more about how Concepts May Turn Into Initiatives in NIAID Funding Opportunity Planning and the Budget Cycle.
- NIAID-DAIT-NIHAI2011132, NIH Tetramer Core Facility
- RFA-AI-12-020, Partnerships for Interventions to Treat Chronic, Persistent, and Latent Infections