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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.Pick a Research Project   ·   Choose Approach and Find FOAsNext page in Strategy.

Choose the Grant

Choosing a grant type can have major repercussions on your research and career.

We do not recommend that you make that choice on your own unless you are extremely knowledgeable about the subject. But we do give you information and advice to help you have an informed discussion with an NIH program officer.

This document gives you the scoop on factors to contemplate for these research grants: R01, R21, and R03. 

If you are not sure how your research fits in at NIH, read Part 1. Qualify for NIH Funding before proceeding.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

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

NIH supports hundreds of types of grants—known here as activity codes. The basic and most popular research project grant is the R01—read more at What's an R01? in our New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding and below under See if an R01 Is Right for You.

If you are highly knowledgeable about NIH activity codes, choose one at NIH's Types of Grant Programs or Activity Codes Search Results. If not, contact an NIH program officer for help, and read more in Our Advice below.

Our Advice discusses the potential benefits and drawbacks of the exploratory/developmental research grant (R21) and small grant (R03). For information about other awards, such as cooperative agreements and conference grants, go to our Other Grant Types portal.

Our Advice

(This section has advice only. For factual information, go to Just the Facts above.)

Though NIH supports hundreds of activity codes, choosing one is difficult because the repercussions of that choice on your research and career may not be apparent. Features such as award length and funding levels can dampen your chance of success in ways you may not anticipate, particularly if you are a new investigator.

Unless you are highly knowledgeable about activity codes, we strongly recommend that you not choose one on your own. Instead, get help from a program officer. Go to When to Contact an NIAID Program Officer.

To see what awards you may qualify for, first talk to staff in your business office to find out what grants your institution will allow you to apply for. Then, use the Strategy to Determine What Funding You Qualify For in Part 1 for NIH's perspective and read more below.

Call an NIAID program officer to discuss what activity code might be appropriate for you.

Ask for Help

Obviously many factors come into play in choosing an activity code, and since people's situations differ, no one-size advice fits all.

Call an NIAID program officer to discuss what activity code might be appropriate for you. Ask about the money and time constraints of different activity codes and how these factors may affect your ability to conduct a sound research project that can produce timely results.

Also talk to experienced people in your institution for guidance.

When planning your application, factor in the level and duration of support you negotiated with your institution.

Then factor in the time it takes to get the NIH grant to determine if you will have enough institutional support while you're waiting for NIH funding.

To learn about application timing, go to Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award.

See if an R01 Is Right for You

If you have preliminary data, we recommend an R01.

An R01 is a mature award that gives you four or five years of support, enough money (as well as time) to complete a project, publish results, and start writing your next application in time to get an award before the funding ends.

If you have preliminary data, we recommend an R01.

Even for new investigators, an R01 is usually the right choice—here's why.

  • Reviewer expectations are lower: they look for fewer preliminary data, resources, and publications than they do from more established R01 applicants.
  • If you qualify as an NIH new investigator, you benefit from a more liberal payline for R01 applications, so it's easier to get funded. In FY 2014, NIAID's new investigator payline was at the 13 percentile compared to 9 for other investigators.
  • Your R01 application has a better chance of qualifying for an R56-Bridge award or selective pay if it does not succeed.
  • Read more at Why You Should Consider an R01 and Are You "New"? in the New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding.

One caveat for new investigators. Though reviewers focus less on track record than they would from an established PI, you still need to propose an important problem and use a sound research approach, a topic we cover in Design a Project in Part 2.

At NIAID, applications that score near the payline are candidates for R56-Bridge awards, which can act as a springboard to an R01 by giving you one year of funding so you can gather preliminary data to improve your application.

Almost 90 percent of R56-Bridge awards convert to a full R01. Note: we nominate programmatically important R01 applications for a Bridge award or selective pay; you cannot apply—read more in the NIAID R56-Bridge Award and Selective Pay SOPs.

To learn more about R01s, find resources on our R01 Investigator Resources portal.

Drawbacks for Smaller Awards

If a small award will be your only funding, get more advice before going this route.

If you're not ready for an R01, you might think about considering a two-year exploratory/developmental research grant (R21) or small grant (R03), but first, be aware of the caveats.

These awards are primarily for established investigators who want to complete a limited project, for example, a pilot or feasibility study.

NIH did not design them to help you establish a research career.

Nor are these smaller awards easy to get: in FY 2013, NIAID's success rate for R03 applications was 20.3 percent and for R21s was 16.6 percent.

While they do help some investigators, there is no evidence they create a path to independent research.

If a small award will be your only funding, get more advice before going this route.

For more details and advice, read Should You Apply for an R21?

R03 Is Small

At first glance, the R03 may seem well suited to a new investigator. You can request up to $50,000 a year in direct costs and do not need preliminary data.

So is this a good first venture? Our review of the data say no. In fact, we found that an R03 can actually hurt your chances of a future R01.

The most likely reason is that R03s usually do not give you enough money to complete a meaningful research project. So you may not get the data you need for a future R01 application or accomplish enough to convince reviewers you are credible as a PI of a major project.

Know the Pros and Cons of R21s

R21s can give you funds to obtain preliminary data, but there is no evidence they create a path to independent research.

Exploratory/developmental grants fund investigators who seek to develop new ideas, models, tools, agents, or technologies, and they are also used to fund smaller projects than would be appropriate for an R01.

For our advice on the pros and cons, read Should You Apply for an R21?

No matter which grant you apply for, you need to consider where your support will come from should you have a funding gap while you apply for and wait to receive an R01. Read more in Approaches for Staying Funded in Part 7.

To find information about different activity codes, go to our Grants portal.

More Resources

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

Previous page in Strategy.Pick a Research Project   ·   Choose Approach and Find FOAsNext page in Strategy.

See the other sections of
Part 2. Pick and Design a Project

Table of Contents for the Strategy

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

Last Updated June 21, 2012

Last Reviewed June 21, 2012