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Guidance for Preparing a Multiproject Research Application

Table of Contents

Contact NIAID Early

While still in the planning stage, contact a program officer in the NIAID division—DAIT, DAIDS, or DMID—that would support your work if funded.

You may also need the division's approval before applying. Read more at Contact NIAID and Obtain Preapproval.

When you apply, follow all NIH and NIAID instructions for multiproject grants in the FOA.

  • Read the NIH Guide announcement associated with the FOA as it may have unique instructions that take precedence over others.
  • If you have questions, contact the program officer listed in the announcement.

Features of Multiproject Grants

Multiproject grants share the following features:

  • At least two interrelated research projects (unless stated otherwise in the FOA) related to a theme with each capable of standing on its own scientific merit but complementing one another.
  • Collaboration and interaction among projects and investigators to achieve a common goal.
  • Synergy among projects. See Highlighting Synergy for a description of synergy in the context of a multiproject application.
  • One grantee institution that will be legally and financially responsible for the use of funds.
  • Support as needed for shared resources—core resources or facilities—that provide services or resources to at least two research projects.

Your Options for Grant Type

You may apply for a multiproject grant in one of the following two ways:

NIAID accepts investigator-initiated applications for P01s only.

Multiproject funding opportunities come in several forms:

  • Grants
    • P01—multidisciplinary, long-term program headed by a PI or PIs who bring in other investigators to conduct research projects and share resources. For an investigator-initiated application, go to the NIAID Investigator-Initiated Program Project Applications (P01) FOA.
    • P30—a center core grant that supports shared resources and facilities for a multidisciplinary research team or group of investigators focusing on a common research topic.
    • P50—specialized center award that supports a multidisciplinary group of investigators who share a common research topic.
  • Cooperative Agreements
    • U19—award for multidisciplinary projects that require substantial involvement from NIAID staff. See our description of Substantial Staff Involvement at Determining When to Use a Cooperative Agreement.
    • U54—support for research and development from basic to clinical, including ancillary supportive activities that create a multidisciplinary focus on a disease or a biomedical problem. Centers may also serve as regional or national resources for special research purposes.
    • UM1—support for large-scale, complex clinical trials with multiple research strategies, e.g., clinical networks.
    • UM2—support for large-scale centers with complicated structures that cannot be appropriately categorized into an available multicomponent activity code, e.g., clinical networks, research programs, or consortiums.

May You Submit a Multiple PI Application?

Some NIAID opportunities don't give you a multiple PI option, so read the announcement carefully.

For most FOAs, you may submit a multiple PI application, unless specified otherwise, for the overall program.

Some NIAID-specific opportunities don't give you a multiple PI option, so read the announcement carefully.

A note about investigators at foreign institutions: they may be one of the PIs as long as the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) allows it. The NIAID Investigator-Initiated Program Project Applications (P01) does not.

For information and guidance, read Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application? and Note for Multiple PI Applications in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Contact NIAID and Obtain Preapproval

All applicants should contact the appropriate NIAID program division before planning an application. In most cases, you will need our approval 10 weeks or more before the application deadline.

Get Guidance

Before tackling the arduous task of preparing an application, touch base with a program officer early on to:

  • Receive input about using the multiproject approach.
  • Get feedback on your research idea and learn whether we are likely to approve your submitting the application.
  • Learn about any division-specific guidance.

Discuss Approval of Your Idea

You must have an NIAID program division approve its acceptance of your application if you're planning to submit any program project (P01) application (new, resubmission, or renewal) that is both investigator-initiated and requests $500,000 or more in direct costs for any year.

This big grant policy applies even if none of the individual projects requests $500,000 or more.

While you may ask for up to $499,000 without approval, we strongly encourage you to contact NIAID if your application comes anywhere close to that level for the following reasons:

  • If you ask for $499,000 in the first year, the grant out years could be more than $500,000, even if you don't request an annual increase.
  • We may not have money to fund applications close to $500,000. NIAID funds few big grants each year because they strain the budget and compromise grant numbers, which Congress monitors.

You must submit the same application that the program division approved. If you do need to change the application after that approval, talk to your program officer and inform the scientific review officer about the changes.

See our Big Grants SOP and the NIAID Investigator-Initiated Program Project Applications (P01) FOA for more information.

Option to Submit Simultaneously as an R01

To maximize your chances of success, we strongly encourage you to submit a component research project of a multiproject grant application as a research project R01 at the same time.

If both the multiproject and R01 applications are fundable, you may not withdraw from the multiproject grant.

Should you decide to go this route, keep the following points in mind:

  • Your component project should be able to stand alone as an R01.
  • We will review your R01 application independently of your multiproject application.
  • If your R01 project depends on resources from the multiproject core, include those resources in your R01 application and any associated costs in the budget.
  • If both the multiproject and R01 applications are fundable, you will not have the option to withdraw from the multiproject grant.
    • This policy preserves the scientific integrity of multiproject grants.
    • Please be aware of this policy before making a commitment to participate in a multiproject grant.

Advice for Writing the Application

Consider the following questions when writing a multiproject application. To be a strong candidate, you should be able to confidently answer "yes" to each question.

Program Topic

  • Did I check the literature to make sure the research I'm considering has not been done before, or it has been done but the methods were judged to be inadequate?
  • Have I shown that I know the gaps, discrepancies, or roadblocks in my field?
  • Does my program have a central focus and coherent direction, with good synergy and integration among components?
  • Have I shown why a multiproject coordinated approach is required or uniquely advantageous?

Individual Projects

Preliminary Data

  • Do I have sufficient preliminary data to support my project?
  • Have I given an account of published and unpublished results, indicating progress made?
  • Have I provided a summary of the importance of my findings in relation to my Specific Aims?

Research Plan

  • Is my research innovative?
  • Do my projects create synergy?
  • Are the Research Plans driven by a strong, well-defined hypothesis or hypotheses?
  • Are the Research Plans well developed so they create strong projects?
  • Do the projects have sufficient details and focused experimental approaches?
  • Do the Research Plans address potential problems, propose alternative approaches, and describe contingency plans?
  • Do the Research Plans consider the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed approaches?
  • Do the Research Plans explain the procedures, situations, and materials that may be hazardous to personnel?

Significance

  • Have I fully articulated the significance of my work and that of my team and how it will move the field forward?

Biosketch

  • Do I have biosketches for all key personnel in my application?
  • Does each biosketch include all required sections: positions and honors, selected peer-reviewed publications or manuscripts in press, and research support?

Investigators and Institutions

  • Have I explained how my institution can give me the support that I need to do my work?
  • Do I have sufficient expertise to lead the project?
  • Are the other investigators qualified to perform the research they will be conducting?
  • Have I made sure that all project leaders have enough time to devote to their projects?
  • Am I and my team using collaborators or consultants to fill gaps and improve in expertise and resources?
  • Does my description of resources show adequate equipment, space, and support staff to conduct the research?
  • If I seek cofunding—e.g., from a company or professional association—did I state this in my application and provide letters from the other sources of support to confirm the arrangement?

Individual Cores

  • Have I described how each core supports at least two projects?
  • Did I describe the administrative infrastructure and explain how it will further the overall program's goals?
  • Have I stated the roles and responsibilities of the administrative core leader and functions of the core?
  • Have I included a detailed description of the facilities, approaches, and support for each project supported by the core?
  • Have I created an adequate management structure and committed an appropriate amount of time and effort for the coordination of the program?
  • Have I provided information for scientific meetings in which the project leaders can interact?
  • Have I included the plans for prioritizing the core's services?
  • Do I have sufficient expertise to direct each core?
  • Have I shown how the core will add to the central focus of the overall program?
  • Have I clearly described an adequate management structure and allocated an appropriate amount of time and effort to coordinate the program?

Overall Program Coordination

  • Have I explained the significance of the overall program goals?
  • Have I shown how the proposed studies will move the field forward?
  • Have I described synergy among the projects?
  • Does my plan address each PI's role and responsibilities and the team's governance and organizational structure?
  • Have I addressed the need for any formal consortium agreements?
  • Is each PI leading a project?
  • Have I listed all the sites where my work will take place and stated which facilities are completing which parts of the project? Have I fully described coordination among them?
  • Have I made provisions for data management and coordination?
  • Have I described how the program is cohesive and has a common theme?
  • Have I explained how the projects are coordinated and integrated into the common theme of the program?
  • Have I described how the whole program is better than the individual projects (paying special attention to synergy)?

Presentation

  • Is the writing clear and concise?
  • Have I labeled all materials clearly so peer reviewers can easily find information?
  • Did I use an approved font?
  • Did I follow page limits?
  • Did I put all items in the correct section?

Highlighting Synergy

Pay special attention to synergy as described in multiproject funding opportunity announcements. Your multiproject application leverages synergy to address aims that could not be accomplished without the structure of a program.

Heed these words from NIAID staff knowledgeable about what it takes to put together a compelling multiproject application:

"In the context of a multiproject application, synergy entails enhancement of scientific knowledge, ideas, and outcomes obtained through the cooperative interactions of the individual projects and cores.

"The proposed merger of complementary skills, perspectives, and resources has the potential to produce outcomes greater than would otherwise be achieved. For example, the outcomes resulting from conducting the proposed research as a program will exceed the outcomes from conducting separate research activities as single research projects or cooperative agreements.

"Examples of synergy include, but are not limited to: sharing preliminary data, samples, reagents, pathogens, human subject population(s), technologies, research approaches, data management/analytical tools, and model organisms, which may impact the direction of science and research outcomes in the Program.

"To highlight program synergy, describe in the Overview section how the individual components (projects and shared resource cores) will be coordinated and work together to address the overall goals and aims of the program. Include a schematic overview of the interactions and collaborations among the components (projects and cores), and indicate collaborations among members and relevant publications coauthored by members of the program."

How a Multiproject Application Is Reviewed

One scientific review committee will evaluate your entire application, assessing two major aspects: 1) each research project and core component and 2) the overall program as an integrated research effort.

Peer reviewers first assess the merit of each project and core and then the overall application. When scoring the overall program, reviewers consider each project and core, synergy among the projects, and impact—the ability of the program to move the field forward.

When evaluating synergy, reviewers determine how convincingly the applications describe the added value gained by conducting the proposed research as a program rather than through separate research efforts.

Here are the main points for the scoring of multiproject applications, also summarized in the table below:

  • Only research projects get criterion scores.
  • The overall program and each research project receive an overall impact/priority score of 1 to 9.
  • For investigator-initiated program project (P01) applications, all cores receive overall impact/priority scores using a 1 to 9 scale.
  • For multiproject applications submitted in response to an RFA, cores get one of the following:

Scoring for Multiproject Applications and Their Components

Score Type Overall
Program
Research
Project
Core
Criteria No Yes No
Overall impact/priority score 1 to 9 Yes Yes Yes for investigator-initiated P01s;
option for other FOAs
Adjectival
overall impact/priority score
No No Option for RFAs only

An application is recommended for "no further consideration" if peer reviewers deem that fewer than the required minimum number of research projects (two unless stated otherwise in an announcement) have substantial and significant scientific merit. NIAID will not award such applications or consider a strong project for a separate award.

As stated under Option to Submit Simultaneously as an R01, you can submit an application simultaneously as an independent R01 for a project that is part of a multiproject application.

For more information on peer review, read the FOA.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Below is a list of common mistakes that cause reviewers to give applications weaker scores.

  • Low impact on the field or otherwise weak project.
  • Lack of synergy and integration between the components (pay special attention to these factors).
  • Lack of program coordination.
  • Lack of innovation.
  • Insufficient expertise for the work proposed or failure to use expertise of people recruited to participate.
  • Insufficient preliminary data.
  • Failure to describe the significance of the proposed work.
  • Insufficient experimental detail and unfocused experimental approaches.
  • Lack of hypothesis-driven studies.
  • Lack of convincing rationale for some of the aims.
  • Failure to address experimental pitfalls and alternative approaches.
  • Over commitment of program director or project leaders.
  • Incomplete cores lacking a description of the facility, approach, or project support.
  • Failure to demonstrate progress for a renewal.
  • Failure to include a multi-PI plan (for multi-PI applications).
  • Improper formatting, sloppy presentation.

Prepare for Electronic Submission

You'll have to submit your application electronically—but you won't apply through Grants.gov.

Instead, you'll use NIH's Application Submission System and Interface for Submission Tracking (ASSIST). With ASSIST, you can:

  • Use the same login and system requirements as Grants.gov.
  • Log in with your eRA Commons credentials.
  • Delegate responsibilities to users outside your institution.
  • Grant or deny access to any application component without affecting access to other components.

NIH plans to create an interface that allows you to access ASSIST directly from the eRA Commons. In the meantime, you can get in through the ASSIST portal.

New Form Order, Interface

ASSIST puts application components in the following order:

  1. Overall component that describes the entire application and how each of the components fit together.
  2. Data summaries.
  3. Additional component types, in alphabetical order. Components of the same type are grouped together and presented in the order you create them.

Take some time now to get used to the new order—go to Multiproject Application Images for annotated samples.

Also get used to the electronic interface. To help you prepare, NIH created a "test environment" where you can experiment.

For a link to the test environment and instructions how to use it, read "Playing” With ASSIST—Applicants.

Act Now to Avoid Future Problems

Make sure you’re registered in the eRA Commons and your settings are correct. While anybody with an institutional role can log into ASSIST, only the following people may submit an application using ASSIST:

  • Signing Official (in eRA Commons)
  • Authorized Organizational Representative (in Grants.gov)

If your institution uses its own submission software instead of Grants.gov, check that it will allow you to submit multiproject data correctly.

Submit well ahead of the due date to:

  • Fix potential submission problems, such as a duplicated application section, omitted or "flip-flopped" components in between sections, or an unrecognized special character.
  • View the application and verify content.

NIH won’t accept error corrections to the application after submission.

Follow NIH's Lead

Once we have more experience with electronic submission of multiproject applications, we'll update our advice. Meanwhile, here are some useful resources from NIH:

Additional Resources

Last Updated November 06, 2014

Last Reviewed July 16, 2014