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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.What to Do if You Get Bad News   ·   Strategy for ResubmittingNext page in Strategy.

Options if Your Application Isn't Funded

Note: This page does not reflect NIH's revised policy for application submission. See the April 17, 2014, Guide notice.

We will update this page soon.

Now that you've read the previous page, What to Do if You Get Bad News, you have assessed the results of your review and made some basic decisions about how to proceed.

On this page, we give you the pros and cons of your three basic options: revise and resubmit, create a new application, and repurpose the application.

We also discourage you from appealing the review since it doesn't usually help you.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

(This section has factual information only; for advice on this topic, go to Our Advice below.)

Your Options

When you create a new (as opposed to a resubmitted) application, reviewers will not see the summary statement from the previous review.

If your application does not get funded, you have the following choices.

Option 1: Revise and Resubmit

When you resubmit, committee members look at the application in the context of their critiques. You can choose one of two approaches:

  • Revise and request the same study section.
  • Revise and request a different study section.

To learn how to prepare a resubmission application, go to How to Resubmit in Part 6.

Option 2: Create a New Application

When you create a new (as opposed to a resubmitted) application, reviewers will not see the summary statement from the previous review. NIH is strict about newness to enforce its one resubmission policy.

Referral officers in the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) reject new applications that overlap too much with a previous one.

CSR uses software to compare applications for similar content, and program staff and scientific review officers check for newness.

Also see What Qualifies as a New Application? in Part 7, and read Our Advice at Option 2: Create a New Application below.

Option 3: Repurpose the Application

Normally you can apply to conduct the same research only once, but there are exceptions if you wish to take any of the following actions:

  • Submit an investigator-initiated application (using a program announcement) after responding unsuccessfully to a request for applications (RFA).
  • Respond to an RFA after unsuccessfully submitting an investigator-initiated application.
  • Submit an unsuccessful application as a different activity code (e.g., repurpose an R01 as an R21).

If you are taking one of these routes, create a new application (not a resubmission) as follows:

  • Find a new funding opportunity that conforms with the any of situations described above.
  • Transfer any information you can retain into the new Grant Application Package—revise only to meet the requirements of the new announcement, e.g., page and funding limits.
  • Submit a new application:
    • Check the New box on the face page.
    • Don't include a progress report or introduction.
    • Don't highlight reviewer comments in the Research Plan.
    • Don't refer to the application as a resubmission anywhere.
  • Though you don't mark revisions, you can improve your application using the feedback in the summary statement and making other enhancements.
  • Use the receipt date for a new application—for an investigator-initiated application, go to NIH's Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications.
  • Do not apply until you receive your summary statement.

You can also send any application to NIH and to another organization simultaneously. Two limitations: the organization cannot be part of the U.S. Public Health Service (e.g., FDA, CDC, AHRQ), and you will be able to accept only one award. Read more in Reuse an Unfunded Application in Approaches for Staying Funded in Part 7.

Our Advice

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

Unsuccessful Application: Now What?

If reviewers were enthusiastic and found fixable problems, revising and requesting the same study section is usually the way to go.

Just because your application didn't fare well doesn't mean it's the end of the road. You have several directions you can take—read below for guidance in picking the right one.

If you are on the list for special funding later in the fiscal year, we advise that you revise and resubmit your application as soon as possible.

Read Revise, Don't Wait for Later Funding in Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award and How to Resubmit in Part 6.

Should You Appeal?

You may have grounds to appeal the review if you conclude that the necessary expertise was lacking or the process was otherwise flawed.

You may not appeal for differences of scientific opinion. Read more in our Appeals of Scientific Review of Grant Applications SOP.

Appeals can end in one of two ways.

  • The application is reviewed by the same, or more commonly a different, study section.
  • The review outcome stands (the appeal loses), and you must revise and resubmit or proceed with another one of the options described below.

In general, we do not recommend appealing.

Choose Your Option

You have three basic options with some variations on the theme.

Many people begin revising even before getting the summary statement because waiting may cause them to miss the next receipt date.

Option 1: Revise and Resubmit

To follow this option, you can take two different paths: revise and request the same study section or revise and request a different study section.

Revising and requesting the same study section. If your reviewers were enthusiastic about your idea and found fixable problems, revising and requesting the same study section is usually the way to go. This route is the most common one and works well when the points of contention are limited.

Revising lets you keep most of your original application intact while addressing the critiques of your reviewers. Committee members look at the application in the context of their critiques, so the approach is effective if you can readily answer their concerns.

Be aware that your application may still face some new reviewers who may raise new issues.

Many people begin revising even before getting the summary statement because waiting may cause them to miss the next receipt date. While you must address all the reviewers' comments in your summary statement, you can start adding new data or making other improvements to the application.

Note that new R01 investigators get their summary statements in time to have at least one month to resubmit for the next cycle: no later than July 10, November 10, or March 10 (depending on the review cycle).

They also resubmit later: August 10, December 10, or April 10, giving them one month to revise and resubmit for the next receipt date.

In spite of this more advantageous timeframe, as of 2010 less than 13 percent of new investigators were able to take advantage of it and resubmit for the next receipt date. Learn more at Revise, Don't Wait for Later Funding in Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award and How to Resubmit in Part 6.

Revising and requesting a different study section. If your reviewers were not enthusiastic about your idea, reassess the study section.

Do you have a sense that no matter what you wrote your reviewers wouldn't have appreciated it? That's a clue that your application and the study section were a poor fit.

But be careful not to assume that the reviewers were the problem—first thoroughly size up the application's faults that they identified.

To gauge whether the study section may have been unsuitable, use the roster attached to your summary statement to view the committee members' names, and check out their publications. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Did the reviewers' expertise fit your topic?
  • Were they knowledgeable about your methods?
  • Did they understand the rationale for your research?

If the verdict is no for any of the above, the study section may have been inappropriate. Talk to colleagues and mentors to get their take and before you decide whether to request a new study section, keeping these points in mind.

First, you have no guarantee of anyone's presence at the meeting—including past reviewers—because participants rotate on and off, and NIH uses ad hoc reviewers.

Second, make sure your cover letter lists the expertise necessary to review your application in addition to requesting a study section.

  • Don't request reviewers by name or they will be disqualified.
  • Spell out the competencies of an ideal reviewer for your application.

Even if you believe there was a problem with a reviewer, frame your request in positive terms. For example, say that another study section has several people on it who would be knowledgeable about your area and qualified to judge your work.

Read more:

Option 2: Create a New Application

Referral officers in CSR are on the lookout and reject any new application that overlaps too much with a previous one.

Create a new application if your old one had bigger problems than those addressed in Option 1 or you've already resubmitted unsuccessfully.

Note: this section does not apply if you are repurposing your application—if you are, see "Option 3: Repurpose the Application" below.

When you create a new (as opposed to a resubmitted) application, reviewers will not see the summary statement from the previous review, so you get a fresh start.

Often your biggest challenge is ensuring your application is sufficiently new.

NIH is strict about newness as it ensures that investigators comply with its one resubmission policy.

Referral officers in CSR are on the lookout for any new application that overlaps too much with a previous one. CSR uses software to scan for similar content, and program and scientific review officers check applications for newness.

CSR will question the following situations and take action.

Problem: insufficient changes. After an unsuccessful resubmission, you submitted a new application with insufficient changes.

What will happen. The scientific review officer will contact you and give you a chance to rebut CSR's decision. If CSR disagrees, it will return the application to you without a review.

Problem: progress report. Your application has a progress report instead of preliminary studies.

What will happen. CSR will work with you to correct the problem. Depending how much time remains before the review meeting, you may need to withdraw the application and submit for the next receipt date (assuming there is one).

Ultimately, CSR makes the judgment call based on the science—it does not have a hard and fast rule. CSR either agrees that your application is sufficiently new or sends it back to you unreviewed.

To avoid that outcome, the best guidance we can give you is to create a new application that asks a new scientific question and anticipates a new outcome.

Look at your old and new aims side-by-side and make sure you can tell them apart.

That approach guides you on how to proceed. For example, you can keep some or even most of your people, methods, animal models, and preliminary data as long as you tackle a new scientific problem.

Explore your research niche to find opportunities in your field where you can capitalize on your data, resources, and expertise. Read more on this topic in Pick a Research Project in Part 2.

Also read your reviewer critique for clues, and see if you could build on the ideas your reviewers liked or new areas of research they mentioned (but do not refer to the previous review in your new application).

Then when you plan your new application, look at your old and new aims side-by-side and make sure you can tell them apart.

In your cover letter or in the application itself, it's helpful to state that you have previously submitted some of the same ideas, and explain how the new application is different. That way, you make your case proactively rather than rely on someone who is unfamiliar with your work to figure it out.

Some other thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Include any new preliminary data you have, and strengthen the application where you can, including addressing any feedback from the review.
  • Follow procedures for a new application: do not include a progress report, and do not mark it or refer to the previous reviewers' comments.
  • If your new application ends up in the same study section, it's not a problem as long as you have made significant changes.
  • If a significant amount of time passes before you can resubmit, reassess the science and consider submitting a new application instead of a resubmission, particularly if the science has evolved.
  • Get more advice from your program officer.

To assess newness, you may want to read NIH's Evaluation of Unallowable Resubmission and Overlapping Applications.

Option 3: Repurpose the Application

Did you know you can send any application to NIH and to another organization simultaneously, as long as it is not in the U.S. Public Health Service?

Before deciding how to repurpose your application, determine whether you should. Sometimes an application may be so flawed or unfixable that repurposing wouldn't be worth it.

To assess whether that's the case, look dispassionately at your summary statement and assess what reviewers thought were defects in your application.

For instance, was it criticized for a lack of significance, critical preliminary data, or expert collaborators? Was it because of a weak central hypothesis? Or perhaps you applied to a request for applications (RFA) or program announcement (PA) and your application was deemed to be nonresponsive.

Talk with your program officer to get the answers and see if he or she has further insights. Together, determine which is the better approach: repurposing or starting from scratch. We advise you not to make this decision on your own.

Weigh your repurposing options

If you opt to repurpose your unfunded application, you have a few ways in which to do that, as we noted above in Just the Facts. Here are some additional points to consider that may help you choose which action to take.

1. Submit an investigator-initiated application after responding unsuccessfully to an RFA.

In this case, you may not need to modify your application much other than to address weaknesses that reviewers identified. Also, be sure to remove references to the RFA and comments on changes made in response to the previous review. Make sure to follow the directions in the investigator-initiated application funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for page limits, etc.

2. Respond to an RFA after unsuccessfully submitting an investigator-initiated application.

You'll likely need to make additional changes to align your application as closely as possible to the science being sought in the RFA. Read the FOA carefully to ensure that your application is responsive to the initiative.

In case you can't find an appropriate RFA, you may want to keep an eye out for contract solicitations, especially broad agency announcements in the area of science covered in your first application.

3. Apply for a different activity code, e.g., repurpose an R01 as an exploratory/developmental research grant (R21).

It goes without saying that not all activity codes are alike. Still, should you choose this route, make sure you check the objectives and characteristics (such as those listed below) of the new activity code you've selected. This way, you'll know how to make your unfunded application fit a different activity code.

If you decide to go from an R01 to an R21, for instance, be aware that the two have significant differences, such as project period, budget limits, review criteria, and page limits.

To help mold your R01 into an R21, select a Specific Aim from your original application that is the most likely to be doable within the R21's allowed time and budget. Also, we recommend having strong preliminary data to support the R21's research objectives, which tend to be more risky than an R01's.

For more R21 information, see the the following:

Other points to ponder

As we said above in Just the Facts: Option 3: Repurpose the Application, if you choose the repurposing route, you'll have to apply to NIH with a new application, not a resubmission.

After finding a new funding opportunity to which you want to apply, keep in mind you'll likely have to modify your application to fit the new announcement—for example, by changing time and scope. Read the instructions for details.

In addition to the three repurposing options, you may also want to consider the following:

  • Submitting scientifically distinct applications to organizations that support research in NIAID's science areas. Try submitting to the National Science Foundation as well as outside foundations. Use NIAID's List of Foundations and Other Funding Sources to find opportunities. If your applications are scientifically distinct, you can accept all awards. 
  • Getting your research included as part of a multiproject grant, e.g., a program project or other team science effort that could benefit from your work. While you wouldn't be the PI, you would conduct a significant research project. Read more about Team Science in Part 2.

Be sure to bone up on your requirements. Learn more in Approaches for Staying Funded in Part 7. 

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

Previous page in Strategy.What to Do if You Get Bad News   ·   Strategy for Resubmitting Next page in Strategy.

See the other sections of
Part 6. If Not Funded

Table of Contents for the Strategy

We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Email deaweb@niaid.nih.gov.​

Last Updated April 17, 2014

Last Reviewed June 13, 2013