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As Olympians know, to beat the competition you face, you need to break away from the pack.
In our last two articles, we gave you our thoughts on renewing your applications to keep your research afloat. Here we take a broader view.
For many people, getting the first grant is less of a challenge than defending their funded status. Buoyed by success, they put off creating the funding strategy that is essential at any career stage.
Following a strategic approach means planning to have multiple applications cycling through the system at all times.
Few people are enamored of having to do all that application writing—your equivalent of swimming laps. But if your career depends on grant funding, it's the way to go.
How much time you will need to devote to planning and applying for funding is highly individual. More established people with large labs may spend more time. People at earlier stages often spend less time, but each grant plays a more critical role in keeping them afloat.
Stake Out New Arenas
Where will topics for all these new applications come from? Here are some self-directed questions that can help trigger ideas:
- Are there offshoots of your funded research that could become the basis of a new project?
- Have you uncovered a promising new line of research that you and your team have the expertise and resources to execute?
- If you lack the necessary expertise to execute a new idea, could you find a collaborator who would enable you to pursue it?
Don't dilute. You should also be careful not to dilute your best ideas. For example, we caution you against stretching a project that could reasonably be three Specific Aims into three separate applications just for the sake of creating more applications.
In the same vein, don't forget that it takes a nearly flawless project to compete successfully.
Can you juggle? It’s also a good idea to ask yourself: can I juggle all the work?
Your reviewers will assess whether you have enough resources and time to complete the research and are not stretched too thin (especially if you are not a highly experienced investigator).
While R01s do not have a minimum, your level of effort cannot exceed 100 percent for all your funded research. And reviewers expect you to propose an appropriate level of effort, including enough time to manage the project.
Keep Running, Pass the Baton
To take a rational approach to the logistics of the funding challenge, start by contemplating how many applications you’ll likely need to keep your research going.
It’s best to temper your optimism. Each application submitted to NIH has a limited chance to succeed, as it faces strong competition from other applications vying for funding.
One way to gauge your probability of funding is to look at NIH success rates. In FY 2011, for example, the success rate for R01 applications assigned to NIAID was 17.3 percent. Based on that metric, the average investigator would expect fewer than one in five applications to succeed!
Just that fact alone should convince you of the need to have several applications in the hopper.
To maintain a funding stream, we advise you to stagger these submissions.
To visualize the value of staggered submissions, think of your applications as runners in a sort of relay race. Each one enters the race at a given point (its receipt date), and keeps running while others come in later in the competition (at later receipt dates).
If any of your runners in this special race perform exceptionally well (read: get funded), the finish line (when you run out of money) moves ahead.
That outcome keeps you on track to achieve your goal: an endless cycle of funding. Your next step is creating a plan to make it happen.
Beat the Clock
Start by getting out your calendar. Figure it will take from 5 to 20 months from the time you submit to the day you get an award— if your application is funded on the first try. It will take about 11 months longer if you need to resubmit, which is often the case.
Note that this interval does not include time to plan and write the application.
Writing time, receipt dates, funding time frames—it's a lot of data to juggle.
It may help to create a matrix for your planned applications. Jot down key dates: end of grant funds, latest timeframe you can start writing to meet a targeted receipt date, and a realistic timetable for creating a subsequent application.
Be sure to factor in the time it takes to get an award, which is dependent on the time in the fiscal year that you apply. And forget optimism for this exercise: build in time for resubmitting, especially if failing to do so would jeopardize your funding status.
Next, you may want to create a timeline with actual dates, or simply enter the dates in your electronic calendar, replete with reminders.
One more tip: also use the staggering principle to submit your new and renewal applications at different times to help spread out your funding opportunities.
Fresh perspective. Consider whether it could work to your advantage to have a new application reviewed by a different study section or funded by a different institute.
A chance to speak to a new audience may work in your favor. But do your homework researching the review groups, and proceed only if you feel confident it's the right way to go. Get advice from your program officer and your more experienced colleagues as well.
Change Your Game
Yes, there is life beyond the R01. Here are some closer and some more distant plays.
A smaller, two-year grant can be a viable funding option to help you explore a new line of research.
While it's worthwhile to consider an exploratory/developmental grant (R21) or small grant (R03), be sure you know the caveats.
R21s. An R21 gives you up to $275,000 in direct costs over two years, a sound level of funding. But a two-year grant may give you too little time to get the results you need.
And for any application to succeed in a new area—and small grants are no exception—you need a solid track record showing that you're qualified to do the work.
Also note that while NIH does not require preliminary data for R21 applications, our own study shows that most people do need preliminary data to succeed. Read more in Know the Importance of Preliminary Data in Should You Apply for an R21?, linked below.
R03s. For the R03, you may request only $50,000 a year in direct costs. This award supports a truly small project, such as a pilot study.
Despite the drawbacks for both the R21 and R03, some people do find them useful. Get advice from colleagues and your program officer before you decide whether to apply, and read more on the pages linked below.
Multiproject grants. Another funding option is to join forces with a PI of a multiproject grant, e.g., a program project (P01).
In this arrangement you would not be the PI, but you would lead your own project while being funded through the other person's grant.
See if you have colleagues or coworkers who have a multiproject award in an area that could benefit from your research.
Stay in the Same Game
Did you know that sometimes you may reuse an unsuccessful application with only limited changes required?
If that sounds too good to be true, it’s not. But there are limitations.
You may go down this atypical path under two types of circumstances: one set for NIH and one outside NIH.
NIH. You may reuse or repurpose an application for the same research if you're submitting to NIH and you want to:
- Apply using a new activity code, for example, you want to switch from an R01 to an R21.
- Switch from an investigator-initiated application to a request for applications, or vice versa (from an RFA to investigator-initiated research).
Outside NIH. You may submit an application for the same research to NIH and an outside organization simultaneously if the other organization is not part of the U.S. Public Health Service (which includes FDA, CDC, and AHRQ—as well as NIH).
There are a few exceptions to the “not PHS” rule—so contact your business office if it affects you.
Generally, you'll need to repurpose the application to fit the new organization’s specs.
Note that, if funding is offered, you will be able to accept only one award.
Of course, if you submit applications for different research to more than one PHS agency, you may accept both awards.
Just make sure the Specific Aims are different. It's a good idea to make clear in your application and in the cover letter that there's no overlap between the grants.
Starting within NIH, look past the grants arena to the field of contracts. Learn more at Why You May Want to Consider a Contract, linked below, and watch for Extramural R&D Solicitations that may match your goals.
For outside funding sources, tune in to other government agencies, foundations, and companies you could collaborate with and earn income from.
If you're thinking about approaching a biotechnology company, first answer these questions:
- Do I have a technology a company might be interested in?
- Could any of my work lead to a marketable product? If so, have I looked at NIH's small business opportunities?
- Do I have contacts that could give me an entrée into a company?
Check out opportunities from the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, NASA, and other agencies.
A good place to start looking for foundation funding is NIAID's List of Foundations and Other Funding Sources, linked below. It lists all the foundations we know of that support research grants in our mission. We update it continually with new information to create a handy resource for you.
Find other organizations that support research in NIAID's areas of science linked below.
Research Project Success Rates for the Selected Institute
Strategy for NIH Funding
- Strategy Timelines
- Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award
- Why You May Want to Consider a Contract
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Know the Importance of Preliminary Data in Should You Apply for an R21?
Small and Exploratory/Developmental Research Grants SOP
NIH Grant Types:
- NIAID Funding Opportunities List—RFAs and PAs for NIAID
- NIH's Parent Program Announcements—PAs for investigator-initiated research
- NIH Guide—RFAs and PAs for all NIH
- NIH's Parent Program Announcements—PAs for investigator-initiated research
- Health Research Funding—find funding sources for peer-reviewed, unfunded projects
Payment Management System to request and receive grant funds. Checks and wire transfers will no longer be used for disbursements.
After receiving a Notice of Award, grantees will have to set up a PMS account by submitting a direct deposit set-up and a PMS access form. For more on this, read Part 6. Receiving and Spending Money in the Grants Policy and Management Training for Foreign Investigators.
Webinar training is available for those who want help using PMS:
- Email PMS_Training@psc.hhs.gov.
- In the subject line indicate "Requesting grant recipient training: Webinar session."
- Include the following information:
- Training dates and times desired (propose three and include your time zone).
- Name, email address, and phone number of all attendees.
- PMS account number or agency name.
The move to PMS also affects the following:
- Reporting expenditures in the Federal Financial Report: for initial awards made after October 1, 2012, grantees must use the currency rate that's in effect when funds are issued from the Payment Management System. We updated What Is a Federal Financial Report? accordingly.
- Carryovers: to carry over an unobligated balance from an award issued before October 1, 2012, to an award issued after that date, grantees must return the unobligated balance to NIH when they submit the annual FFR. For additional details, see Using Leftover Funds.
Well-supported investigators are now defined as those who have existing NIH grants of $1.0 million or more in annual direct costs. Previously, the threshold was $1.5 million in annual total costs.
For details, read the August 20, 2012, Guide notice.
NIH's Common Fund Wants Your Input for Its Roadmap. Comment on two prospective programs from NIH's Common Fund. Read the August 28, 2012, Guide notice to comment on expanding the NIH undiagnosed diseases program, and see the August 30, 2012, Guide notice to weigh in on a priority list for renewable affinity reagents for human transcription factors.
Affected by Hurricane Isaac? Applying Late Is OK. If your application is delayed due to damage from Hurricane Isaac, you may submit it late. Get details in the August 29, 2012, Guide notice.
Join IACUC Workshops. Mark off September 19 and 20 for institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) workshops in Little Rock, Arkansas. One session provides basic IACUC training, while the other explores more advanced topics. Read the August 24, 2012, Guide notice for details.
The vast majority of requests for appeals are grounded in the applicant's disagreement with the reviewer's evaluation of a proposal's merit, a difference in scientific opinion, rather than evidence of bias on the part of the reviewer, factual errors, or any fault in the peer review process. Differences in scientific opinion are not grounds for appeal.
Thus, you may save time and effort by focusing on resubmitting or creating a new application.
When the appeal is successful, success simply means that your application will be re-reviewed—without any revisions—and possibly by the same study section. Your application will still need to compete on its newly-scored merits for funding.
While we're processing an appeal, you must wait to resubmit until after our advisory Council's decision on the appeal. If you send a resubmission meanwhile, we will ask you to choose which shoudl proceed: your appeal or your resubmission (not both).
If Council concurs with your contention that there was a fault in the review, the Center for Scientific Review then considers your appeals request. CSR has the final authority to grant or deny re-review (no further appeal is possible at that point.)
It is your right to appeal a review, but you should consult with your program officer first to help determine whether there was indeed a procedural mistake in the review process.
All that said, an appeal might be the right strategy if you're confident that both of the following criteria fit your situation:
- If re-reviewed, your original application would have a better chance of funding than a resubmission or new application would.
- You have a solid justification based on flaws in the review process. (See the SOP below for examples.)
Feel free to send us a question at email@example.com. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
"Do you have any samples of applications that did not score well?"—anonymous reader
Unfortunately, we do not have that resource.
If you and your colleagues would benefit from this type of sample, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what elements you'd find especially useful.
"Do you have copies of progress reports from before 1999?"—anonymous reader
No. Before 1999, NIH did not have electronic records and, due to regulatory requirements for the disposition of records, it destroyed progress reports for grants that ended before that year.
For more recent records, you can search the eRA Commons.
- RFA-LM-12-002, Basic Social and Behavioral Research on Culture, Health, and Wellbeing
- RFA-HD-13-008, Prevention of HIV Transmission/Acquisition Through a Better Understanding of Reproductive Health
- RFA-EY-13-001, Basic Behavioral Research on Multisensory Processing