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July 21, 2010

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Advice Corner

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New Funding Opportunities

Feature Articles

Application Approach: What Are Your Choices?

This is the fourth article in our New Investigator Series.

So far in this series we've covered being ready for independent support, choosing a grant type, and picking a research project. Here we focus on choosing between an initiative, an investigator-initiated application, or a hybrid approach.


  • When applying, you can submit an investigator-initiated application or respond to an institute initiative.
  • You can also blend the two approaches by using a high-priority topic as the basis for an investigator-initiated application.
  • Whatever path you choose, always stay within your area of expertise.

The big advantage of an investigator-initiated application is that it keeps you in your area of expertise.

Most people would say that you have two ways to set about applying for a NIH grant, but we'll give you a third option that may be the best of all.


Here are the two official ways to approach an NIH application:


  1. Submit an investigator-initiated application.
  2. Respond to an initiative.


Investigator-Initiated: Draw on Your Strengths

In case you're unfamiliar with the lingo, investigator-initiated means you create an application in any area of science NIH supports.

How does this work? Let's assume your science falls within the mission of NIAID. To apply for an investigator-initiated R01—a standard independent grant—you don't need to know our priorities, and you don't need to look for any special announcements from us.

You simply use the R01 parent program announcement to submit an application in a topic of your choice. If an application's topic falls within our mission, it will be assigned to us, and we will fund the application if its percentile ranks within our payline.

The big advantage of going this route is that it keeps you in your area of expertise. Staying grounded in what you know best is a critical ingredient of success, especially if you are a relatively new investigator with an unknown track record.

Also keep in mind these features of investigator-initiated applications:


  • Though you have the most latitude to generate your own ideas, you will have to convince peer reviewers that your topic can make an impact worthy of NIH's investment.
  • We fund applications by paylines, in contrast to some initiatives, which have set-aside funds. That feature may work to your advantage or may not—more on that subject below.

Initiatives—See if It's a Good Match


Also at play are two interrelated success factors unique to initiatives: your competition and the level of funds set aside.


Now that you know about investigator-initiated applications, let's get into the points to consider for initiatives—requests for applications (RFA) or program announcements (PA).


When responding to an initiative, you are held to the requirements of the announcement and the research areas we have defined.

  • Though you choose your project, you must stay within the specified areas of science.
  • At the outset, ask yourself: "does my expertise match the announcement?"—be sure not to break the rule of always staying in your area of expertise.

To succeed, you'll also need an idea and execution that can make a high impact on the field in the context of the goals of the initiative.

Also at play are two interrelated success factors unique to initiatives: your competition and the level of funds set aside. All RFAs have set-aside funds as do some PAs. With a set-aside, NIAID funds applications largely by overall impact score, but also by taking into account the programmatic importance of the research.

Thus, in addition to the other points noted above, your success will depend on:

  • The amount of money we have set aside.
  • The number and expertise of your competitors—you may be competing against world-class experts in the field.
  • Your expertise by comparison.

While more money means more grants, the more people who apply—and competition is often intense—the smaller the fraction that succeeds.

How do you assess your competition and the set-aside? Any set-asides are stated in the funding opportunity announcement.

While it may be hard to gauge competition, the program officer listed in the announcement can help. Call to get feedback on how well your research ideas meet the scope of the initiative and a sense of how much interest the initiative has generated.

A final factor to keep in mind is that applications in high-priority areas are better candidates for special funding, such as an R56 Bridge award. We fund applications applying through PAs that do not have a set-aside by the payline for the grant type and may fund some beyond the payline.

One last point to remember when you write your application: although initiatives are in high-priority scientific areas, you'll still need to describe the significance of the project, as you normally would.

Blend the Approaches

While not all concepts become initiatives, they highlight NIAID's research interests and are good sources of areas for investigator-initiated research.

How can you reconcile the imperative of applying in your area of expertise with the potential advantages of meeting an Institute priority—for example, funding beyond the payline?


Do both. You can blend the two approaches by using a high-priority topic as the basis for an investigator-initiated application.

Do some sleuthing to find our priorities. Talk to program officers—NIAID may have priorities that do not appear on our published lists but are still programmatically important.

A good place to start is with our concepts. To back up a bit, a concept is the planning stage of an institute-specific initiative: a PA, RFA, or contract solicitation.


Use Our Concepts List


Whether they are ultimately published as initiatives or not, concepts are high-priority research areas in which NIAID would like to receive applications.

Concepts give you a sneak preview of future priorities. We publish them online so you can:

  1. Glimpse future initiatives.
    • You can get started writing an application for a future RFA or PA before we publish it.
    • Even if we don't publish an initiative, you can submit an investigator-initiated application.
  2. Along those lines, use the concepts simply to get ideas for topics for an investigator-initiated application.
    • This powerful strategy lets you both meet our priorities and stay in your area of expertise, boosting your chances of succeeding.
    • If it misses the payline, your application will be a stronger candidate for an R56-Bridge or selective pay award. Those options are possibilities—not promises—but any edge can be critical with today's low paylines.

While not all concepts become initiatives, they highlight NIAID's research interests and make strong candidates for investigator-initiated research.

You don't need to wait for NIAID to publish an initiative to apply in a topic covered by a concept. Savvy investigators look closely to see whether their expertise lends itself to any of these important research topics.

Stay Ahead of the Pack

When we post new concepts, you can get the news right away, usually about a month after a Council meeting.

To receive notification of new concepts and initiatives, go to Subscribe to Email Alerts and select the appropriate interest category.

Related Links

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What Exactly Are F&A Costs?

A common misunderstanding is that a 50 percent F&A rate means that 50 percent of total expenditures are for overhead.


  • F&A pays for all the services it takes to keep your lab running.
  • Your F&A rate is the ratio of F&A costs to modified total direct costs, which excludes large expenditure items.

If you're a principal investigator in the U.S., your facilities and administrative (F&A) costs may seem like a mystery.

People often wonder why so much money goes to F&A and whether their grant suffers as a result. 

The total costs you request in your grant budget include direct costs to pay for the performance of your grant plus F&A costs that your institution incurs in support of your activities but that cannot be directly charged to any grant or contract. 

F&A typically covers more facility costs than administrative costs. It pays for all the services it takes to keep your lab open and running—electricity, heating, air conditioning, custodial services, hazardous waste disposal, and so on—so you can conduct your research.

These infrastructure costs are factored into a formula that becomes your institution's negotiated F&A rate.

F&A—Smaller Than You May Think

For academic institutions, F&A costs often account for about one-quarter to one-third of your institution's cost, but the F&A rate is a different number—it is the ratio of F&A costs to a factor called modified total direct costs (MTDC).

MTDC is the base to which F&A rates are applied. The MTDC base consists of materials and supplies, salaries and wages, fringe benefits, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 for subawards.

F&A rates of about 50 percent of MTDC are typical for universities. A common misunderstanding is that a 50 percent F&A rate means that 50 percent of the total expenditures are for overhead.

Not so. MTDC excludes large expenditure items such as student tuition, equipment, research patient care costs, rent, and sub-recipient charges exceeding $25,000. 

Private Versus State Universities

Sometimes people are concerned that private institutions use more F&A money than do state universities.

The reason is that F&A pays for all the infrastructure costs that support grants in private organizations whereas state schools need less F&A because they get state funds.

For most grant programs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services supports full reimbursement for F&A costs.

To learn more about how your institution calculates F&A costs, talk to your sponsored research office. If you have more questions about spending your grant money, contact your grants management specialist.

Foreign Grantees

The rules for foreign awards are different. For details, go to Facilities and Administrative Costs in Part 6. Receiving and Spending Money  of the NIAID Grants Policy and Management Training for Foreign Investigators.

Related Links

Opportunities and Resources

Malaria Research Gets a Boost from the ICEMR Program

ICEMRs will study a wide range of parasites, look at all vector species of Anopheles, invest in research training, and track malaria over a long stretch of time.

Many NIAID initiatives home in on a unique specialty, address a single research question, or target a particular region.

Not NIAID's International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR) program. With its global scope, multidisciplinary focus, and flexible approach, this program goes for a broader sweep.

Operating in all WHO regions, ICEMRs will study a wide range of parasites, look at all vector species of Anopheles, invest in research training, and track malaria over a long stretch of time.

Hopefully, ICEMR investments will yield a new crop of scientists who will be trained in malaria-endemic regions—and help develop global facilities and networks better able to handle the research. In the future, you may be able to tap this talent and infrastructure for your own work.

For background, a list of centers, and other information, go to NIAID's International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research, and read the July 8, 2010, press release NIH Funds 10 International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research.

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Grab a Seat at NIH's Microbiome Conference

Want to network with top scientists and hear the latest buzz in microbiome research?

Join representatives from NIAID and the NIH Human Microbiome Project for a major conference in St. Louis, Missouri, from August 31 to September 2, 2010. Items on the agenda include:

  • Changes in the human microbiome with disease and health conditions.
  • Ethical, legal, and social implications of human microbiome studies.
  • New technologies and bioinformatics tools.

See Human Microbiome Research Conference for more information, and be sure to sign up before registration closes on August 15. Go to the NIH Human Microbiome Project.

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T32 Supplements Are the Ticket to Clinical Training Abroad

We've set aside $1 million for FY 2011, which will cover costs for approximately 12 training slots.

A world of opportunity has just opened up for program directors and trainees of NRSA Institutional Research Training Grants (T32).


Both groups can benefit from NIAID's Administrative Supplements for T32 Global Health Physician Scientist Postdoctoral Training Slots.

See if the supplements are right for you.

Supplement Scoop

NIAID created the T32 supplements with two broad objectives in mind:


  1. Encourage physician scientists to commit to global research early in their career.
  2. Further the NIH director's goal of expanding global health efforts.


Program directors can apply to add one or two clinical postdoctoral trainees to their existing clinical T32 program. As for trainees, they get international and hands-on research experience in foreign settings where infectious diseases are endemic.

We've set aside $1 million for FY 2011, which will cover costs for approximately 12 training slots.

Program Directors: Do You Qualify?

You may request a supplement if your postdoctoral training program meets the following criteria.


  • Research training focuses on infectious diseases (including HIV) prevalent in developing countries or likely to become global threats through the spread of a pathogen or vector.
  • Training program has global health research capabilities, including collaborations with foreign clinical research sites.
  • Supplement is for an ongoing NIAID T32 award with at least 24 months remaining at the time of application.
  • Trainees have completed their residency and are interested in global health-related research training.
  • Research proposed is within the training program's original scope.


Your Requests

Submit your request by January 18, 2011. For complete details, see the July 9, 2010, Guide notice.


Related Links

Advice Corner

Reader Questions


Feel free to send us a question at After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.


"I am trying to find information for the Cures Acceleration Network—has the opportunity been released?"—David Mead, Lucigen Corporation


The Cures Acceleration Network program is still at an early stage. Congress has authorized the program but has not yet provided money for it. We wrote about this topic in our April 28, 2010, article "Cures Acceleration Network Awards: We CAN."


"Can a university subcontractor charge tuition remission for a graduate student supported on its grant?"—an anonymous reader


Yes, under some conditions. Here's the official policy from OMB Circular A-21—Cost Principles for Educational Institutions, Item #41, Scholarships and student aid costs.

Tuition remission and other forms of compensation paid as, or in lieu of, wages to students performing necessary work are allowed provided the following:


  1. There is a bona fide employer-employed relationship between the student and institution for the work performed.
  2. Tuition or other payments are reasonable compensation for the work performed and conditioned explicitly on the performance of necessary work.
  3. It is the institution's practice to similarly compensate students in nonsponsored as well as sponsored activities.

"On a paper progress report for a grant with multiple subawards, should we report progress for each subaward or group them in one section?"—an anonymous reader


You can prepare your progress report either way; just be sure to break out the budget data.


"I understand we can begin submitting electronic streamlined noncompeting award progress reports (eSNAP) immediately but have these questions:

  1. Can we register for eSNAP before August 1, 2010?
  2. If we can register early, can we send our eSNAP before the mandatory switch on August 1?
  3. If our paper SNAP progress report is due July 1, is the eSNAP due on July 15?"—an anonymous reader


The answer to all your questions is yes. For more information on progress reports, see the following:


Other News

Reap the Rewards of Being a Peer Reviewer


By being part of the review process, you can gain insight into how to write your grant applications to meet your reviewers' expectations.



Hands-on experience is a great way to learn just about anything, and that maxim holds true for grant writing and peer review.

By being part of the review process, you can gain insight into how to write your grant applications to meet your reviewers' expectations.

For people who are qualified, gaining an entrée is easy. NIAID and the NIH Center for Scientific Review are always looking for people to volunteer to serve on scientific review committees.

Although being a reviewer takes some time and effort, it's a great opportunity to get an inside perspective on peer review.

Here are some of the benefits of volunteering:


  • Learn firsthand what your peers want to see in an outstanding and well-written application.
  • Potentially qualify for continuous submission—go to the continuous submission links below.
  • Provide a valuable service to the scientific community.


If you're interested in volunteering for an NIAID committee, contact Dr. Lynn Rust in NIAID's Scientific Review Program. See links to Center for Scientific Review pages below.


Related Links


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News Briefs


Extended Deadline for Comments on Rules for Objectivity in Research. You now have until August 19, 2010, to comment on proposed regulations on objectivity in research, which include financial conflict of interest. For more information, see the July 21, 2010, Guide notice and our June 9, 2010, Funding Newsletter article "Weigh In On Proposed Financial Conflict of Interest Rules. "

New Deadline for GTR Comments. NIH extended the comment period on its proposed Genetic Testing Registry. You can now send feedback until August 2, 2010. See the May 28, 2010, Request for Information for items to address as well as instructions for submitting comments. The National Center for Biotechnology Information expects to launch the registry next year.

Reminder: Register and Report Results on If you are the responsible party for an applicable clinical trial funded by NIH, you must register and report results with Learn what to do at What NIH Grantees Need to Know About and FDAAA.

Better Security for Select Agents and Toxins in the Works. A new executive order requires HHS and USDA to harmonize security measures for select agents and toxins and sets up a new interdepartmental advisory panel. For details, see President Obama's July 2, 2010, Executive Order.


Funding Opportunity Links


See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated March 02, 2012

Last Reviewed July 21, 2010