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Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding. Link to Part 1. Qualify for NIH Funding.Link to Part 2. Pick and Design a Project.Link to Part 3. Write Your Application.Link to Part 4. Submit Your Application.Link to Part 5. Assignment and Review.Link to Part 6. If Not Funded.Link to Part 7. Funding.

Previous page in Strategy.Strategy to Design a Project   ·   Policy Areas With Special Requirements?Next page in Strategy.

Design a Project

On this page, you will find detailed information and advice on the approaches outlined in Strategy to Design a Project.

We give you advice on planning and executing your design, using an iterative process to keep everything in sync. This enables you to define your Specific Aims and experiments while ensuring you have the necessary resources and expertise to complete the work.

We also give you advice on how innovative your research should be and how to keep it in scope so the project is doable within your targeted time and budget.

If you have not yet decided on a project, go to Pick a Research Project in Part 2.

While this document is geared toward the basic research project grant, the R01, much of it is useful for other grants.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

(This section has factual information only, limited to a few aspects of designing the Research Plan; for advice covering more topics, go to Our Advice below.)

You will plan an application that shows you have the time, resources, and expertise to complete the research project you are proposing.

Your application's Research Plan has two sections:

  • Specific Aims. Testing your hypothesis are your Specific Aims, written as a one-page, big-picture overview.
  • Research Strategy. The nuts and bolts of your application, the 12-page Research Strategy describes the experiments you will do to accomplish each aim, including alternatives in case you get negative or surprising results.

Your application will describe the time, resources, and expertise needed to complete the research project you are proposing. It's fine to engage collaborators to fill in gaps in expertise.

Be aware that certain policy areas create the need for additional documentation. For more information, go to Will Your Application Involve Policy Areas With Special Requirements? in Part 2.

Multiple PI Facts

The multiple PI option, which allows applications to have more than one principal investigator, is for collaborative research, also called team science.

Most NIH grants, including R01s, allow multiple PIs; to be sure, check the funding opportunity announcement.

If you are a new investigator, this approach has consequences for your new investigator status. Read more in the Our Advice section below.

Also be aware that a multiple PI application is usually appropriate only if you could not complete the research without the other person (or persons). To succeed in peer review, your research must require a high degree of synergy.

For a multiple PI application, all PIs have the same status and are responsible for their research.

Each PI must have a leadership role, and the application should state which PIs are responsible for which Specific Aims. The science determines the level of effort for each PI; there is no minimum.

One person serves as contact PI, coordinating communication between all PIs and NIH and coordinating the progress report. He or she must be affiliated with (not necessarily employed by) the applicant institution. On large studies, other PIs may perform other coordination activities.

Leadership Plan. Your application must include a Multiple PI Leadership Plan; eRA Commons will reject it if the plan is missing.

Peer reviewers judge the plan's scientific merit and whether it promotes enough coordination and communication among PIs. They consider the appropriateness and quality of the plan in their evaluation and scoring of the investigators as well as the overall impact of the application.

The Leadership Plan has no page limit and does not count toward the Research Strategy page limit. It must address these items:

  • Rationale and justification for choosing the multiple PI approach.
  • Administrative and scientific responsibilities for each PI, including who will be the contact PI. As in the Research Strategy, state which PI is responsible for which Specific Aims.
  • Governance and organizational structure of the team.
  • Procedures for resolving conflicts.
  • Policies for communication, data sharing, publication, and intellectual property.
  • Process for making decisions on scientific direction and allocating resources and funds.
  • Budget issues.
    • If each PI will have a budget, state how resources will be distributed.
    • If requesting money for administrative activities, put it in the Leadership Plan.
    • Having more than one PI should not increase the cost of the application except for items such as travel to scientific meetings.
    • The PIs may request that we include a budget allocation in the Notice of Award.

For more information, go to NIH's Examples of Project Leadership Plans for Multiple PI Grant Applications and Team Science in Part 2. Also see Tips for Writing a Strong Multiple PI Leadership Plan

For guidance on filling out the forms, go to Complete the Forms in Part 3.

Build a Budget

Your budget must be appropriate to the work you propose. To get an idea of average grant costs, see these FY 2014 data for competing R01 awards.

  • Average application received roughly $330,000 in first year direct costs (does not include your institution's overhead, called facilities and administrative costs).
  • About 71 percent of new investigators used a modular budget. (Applications requesting $250,000 or less in annual direct costs use a modular budget.) Read more about budgets in Complete the Forms in Part 3.
  • For non-new investigators, 44 percent went the modular route.

Level of effort. The percentage of your time you devote to your project should be appropriate to the work you propose. Go to NIH's Usage of Person Months questions and answers.

Years. You may request up to five years for an R01.

Consultants or Collaborators—How They Differ

Collaborators play an active role in the research; consultants provide advice or services and may participate significantly in the research.

Consultants and collaborators are treated differently in your application. Sometimes people play both roles.

Consultants usually provide advice or services.

They may participate significantly in the research, but often they help fill in smaller gaps, for example, supplying software, making technical comments, or setting up equipment.

Consultants do not receive a salary from your grant but may receive a fee. When paying them, your institution issues a Form 1099 Misc to the Internal Revenue Service.

Collaborators always play an active role in the research.

They do not get a fee, but the grant may pay part of their salary in person months through a consortium agreement (also called a subaward). Collaborators get an IRS Form W-2 from their institutions.

Using subawards. Subawards allow another organization to perform some activities for your grant under your supervision. They enable collaborations between you—the grantee—and the subawardee. This arrangement does not involve NIAID.

You still include the details of the work in your application because the initial peer review committee needs to evaluate it (unlike a purchase contract).

Get your business office involved since the subcontract will probably require agreements between the organizations.

Managing subawards. In managing subawards, grantees are fully responsible for the following:

  • All actions of the subaward related to the award.
  • All contact with NIAID.

As the grantee, you (not the subawardee) are accountable to NIAID for the performance of the research project, spending of grant funds by all parties, reporting requirements, negotiating animal and human subjects assurances, and other obligations for the grant.

Keep the following in mind:

  • You still need to play a substantive role in the research; you cannot just pass along funds to another institution.
  • If we need information from your subawardees, we will contact you.
  • If there's a problem with a subawardee, we will expect you to take care of it.
  • You can add a subaward to your project anytime.

For details, see the Subawards (Consortium Agreements) for Grants SOP.

Where to Add Consortium and Contractual Information

Send your consultants a sample letter they can return to you with their signature.

Consortium and contractual arrangements appear in several parts of your application.

Research Strategy. If you're working closely with an investigator from another institution, your institutions may need a formal agreement of the terms of the collaboration.

Grantees must establish a subaward, or consortium agreement, with any outside organization that performs any of their grant-supported research activities.

  • Do not include the agreement itself in your application—you will send it to us later with your just-in-time documentation (see Prepare Your Just-in-Time Information in Part 3).
  • In the Consortium/Contractual Arrangements attachment, briefly describe the arrangement, stating the roles of the people and organizations involved.
  • You typically include a breakdown of costs, such as personnel and supplies, as well as facilities and administrative costs.

Send a Sample Letter

In your application, you will also need a letter from your consultants describing their willingness to participate and their role in your project.

You could send your consultants a sample letter they can return to you with their signature. That way, the letter will contain all the information you need (and they may return it to you faster). Attach as Letters of Support to the PHS 398 Research Plan form.

Budget Form. Provide each subaward's DUNS number, and make sure information in the subaward budget form matches that in the Research Strategy. The budget periods of the subaward, whether active or not, must always align with the budget periods of the prime grant. Follow the guidelines provided in the February 26, 2015, Guide notice.

Biosketches. Create biosketches for all key personnel and other significant contributors and attach them to the Research and Related Senior/Key Person Profile form.

For the consortium justification in a modular application, use the PHS 398 Modular Budget form. For nonmodular, use the R&R Subaward Budget in the Research and Related Budget Component.

More Resources

For examples of funded applications, go to Sample Applications and Summary Statements.

Our Advice

(This section has advice only; you should also read the factual information above at Just the Facts.)

Make a Plan

Before you start your research design, make sure you've completed the steps we covered in Pick a Research Project in Part 2.

A common mistake is to jump into writing the application without proper planning. Reviewers will quickly pick up on any flaws in logic and feasibility with your experimental design.

Though planning takes some time, it will save you time and headaches in the long run.

Use an Iterative Process

At the core of your application, your Research Plan details your project's rationale, objectives, and planned experiments, showing the time, resources, and expertise needed to complete the research.

To design a top-quality Research Plan, you will need to:

  • Choose a testable hypothesis or hypotheses (in most cases).
  • Draft Specific Aims to test your hypothesis.
  • Sketch out experiments that support your aims.

All this information works in a feedback loop with all parts of your application: the experiments you choose will affect your budget and personnel, and the accessibility of expertise and resources will limit the experiments you can design.

Our iterative process will help you plan effectively.

Iterative Process for Application Planning

  1. Staying in your niche, propose a project that:
    • Addresses a highly significant problem.
    • Is innovative—can create new knowledge.
  2. Outline draft Specific Aims and one or more hypotheses.
  3. Identify a potential funding institute and a study section that would likely embrace your research.
  4. Outline experiments.
  5. Assess feasibility.
    • See whether you have access to all needed resources and expertise.
    • Make sure the project is not growing too big for your targeted time and budget.
  6. If you hit a roadblock, go back to the failure point and revise your plans.

In the text below, we expand on (or link to information about) each step.

Step 1. We described this step in Find Your Niche and Within Your Niche, Choose an Important and Unique Project in Pick a Research Project in Part 2.

As you work on the project design, detailed on this page, you will go back repeatedly through steps two to six. If the design is not working out, you will need to go back to either step one or two.

If you would like to look at some samples of outstanding funded applications, see our Sample Applications and Summary Statements.

Choose a Testable Hypothesis

Conceptually, your hypothesis is your destination that all research roads must lead to.

Step 2. For most types of research, you will choose a hypothesis (or hypotheses) that is well-focused and testable by your experiments.

Further, your reviewers must view your hypothesis as sound and important enough that your research can make a high impact on its field.

To test your hypothesis, you will need to design objectives, your Specific Aims, and experiments, which will form your application's Research Strategy.

Some people write their Specific Aims first and then develop a hypothesis instead of the other way around. And some applications have one overall hypothesis, whereas others have one for each aim. Use whatever approach works best for you.

Here are examples of effective hypotheses:

From Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., Baylor University:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus patients with active disease display considerable alterations in their CD8+ T cell compartments, including effector CD28+ CTLs and suppressor CD28- subsets. We surmise that an excess of killer cells in lupus results in the characteristic tissue damage and explains an excess of dying cells that are considered as key factors in this disease.

From Volker Briken, Ph.D., University of Maryland College Park:

  • This proposal seeks to test the hypothesis that the capacity of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to inhibit infection-induced apoptosis of macrophages is a major pathway of the bacteria to avoid the host's innate and adaptive immune response.

Here are examples of hypotheses that are poorly focused:

  • Understanding the strategies of Escherichia coli to subvert host cells will allow for improved ways of preventing and treating E. coli -related diseases.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis patients with active disease show many alterations in their immune profile.
  • A wide range of molecules can inhibit HIV infection.

Find more examples in our Sample Applications and Summary Statements.

Draft Specific Aims to Test Your Hypothesis

Make each aim an achievable objective, not a best effort, one with clear endpoints peer reviewers can easily assess.

Now to the next part of this step: designing your Specific Aims.

Think high level. Ask what two to four objectives (most people propose three) you could achieve within the time you are planning to request.

Make each aim an achievable objective, not a best effort, with clear endpoints your peer reviewers can easily assess.

Limiting your application to few Specific Aims keeps you clear of the common error of being overly ambitious. Like your topic, your Specific Aims should build on your previous experience.

When defining your aims, make sure that:

  • You can accomplish them with the resources and time that are appropriate for you to request.
  • You will have access to necessary equipment.
  • Your team, including collaborators, has the necessary expertise to perform all the research.

Be Innovative, But Be Wary

Since innovation is a review criterion, you want to think outside of the box—but not too far.

Illustration: starburst graphic showing how your research pushes the borders of your scientific field outward.Think of innovation as the knowledge your project can contribute to your field.

It's enough to show how the work you propose is new and unique and will push the frontiers of knowledge ahead starting from what's known, as illustrated by the graphic at right.

For most people, the goal then is significant incremental progress, not a giant leap forward. That generally means improving on or proposing a new application of an existing concept, method, or clinical intervention.

If you are a new investigator or are entering a new area, expect reviewers to be skeptical if your research is highly innovative.

Note that if your reviewers feel they could not get the work done, they are unlikely to think you could either. Plus, a reviewer may take a challenge to the status quo as a challenge to his or her world view or research.

For advice on applying with a groundbreaking, high-risk project, read Getting a Grant for Innovative Research.

Checkpoint. After finishing an initial draft of the Specific Aims, assess the following:

  1. My reviewers would see my aims as tackling an important problem in a significant field.
  2. They would view my aims as being innovative, but not too innovative.
  3. My Specific Aims can test my hypothesis (or hypotheses).
  4. They are doable within the grant period I am requesting.
  5. The aims and hypothesis (or hypotheses) are concrete and well-focused.
  6. I can define endpoints my peer reviewers will be able to assess.

Step 3. At this point you should have identified a potential funding institute and a study section that would most likely appreciate your research.

If you have not done that yet, go to 3. Identify a Potential Institute and Study Section in Pick a Research Project in Part 2,.

And read more detailed information in Investigate Committees and Members in Know Your Audience in Part 3.

Start planning your Research Strategy by sketching out experiments you could do to accomplish each aim, including alternative pathways.

Sketch Out Experiments for Your Research Strategy

Step 4. If your Specific Aims section is the big-picture part of your application's Research Plan, the Research Strategy is its nuts and bolts.

In your Research Strategy you'll show your reviewers that you can not only "talk the talk" but also "walk the walk."

Start planning by sketching out experiments you could do to conclusively accomplish each aim, including alternative pathways you could pursue. Plan what you would do if:

  • You get an exciting new lead.
  • You get a negative result.

Map out the alternative experiments too, making sure they track with your planned aims.

Showing alternatives will help convince reviewers you are well-prepared to deal with unknowns and reveal how you thoughtfully planned your research. You may want to create a flowchart and timeline for planning and possibly include it in the application.

As you design, work within the iterative process described above to ensure that you have all the resources and expertise needed to conduct all the experiments—you can read more about that in step five below.

While you work, it's also a good idea to keep a running tab of "who, what, when, where, and how (much money)" to help you keep everything on track and fill out the application forms later.

Checkpoint. After finishing an initial experimental design, check the following:

  1. My planned experiments are appropriate and sufficient to fully complete each aim.
  2. I planned alternative pathways I could take (depending on my results) and planned those experiments.
  3. I checked that my design is feasible for my team to accomplish.

Assess Feasibility

Step 5. As you define your aims and experiments, you'll need to consider whether they are feasible by:

  • Making sure you have the resources and expertise you'll need to conduct the research.
  • Ensuring the scope of the project you will tackle stays within the boundaries you are targeting.

Will You Have the Resources?

Step 5a. Reviewers often expect new R01 investigators to have fewer data, resources, and publications than more established researchers do, but everyone must design a feasible project.

The basis of the overall impact score they give your application is the likelihood that the research will make a high impact on its field. No matter how elegant your science, you can't escape the likelihood factor—can you actually get the job done?

A key part of "yes we can" is access to needed resources, especially major pieces of equipment.

As you design your Specific Aims and experiments using our iterative process, you'll factor in the resources you'll need (both those at hand and those you request in the application), staying within the limits of your targeted budget.

Fill in the blanks. When planning your experiments, take stock of your resource needs, particularly large equipment (e.g., costing over $10,000) and take these steps.

1. See what equipment you can share with others.

Try to gain access to large equipment by sharing it with other investigators at your institution or by sharing the cost of purchasing it.

2. See if you can find a collaborator who has the equipment you need, and determine whether you can work out a feasible arrangement.

3. If those options don't pan out and you're new to your institution, look to your start-up funds to see if you can afford the purchase.

To determine whether you can afford a major purchase, take into account other expenses you may need to pay for.

  • For example, do your start-up funds pay for office supplies and support services? In some places, indirect costs pay for those items so find out your institution's arrangements.
  • Inquire about policies for access and payments to graduate students (we're counting them as resources rather than personnel on the grant).

Your department chair can tell you which resources and level of support your institution will furnish, so you can then figure out what pieces are missing.

When you write your application, you will describe your institutional support.

4. Request money in the application to buy the equipment.

This approach is fine for small items, such as reagents or small pieces of equipment or other items not usually shared.

But asking NIH to pay for a major purchase is trickier, so here are some tips.

  • Be sure the equipment is absolutely essential.
  • Make sure it's unique to your project or your organization would not be expected to have it or you cannot readily access it.
  • Use this rule of thumb to gauge whether reviewers would likely think your request is justified: if you will be using the equipment at least half the time, your reviewers will probably feel it is appropriate. Much less than that is probably not enough.
  • Justify the request in your application by explaining why you need the equipment for your research and why you cannot get it any other way.
  • Also budget for a maintenance contract and repairs.

Be aware that if you move to another institution, you may not be able to take your equipment—or your funds—with you. That decision is made by your current institution, your grant's legal grantee.

You may want to get advice from experienced investigators before deciding whether to request funds for a major purchase.

What About Expertise?

Most projects rely on various types of expertise to carry out the different parts of the research.

Don't be shy about letting other people fill in gaps in your expertise.

Don't be shy about letting other people fill in gaps.

Choosing highly experienced people to be on your team will help build reviewer trust in the future success of your project.

While you will be the project leader, you can expand your pool of expertise by recruiting consultants and collaborators, especially those who are known and respected in the field.

Use the credit card. Most of the technical staff you hire will likely work on your grant full time.

Get commitments from collaborators at the planning stage, so you don't waste time planning work you cannot deliver.

Others, especially senior-level collaborators, will work part-time for credit (e.g., the potential of future publications), rather than pay.

If you are a new investigator, adding these highly experienced people to your team will help build your reviewers' trust in your future success.

But while collaborations are common, there are some drawbacks.

For one, you will not have control over the execution of that part of the research, for example, the timing of your collaborators' actions. Or something may come up and they may back out at the last minute.

Another issue—which you should work out at the outset—is the order of authors on future publications. Your collaborators will want to use the data they generate for their grant too and may see themselves as the lead.

Note that collaborators differ from consultants:

  • Consultants usually provide advice or services that fill small gaps, for example, supplying software. They usually receive a fee rather than a salary from your grant.
  • Collaborators play an active role in the research. A grant may pay part of their salary through a subaward (or not as we noted above).

If you decide to include outside consultants or collaborators (or both), secure a written agreement at the planning stage, so you don't waste time designing work you cannot deliver.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the collaborator at your institution?
    • If not, what inter-institutional agreements may be necessary?
    • You might want to look at multiple PI agreements as an example.
  • What intellectual property arrangements do you need to make?

Before proceeding, get advice from senior colleagues and staff in your grant's business office to help decide whether to use a subaward or consultant and whether you need a consortium or other agreement. Find details in Just the Facts above.

Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application?

If your application includes an established PI, it will not qualify for the new investigator payline.

Another way to beef up expertise or create a research team is to be part of a multiple PI application.

Think carefully before you decide to go this route especially if you are a new investigator.

Unless all the PIs on a multiple PI application are new, you will not benefit from your new investigator status, and you will lose it for future applications. Read more in Are You "New"? in our New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding.

We can think of a number reasons that multiple PI applications are often better suited to people who already have grants.

  • It's important that new investigators establish their own identity, which can be more difficult in a multiple PI situation.
  • It can be more difficult to write a multiple PI application because it is more complex. It can be more difficult to manage too.
  • You are more locked into the research you proposed when another person is involved than you are when you are on your own. (See What Is a Grant? in Getting a Grant for Innovative Research.)

Note that the multiple PI option is for collaborative, usually multidisciplinary, research and is usually appropriate only if you are in different fields and could not complete the research without the other person.

Despite these caveats, a multiple PI application can be useful for research that needs a team science approach. Learn more about the pros and cons of working on a team in Team Science in Part 2.

If you are conducting multidisciplinary research, make sure NIH has a review committee that will be able to effectively review all aspects of the application.

Checkpoint. Check for feasibility:

  1. My team and I have the required resources to do the work.
  2. If not, I plan to request the equipment in the application.
  3. My team and I are qualified to execute the experiments.
  4. I secured letters of collaboration to put in my application.
  5. If I am a new investigator, I am fully aware of the implications of a multi-PI application on my new PI status and other caveats.

Your Project's Scope: Plot Your Boundaries

Avoid one of the biggest mistakes: being overly ambitious.

Step 5b. Defining the scope, or scientific parameters, of your research project is crucial as you decide not only how many Specific Aims to propose but also the amount of money and time to request.

The key is to avoid one of the most common mistakes many investigators make: being overly ambitious. Though showing enthusiasm is one thing, biting off more than you can chew is another.

Keep Your Budget In Check

It's key to create your R01 budget in the Goldilocks zone—not too big and not too small, but just right.

Your reviewers will regard your budget request as a general gauge of your competence.

Significant over- or under-estimating shows you don't understand the scope of the work, which will count against you in peer review.

Not only must your budget suit the research, it must also be appropriate to your career level.

Reviewers may be skeptical if you ask for a lot of money, especially if you are a new investigator.

That said, guard against coming up short: ask for enough money to perform your research and no more.

Clinical applications or those involving nonhuman primates usually require more money, though you should still aim to keep costs as modest as you can.

Coming up short will not further your cause: ask for enough money to perform your research and no more.

How much is enough? Most new investigators should design a project that can use a modular budget of $250,000 (or less) in annual direct costs.

Why go the modular route? You will have an easier time on several fronts.

  • Reviewers tend to be more skeptical about larger projects, especially in a time of fiscal constraints when everyone is hurting.
  • Unlike with a detailed budget, reviewers have no details to critique.
  • No details means you have less to prepare.

To get an idea of average R01 grant costs, see Build a Budget.

Plan effectively. All aspects of your experimental design revolve around your budget. You can plan only experiments you can afford, and in this era of scarce resources, you want your budget to be as lean as possible.

Reviewers tend to be more skeptical about larger projects, especially in a time of major fiscal constraints like today.

To gauge expenses, add up costs for people—the largest expense category—reagents, and possibly equipment. Include your salary and that of other key personnel as well as consultants you need to hire.

Rely on our iterative process.

Start by calculating how much money each experiment will cost based on the personnel and resources needed to do the work.

If the numbers don't line up with your dollar target, go back and revise, making sure that any new plans fit your Specific Aims.

Should those objectives change, make sure your new aims are still significant to your field.

As you develop your plans, stay in this feedback loop, rechecking that everything remains in sync.

Focus Your Scope, Make It Doable

To sidestep the common trap of proposing too much to do, you don't want to propose too many Specific Aims or undertake complex work that's beyond your skill level.

You're better off playing it safe by having a Research Plan with two or three highly focused aims that are doable with the resources and time you ask for.

Ensuring that each application has a modest scope helps reviewers feel confident that you understand what the work involves, and your goals are achievable.

Scope Too Broad? Spread Out Your Ideas

Propose only what you are absolutely sure you can accomplish in the time you request.

If you find yourself trying to squeeze too much into your Research Plan, i.e., overloading on Specific Aims, step back and reassess.

  • Rather than write a single overreaching application whose aims you are unlikely to achieve, propose only what you are absolutely sure you can accomplish in the time you request.
  • Take into account that research usually takes longer than people plan for, so build in extra time by proposing less work.
  • Then, submit additional applications in your second and third years, tying that research to your long-term plans.

One more issue that can affect the scope of your research is whether it will include any policy areas that have special requirements.

To read more on that subject, go to Will Your Application Involve Policy Areas With Special Requirements in Part 2.

Ultimately, your goal is to be funded with multiple grants that overlap in time with significantly different renewal dates but are distinct projects that do not overlap scientifically. Read more in Hatch a Plan for Your Career in Part 2 and Approaches for Staying Funded in Part 7.

How Many Years to Request

It's best to not only contain your ambitions about the scope of your research, but also to be realistic—even a bit pessimistic—about how much you can accomplish each year of the grant. If you've never estimated how long research should take, get help.

Plan your research design with the understanding that your research may take more time than you originally thought.

Even if you are a new investigator, it's okay to ask for the maximum number of years (five for an R01) as long as you can fill the time productively.

Put Forth Your Best "Effort"

Though NIH does not set a requirement for minimum effort, peer reviewers expect you to devote enough time to your project so you can effectively manage it.

Just as your budget should be appropriate to the work you propose, so should the percentage of your time you devote to your project.

If you are a new investigator, put at least a 25 percent level of effort on each application you submit. Reviewers will likely raise concerns over a lower level of effort from somebody who does not already have a history of independent research on an NIH grant.

Also check with your business office about any institutional rules or guidelines related to calculating effort or balancing grant effort with other institutional responsibilities.

For additional advice, read Putting Effort Into Your Application.

Checkpoint. In setting scope, budget, and effort, check that:

  • I'm not being overly ambitious in what I propose to do with my project.
  • I limit myself to two or three Specific Aims so I can accomplish them with the resources and time I have.
  • I think carefully about how much money to request since going way over or under can be a strike against me in peer review.
  • My budget is appropriate not only to my research but also to my career level.
  • My budget is sufficient to conduct my research and not more.
  • I allot time that's sufficient and appropriate for my project.

Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding.

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We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Email​​

Last Updated February 25, 2015

Last Reviewed February 08, 2012