See the Glossary for more terms.
This is the sixth article in our New Investigator Series.
In previous articles, we looked at what it takes to be ready for an independent grant, how to choose a grant type and topic, and what resources you'll need to conduct the research. Here we explore considerations for application timing.
Expect the unexpected. Build in extra time for items you cannot control since surprises are sure to happen.
It's a long and winding road that leads to the door of a funded grant, and many of the twists you encounter can lengthen or shorten the way.
When planning your application, figure the journey to be from 12 to 21 months start to finish, longer if you don't succeed on the first attempt.
Such an extended time span makes a strong case for careful planning and execution at every stage.
Perfect the steps you can control. These include choosing a project that's right for you and creating as impeccable an application as you can.
Expect the unexpected. Build in extra time for items you cannot control since surprises are sure to arise. For example, your mentor may recommend major revisions to your draft, or one of your collaborators may back out at the last minute.
Though the time needed to write an application can vary considerably from one person to the next, this is how time frames typically break down.
If your application is not fundable, you will need to resubmit, leading you back to the start of that long and winding road. See how these steps fit into a timeline in the graphic below.
* With expedited second-level review, funding occurs a few weeks after initial peer review. For other applications, NIAID starts funding after Council meets.
** Assumes you are resubmitting the typical two peer review cycles later. You can't resubmit until your summary statement appears in the Commons.
It's a good idea to think of the NIH receipt date as a drop dead date because once it lapses, you're out and will need to wait four months until you can apply again.
Following that logic, plan to submit one month ahead of time to allow for factors beyond your control, such as delays at your institution or during submission to Grants.gov or the eRA Commons.
Make sure your institutional official presses the submit button at least two days ahead of the deadline so the application has time to get through those systems.
Then if your application does not pass validations in either one, you'll have time to correct. For now, NIH gives you two days beyond the receipt date to finish corrections in the Commons. That extra time will go away on January 25.
If your application scores within the payline, we will fund it (assuming no administrative issues), but your award may be delayed.
During a year, NIH gives you three opportunities to submit, and the time it takes to get an award depends partly on which cycle you choose.
If you're unfamiliar with the submission cycles, you may want to look at NIH's Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications for the basic dates. For more detailed timing information for R01s, see our R01 Planning to Award Timeline by Review Cycle.
Apart from writing the application and your institution's processing it, much of the variation in award timing centers on whether:
Whether your application scores within or above the payline, expect to wait for your award at the start of the federal government's fiscal year, which begins on October 1.
Application scores within the payline. If your application scores within the payline, we will fund it (assuming it has no administrative issues, e.g., for research animals or human subjects).
But because we don't have real paylines at the beginning of a fiscal year, your award will likely be delayed, affecting mostly cycle 1 applications, the first to be paid in the new fiscal year.
Typically at that juncture, Congress has not yet passed our appropriations bill, so we do not know how much money we will have to fund grants.
Due to the payline delay and the one described in the section below (as well as hold-ups caused by an application's own administrative issues), we fund the largest number of grants in the last half of the fiscal year.
For example, only about half of fundable R01 applications typically receive an award within 90 days of their Council—we pay the remainder later in the fiscal year.
Application scores above the payline. If your application scores above the payline, even just above it, you may be on hold for a funding decision until near the end of the fiscal year (September 30) for a different reason than the one described in the previous section.
For above-the-payline applications, you also have the longest pause if you applied for cycle 1. You may need to wait till the next August—possibly an additional 10 months—for a funding decision.
Because other options are possible, always talk to your program officer about your application's funding and courses to take if funding is not imminent—and continue reading because the story doesn't end here.
For sure: the best time to apply is when your application is ready. As we said above, the most important factor is an application that's as close to perfect as humanly possible.
Having only one chance to resubmit is another strike against hurrying to meet a receipt date (unless you're applying to an initiative that has only one receipt date).
Even so, it helps to understand the quirks of the different cycles. Read below to see why despite the complications noted above, cycle 1 may be the most advantageous time to submit.
The months listed below are for new non-AIDS R01s; other types, including R01 resubmissions, have different receipt dates.
Cycle 1—Submit in February
Cycle 2—Submit in June
Cycle 3—Submit in October
After your summary statement is ready, talk to your program officer about your probability of funding and next steps.
Don't wait to see if your application is funded later in the fiscal year.
If problems are fixable, start revising as soon as you get the summary statement.
Revise, Don't Wait for Later Funding
If your application scores above the payline, we advise you not to wait to see if you are funded later in the fiscal year.
If problems are fixable. Improve your application by revising it based on reviewer feedback and resubmitting it as soon as you can, even if it scored just above the payline.
It usually doesn't hurt to go this route because we use the application with the best score (occasionally reviewers find major problems not detected in the initial application, the resubmission scores significantly worse, and we cannot use the first score).
If problems are not fixable. Begin writing a new application as soon as you get the summary statement. It's better to start with a fresh idea than try to fix insurmountable problems. Learn how to distinguish between a fixable versus unfixable problem in Assess How Serious the Problems Are in our Related Links section below.
If you have to resubmit, you are in good company. Most people's applications do not make it on the first try, so they must resubmit. Most do so within a year of their first submission.
No matter what your situation, discuss your resubmission strategy with your program officer and experienced investigators in your institution, and take the time you need to get it right.
If you're a new investigator with a very low percentile application, see if you can take advantage of an award delay at the start of the fiscal year.
Starting early can help you be ready to launch when you do get the grant and the clock starts ticking for reporting results and publishing.
Is a delay a problem?
While you're waiting to hear about funding, consider writing an application on another topic.
Even after you're funded, this is generally a good idea because one application is rarely enough to keep the funds flowing. At any point, it may take several applications for one to succeed.
Since you can revise and resubmit only once, having multiple applications in the works can help maximize your chances that one will make it.
In that vein, you don't need to wait until you officially begin your academic appointment to write your first application. Instead, get a head start by beginning it toward the end of your postdoc (even though your new employer will submit the application).
Working with current colleagues lets you tap the knowledge of people who are familiar with what you're doing and are well positioned to help you choose a topic and give you feedback.
Because we all need help sometimes, here's a table that shows you whom to turn to for each step that your application or grant takes. It's a shorter version of the table in Contact Staff for Help in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
Contact an NIAID program officer to discuss your research idea and which grant type to choose. For other questions, go to Contact Staff for Help in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
Contact your institution’s business office to learn about internal deadlines and procedures.
Contact the eRA Commons Help Desk.
Contact the Grants.gov Help Desk.
Talk to your institution's signing official to arrange for submission.
You or your signing official can contact the Grants.gov Help Desk for help submitting.
Contact the eRA Commons Help Desk to get help with validation or report system issues.
Log into the Commons for assignments to an institute and study section. If you don't like either assignment, contact your scientific review officer in the Center for Scientific Review.
Find your application's score and summary statement in the Commons. After you get your summary statement, contact your program officer to discuss funding possibilities and options.
Talk to your grants management specialist and program officer about negotiating your grant and complying with policies. Find their names in the Commons and on your Notice of Award.
You may also want to read When to Contact an NIAID Program Officer.
If your FY 2010 application scored above the payline and you're waiting to hear about a funding decision, you should hear soon.
On August 4, we set an interim R01 payline at the 8 percentile for FY 2011 applications, which includes those reviewed at September Council.
What's gone. We've taken down our paylines for the fiscal year because at this point, all FY 2010 applications that scored within a payline are either committed for funding or funded.
If your application scored above the payline and you're waiting to hear about a funding decision, you should hear soon.
As the fiscal year comes to a close, we usually have more grant funds to spend and award some higher-scoring applications, including selective pay and others that missed the published paylines.
That happens because initially we set very conservative paylines to make sure we have enough money to pay all the high-quality grants that may come in throughout the fiscal year.
For the record. You can still find our old paylines. After we remove them from the Paylines and Funding page, we archive them at Archive of Final NIAID Paylines by Fiscal Year.
For more information on the budget cycle, read the pages listed below.
People who feel that the shorter summary statements are not informative enough will have their day. Starting with applications reviewed for January Council, NIH will beef up the feedback applicants will get from initial peer review.
Assigned reviewers will write a paragraph describing the factors they considered most important in giving their initial overall impact score. NIH is looking into other improvements too—we'll let you know as soon as we hear more.
Also in the works is a plan to add disclaimers on summary statements stating that individual criterion scores are not used to calculate the final overall impact score and that the criterion scores may reflect the reviewers' opinion before the meeting, not their latest view.
Read more about related peer review topics in the Strategy for NIH Funding:
End Is Nigh for the Error Correction Window. Beginning with the January 25, 2011, receipt date, NIH will do away with the application error correction window. That window is the two-day period after the submission deadline you may now use to fix errors and warnings resulting from eRA Commons validation. Read more in the August 16, 2010, Guide notice.
NIH Clinical Center May Open to Outside Investigators. NIH's Scientific Management Review Board will be voting next month on whether to let extramural investigators access the NIH Clinical Center and its unique resources. For further details, read the July 6, 2010, Nature article. We also highlighted this topic in our May 12, 2010, article "Interested in NIH Resources?"
If you haven’t spent all your American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant money, you most likely may take a no-cost extension, as is allowed for most NIH grants. Check your Notice of Award to be sure.
We've seen some confusion on the issue, so we wanted to make sure you knew you could do this.
Under a no-cost extension, you can extend your grant's project period one time for up to 12 months. Read the No-Cost Extension SOP, and talk to your grants management specialist for details.
Feel free to send us a question at firstname.lastname@example.org. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
No, NIH staff are not allowed to help you write an application. However, we can provide advice. You can read more on our Small Business Awards portal, and contact staff for more information.
There's no page limit for a final progress report. We want to get all the required information, so it's fine if you need more room to fully describe all the elements of your final report. For a summary of how a final report differs from a regular one, see File Your Final Reports at Award End in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.
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Last Updated February 23, 2012
Last Reviewed May 11, 2011