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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

Now that you've read the previous page, What to Do if You Get Bad News, you have received your summary statement, 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 apply outside of NIH.

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

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

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

If your application does not get funded, you have three basic options: revise and resubmit, create a new application, and apply outside of NIH.

Option 1: Revise and Resubmit

When you resubmit, reviewers look at the application in the context of the critiques mentioned in your summary statement. You have the opportunity to address those critiques and must include an introduction to your application that explains how you've done so.

Note that most requests for applications (RFAs) do not allow resubmissions. If your previous application responded to an RFA, read your funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to confirm. If you're not allowed to resubmit, go to Option 2: Create a New Application below.

For an investigator-initiated application, you need to decide whether to resubmit for the same FOA or a different one.

  • In either case, you must use a FOA that will be active on the deadline you're applying for, and meet that FOA's eligibility criteria.
  • If the FOA allows a choice of study sections, you must consider whether to request a different study section than the one that reviewed your original application.

Read Option 1: Revise and Resubmit below to get our advice on deciding what approach to take.

Option 2: Create a New Application

When you create a new (as opposed to a resubmitted) application, reviewers will not see the summary statement or any other information from the previous review. Your application will get a new serial number and NIH will instruct reviewers to disregard any information they remember from a previous application.

You'll have several choices to make.

  • Pursue the same research idea or go in a new scientific direction?
    • If you use the same research idea, with or without changes, you must have received your summary statement and have no similar application under appeal. Otherwise, NIH will reject your application for overlap with another under review. Read more about this at NIH's Evaluation of Overlapping Applications.
  • Apply for the same funding opportunity announcement or a different one?
    • You must use a FOA that will be active on the deadline you're applying for, and meet that FOA's eligibility criteria.
    • When you apply, modify your application as needed to meet different rules, requirements, and forms.
  • Use the same activity code or a different one?
  • Prepare the application as sole PI or join a team science project?

For advice, read Option 2: Create a New Application below.

Option 3: Apply Outside of NIH

If your application didn't succeed, NIH lets you seek funding from other government agencies, private foundations, and other funding sources.

You may send the same application topic to NIH and another organization simultaneously, with the following limitations:

  • Organization cannot be part of the U.S. Public Health Service (e.g., FDA, CDC, AHRQ).
  • You will be able to accept only one award.

Learn more at Option 3: Apply Outside NIH below.

Our Advice

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

Unsuccessful Application: Now What?

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 and make sure you've worked through the decisions we wrote about in What to Do if You Get Bad News.

Don't wait to see whether we have money to fund your award later in the fiscal year. Read Revise, Don't Wait for Later Funding in Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award.

Remember the Importance of Significance

Take heed if you score poorly on the Significance review criterion because that means reviewers aren't excited about your research. Speak to your program officer about what to do before you start preparing another application.

Even if your application had fixable problems in the approach, continuing the same line of research—whether through a resubmission or new application—won't help you get funded if your idea lacks significance.

We understand this is no consolation, but the worst thing you can do is pour more time and effort into an application that NIH will not fund.

Should You Appeal?

You may have grounds to appeal the review under certain circumstances but not for differences of scientific opinion. Read more about when you can appeal and how the process works in our Appeals of Scientific Review of Grant Applications SOP.

In general, we do not recommend appealing as a way to improve your chances of funding. Most appeals are denied and those that succeed don't necessarily yield a fundable score upon re-review of your application.

Appeals can end one of two ways:

  • Council denies your appeal. Your review outcome stands and you must revise and resubmit or proceed with another one of the options described below. This is the most likely outcome.
  • Council upholds your appeal. Your application goes back for review by the same, or more commonly a different, study section. You usually have to wait another review round, and you have no way of knowing whether your score will improve.

You're probably better off forgoing an appeal and applying again using one of the options listed below.

Choose Your Option

Before you dive into our advice, make sure you've read What to Do if You Get Bad News so you know how to assess why your application wasn't funded.

For all the options we present, consult with your program officer before you make a decision. We provide information below to help you understand your options and learn what each one entails.

Option 1: Revise and Resubmit

You probably want to jump right into your resubmission, but first check your original funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to confirm it hasn't expired, you still meet eligibility requirements, and NIAID (or your chosen institute) still participates.

If the announcement has been reissued or updated, make sure you're aware of new deadlines, eligibility criteria, forms, and instructions, all of which may have changed since your previous application.

If you applied to a program announcement (PA), program announcement with set-aside funds (PAS), or program announcement with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations (PAR), you may resubmit to the same or a different PA, PAS, or PAR. But you'll still want to check your new FOA for the information we just mentioned.

Should You Wait for the Summary Statement?

You may want to begin revising even before you get your summary statement since waiting may cause you to miss the next receipt date.

While you must address all the reviewers' comments from your summary statement, you can start adding new data or making other improvements to the application.

Just keep in mind that you'll still have to wait for your summary statement before you resubmit, and you may have to revise your application further based on what reviewers note.

New Investigators: Don't Hurry

NIH has special rules to help new R01 investigators resubmit for the next receipt date by posting their summary statements sooner and letting them resubmit later than established investigators.

If you qualify for this benefit, don't take it unless you're certain you've addressed reviewer comments in your summary statement. Rushing to submit a subpar application won't help you get funded.

Waiting to strengthen your application will give you the best chance of succeeding in the long run. Learn more at Revise, Don't Wait for Later Funding in Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award.

Choose Your Path

Your resubmission can take one of two paths: revise and request the same study section or revise and request a different study section, keeping in mind you might not have a choice for some funding opportunity announcements, e.g., PARs.

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.

Reviewers 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 different issues.

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 not have been the best fit. Talk to colleagues and mentors to get their take and before you decide whether to request a new study section, keeping the following points in mind:

  • 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.
  • You'll still have to address reviewer critiques from the first review even though that critique came from a different study section. Your new study section sees the summary statement and expects you to make appropriate changes.

Cautionary Notes About Resubmissions

Don't launch into your resubmission until you've read our instructions on How to Resubmit in Part 6 and consider the following words of caution:

  • Use the most recent FOA, even if it's not the one you applied to originally.
  • Do not resubmit until you can send in the strongest possible application that effectively addresses all the reviewers' comments. We can't stress the point enough.
  • 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.

Option 2: Create a New Application

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

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.

You could use much of your previous application's Research Strategy, but feel free to go in a completely new direction. Or, pivot off of an aspect your reviewers felt strongly about while relinquishing other parts.

NIH offers myriad ways to submit a new application, but all paths lead in two general directions: 1) propose the same or similar research, or 2) go in a new scientific direction.

If you propose the same or similar research, check in with your program officer and take a hard look at whether another attempt using the same or similar idea is likely to result in funding. We don't anticipate a substantial improvement in paylines, so don't factor that into your decision.

Keep in mind that even if you submit research ideas from an unfunded application, it may go to the same study section and reviewers are likely to remember it from before even though NIH instructs them to disregard previous similar applications.

Also, you won't have the benefit of an introduction to address the prior comments, as you would with a resubmission.

You might have to go in a different direction if your previous application scored poorly in significance. Read more about that in Remember the Importance of Significance, above.

If you go in a new scientific direction, you can keep some or even most of your people, methods, animal models, and preliminary data if it helps you tackle a new scientific problem. This may be the only way to go if reviewers felt your application lacked significance.

Explore your research niche to find where in your field 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).

Your "To-Do" List

Regardless of what (if anything) you keep from your previous application, take the following steps as you plan your new one:

  • Wait to receive your summary statement for one application before sending another application proposing similar science. Otherwise, NIH may withdraw your new application for violating rules against overlap. Read more about this at NIH's Evaluation of Overlapping Applications.
  • Strengthen your next submission of the application using reviewers' feedback in the summary statement, from your program officer, and from your mentoring colleagues.
  • Add the latest preliminary data and new publications.
  • Ensure your application reflects the most current science.
  • Consider which study section and institute assignments you want for this application and make that request in your PHS Assignment Request Form.
  • Get more advice from your program officer.

Choose Your Approach

NIH gives you three ways to submit a new application: by applying to the same FOA, a different FOA, or as part of a team science project.

Applying for the Same Funding Opportunity Announcement

When you apply again for the same funding opportunity announcement, you're starting a brand new application. General considerations when taking this approach:

  • Consider adjusting or completely overhauling your proposal as needed.
  • Treat your application as though you'd never submitted the research for NIH review.
    • Omit the introduction and, for renewals, a progress report.
    • Don't respond directly to comments from prior reviews. Just use them to improve your application.
    • Get any NIH approvals required before you submit your application, even if you did this for your previous application. For examples, see the Big Grants SOP and Conference Awards SOP.
  • Use the latest funding opportunity announcement and forms associated with your planned receipt date.
    • Re-read the directions, which may have changed since your previous application.
    • Submit to the receipt date for a new application.
    • Confirm you still meet all eligibility criteria (e.g., for career stage or other qualifiers).

Applying to a Different Funding Opportunity Announcement

When you apply for a different funding opportunity announcement, you'll have to read the announcement carefully for page limits, application deadlines, eligibility criteria, budget requirements, participating institutes, and other important details.

Even though you may be familiar with a particular funding opportunity or activity code, always confirm by reading the announcement in case anything has changed. This may seem like an obvious point, but we regularly get applicants who cannot submit or have their applications withdrawn because they relied on outdated information.

Consider the following approaches and contact your program officer to discuss. Your decision depends on your application topic and the funding opportunities available when you apply. This list does not include every possibility.

  1. Submit an investigator-initiated application after responding unsuccessfully to an RFA.
    • If you stay within the same activity code, you may not need to modify your application much other than to address weaknesses that reviewers identified.
    • Confirm that your research is allowed (e.g., clinical trials aren't allowed in many investigator-initiated funding opportunity announcements).
    • If you want your application assigned to NIAID, check the top of the FOA to see that we are listed among the participating institutions.
    • Check whether you need any NIH approvals before you submit.
  2. Respond to an RFA after unsuccessfully submitting an investigator-initiated application.
    • Before writing your application, contact the program officer listed in the funding opportunity announcement to verify that your topic is responsive to the initiative and appropriate for NIAID. RFAs are specific about what research topics we will accept.
    • Make any changes necessary to align your application as closely as possible to the science being sought in the RFA.
  3. Move from one type of program announcement (PA, PAR, or PAS) to another.
    • Note any institute-specific requirements.
    • Pay special attention to application deadlines, as some program announcements have special, non-standard due dates.
  4. Switch to a different activity code.
    • Check the objectives and characteristics of the new activity code you've selected. Activity codes often have drastically different purposes, and your application may not be suited for this approach.
    • Consider an example of switching activity codes that experienced investigators should be familiar with: using an unsuccessful R01's aims for an R21 application.
      • If you decide to go from an R01 to an R21, for instance, be aware of significant differences in project period, budget restrictions, review criteria, and page limits. Unless you're using the parent R21, NIAID may not participate and you might have special eligibility criteria.
      • To help mold your R01 into an R21, select a Specific Aim from your original application that is highly significant and 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 following:

Consult with your program officer on what to do. He or she may have insights into NIH funding plans or priorities that can help you decide what choice works best for your application.

Apply as Part of a Team Science Application

If it's not crucial that you are the sole PI on your grant, consider another approach: including your research in another investigator's application.

You could link up with another PI for a multiple PI application, where you'd be equal partners. For more on that, read Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application? in Design a Project in Part 2.

Or, look for an opportunity to join a program project application 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. Learn more at Team Science in Part 2.

Option 3: Apply Outside of NIH

In addition to the approaches we wrote about above, look for funding opportunities from the National Science Foundation or other government agencies outside of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS).

You should also look beyond the government. Visit NIAID's List of Foundations and Other Funding Sources to find opportunities from non-profits, philanthropic organizations, foreign governments, and trade groups that fund research in NIAID's areas.

Once you move beyond PHS, you don't have to worry about NIH's policy on overlapping applications—but you do have to remember the following rules:

  • If your application is scientifically distinct from an NIH award, you can accept all awards.
  • If you're funded for research that overlaps with an NIH grant, we will adjust your support accordingly when we negotiate your award.

Learn more in Broaden Your Horizons in Approaches for Staying Funded

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Last Updated April 22, 2016

Last Reviewed May 23, 2014