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October 13, 2010

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Feature Articles

May the Force Be With Your Application

This is the tenth article in our New Investigator Series.

Previously, we talked about what it takes to get independent support and key decisions points and strategies for planning your application. In this article, we explain how to convince reviewers you chose a high-impact project.

Related New Investigator Series articles:

Find the full list of articles on the Early-Stage and New Investigators portal.

To get the most out of the advice in this article, you should be familiar with the concepts we explained earlier in this series, especially picking a project and writing to different reviewer audiences. See the box on the right for a list of articles.


  • Picking a high-impact topic—one that is highly significant which you are likely to accomplish—is key to success.
  • Convince reviewers how your project can drive knowledge in your field to a higher level.
  • Knowing reviewers' perspective on the significance of your project will guide your writing.
  • For innovation, you can improve on or propose a new application of an existing concept or method—you do not need to shift a paradigm.

To rocket into your first grant, a high-impact topic will generate the most application thrust.

In the peer review universe, the primary outcome is an overall impact score, reflecting reviewers' judgment of two broad elements: importance and likelihood.

1. Importance. Your topic needs to show some innovation and take on a significant research problem—addressing a critical gap or barrier to progress in a field that your reviewers will consider to be important.

2. Likelihood. As the principal investigator, you must have a strong likelihood of achieving your ends, which your reviewers will judge by your experimental design, the expertise of your team, and the resources at your disposal to execute the project.

Together importance and likelihood form impact: the ability of the research problem you chose to propel its field onward. It may help you remember these relationships as a formula:

impact = function (importance, likelihood)

To reach the heart of impact, your application must:

  1. Tackle an area the review group cares about.
  2. Propose research that can make a difference: is important and innovative.
  3. Have an approach that is well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish your Specific Aims.

Blast Off With Significance

Highlight significance in your abstract and Specific Aims—the sections all review panel members will read.

Throughout your application, beam a spotlight on the significance of your research.

Your most critical job is making sure all your reviewers—not just your assigned reviewers—can grasp the importance of your highly focused project and the area your research is in.

That means convincing your reviewers how the niche you've selected for your next several projects and the project for this application can power your field into new realms of knowledge.

Here's how:

  • Highlight significance in your abstract and Specific Aims—the sections all review panel members will read (as well as the parts to be made public if your application is funded).
  • For your assigned reviewers, convince them of the importance of your research in the Significance section of the Research Strategy by explicitly stating:
    • How your research will advance your field.
    • How it will fill knowledge gaps—show you are aware of opportunities, gaps, roadblocks, and research underway.
    • How the work is new and unique.
    • How it meets the NIH mission to improve health through science—can lead to cures, treatments, or preventions for human disease.

As you make your case, you'll present the significance of the research in the context of the state your field and your long-term research plans. How convincing you are will profoundly affect your score.

Fire Up Enthusiasm

If most of your perspective reviewers are fluent in your field, don't spend much effort convincing them of the significance of your proposed project.

Generally, reviewers view most work in their field as significant, but they will be particularly energized by an application that addresses critical gaps and has a promising strategy to fill them.

But are they familiar with your field? Reviewers make judgments based on their unique experience and expertise, so scoping your reviewers out and writing to their perspective is key. Once you know that, do the following:

  • Convince them of the significance of your research depending on the composition of your study section.
    • Scenario one -- study section is narrowly focused in your field (reviewers are fluent in your field): spend much less effort convincing them of your project's significance.
    • Scenario two—study section is more diverse: write more on significance.
  • Even if reviewers have expertise in the broader field you're in, they may not be familiar with your narrower niche. If you're in doubt, highlight significance.
  • If most reviewers won't understand your Approach section, write a longer Significance section that hammers home the importance of your research. Since you have a 12-page limit for your Research Strategy, you can write more in Significance if you put less in Approach.

Two more tips: you should also point to the significance of your research in your Title, Public Health Relevance Statement, and Abstract (to the extent that you can, write those sections in lay language since they become public).

Also be aware that NIH referral officers use these parts to direct your application to an institute for possible funding—your description can influence that decision.

Flight to Safety

As we've said before (in "Your Project's Scope: Plot Your Boundaries"), it's safer to not travel far into unknown realms. To be innovative for NIH's purposes, it's enough to show how the work you propose is new and unique and will add significantly to existing knowledge.

Your work can be innovative if you take either path described below, but the first choice will raise fewer reviewer eyebrows:

  • Refine, improve, or propose a new application of an existing concept, method, instrumentation, or clinical intervention.


  • Shift a current paradigm.

If you decide to forge ahead and challenge an existing paradigm, build a strong case for your ability and your reason for doing so.

If you're a new investigator going this route, expect reviewers to be skeptical. If reviewers feel they could not get the work done, they are unlikely to have confidence that you could either.

Take Five

So far we've highlighted the significance and innovation of your research. In fact, reviewers consider five review criteria when judging applications—significance, innovation, approach, investigator, and environment.

Though the criteria do not add up mathematically to yield a score, reviewers do take them all into account. Here's an expanded formula that includes the review criteria:

impact = function (importance (significance, innovation), (likelihood (approach, investigator, environment))

To gauge the criteria, reviewers (particularly your assigned reviewers) get the most detailed information on significance, innovation and approach from the Research Strategy and read your Biosketches and Resources sections to gauge the investigator and environment criteria respectively.

But because other sections count too, it's best to think of your application as an integrated whole, and keep the review criteria in mind as you write all parts of the application.

For example, your citations and other references in your Approach should highlight your expertise and that of your colleagues. And as we noted above, be sure to point out the project's significance and to a lesser extent innovation in several places to meet the needs of the full reviewer audience.

You're the One

What about the other half of our equation: the likelihood you can successfully pull off the research? We have already covered that topic in these earlier articles:

Related Links

Opportunities and Resources

Check Out New Concepts, Giving the Thumbs Up

Use concepts to your advantage and get details about Council, the group that gives them a thumbs up or down.

Members of our advisory Council met last month. Big deal, you say?

It is when you consider that they approved our next batch of concepts—possible funding opportunities that can clue you in to NIAID's high-priority research areas.

On the greenlighted list this time: a consortia for AIDS vaccine research in nonhuman primates (DAIDS), targeting resistance in select gram-negative pathogens (DMID), and an allergen epitope validation resource (DAIT).

On Concepts: Potential Opportunities, you can see what else got approved. And continue reading here for a lowdown on using concepts to your advantage as well as more on our advisory Council, the group that gives them a thumbs up or down.

Get the Most Out of Concepts

Though there's no guarantee that concepts will become published initiatives—requests for applications, program announcements, or solicitations—they can still help you gauge the Institute's priorities and choose a topic for your application. With this inside information, you can:

  • Write an investigator-initiated application based on a concept in your area of expertise.
    • Even if a concept never bears fruit as a formal initiative, your application could have a funding edge because of your topic's importance.
    • If a concept is eventually published as an initiative, you will still have submitted a high-priority application.
  • Get a heads-up on potential initiatives, so you can prepare early if you plan to respond later to a request for applications or program announcement.

Either way, applying in a high-priority area may give you a leg up on funding. For instance, NIAID is more likely to fund high-quality research in priority areas using R56-Bridge or selective pay awards for applications that score beyond the payline.

Stay in the Loop

To find approved concepts, check the Web a few weeks after each Council meeting—find a schedule under the "Learn About Council Meetings" header on our advisory Council portal.

To make life even easier, you can sign up for an Email Alert that will let you know when we've posted new concepts. Check the concepts category when you Subscribe to Email Alerts, or add that category to your existing subscription.

The Council Behind Approval

As you may have surmised from our introduction, our advisory Council approves concepts as part of its meetings, which occur three times a year. Council comprises three subcommittees that correspond to our program divisions: DAIDS, DAIT, and DMID.

The subgroups scrutinize each concept in their area and often recommend changes to key features like the budget and mechanism (e.g., grant or contract).

In addition to determining which concepts will possibly become initiatives, our Council has these other responsibilities:

Second-level review. Council reviews applications with special issues and special funding for program priorities and balance—it does not conduct another scientific review.

For applications that are within the payline and have no study section concerns, three Council members, one from each subcommittee, perform an expedited review so we can fund grants earlier than usual.

On the flipside, each full subcommittee discusses and recommends the next course of action for applications with potential funding obstacles, or special issues. Generally, members will not recommend applications for funding unless the applicant resolves study section concerns.

Policy Input, Program Review. The Institute often asks Council to weigh in on matters of policy. Occasionally, Council will form a special working group—or request that one be created—to examine critical scientific or policy issues that are important to the Institute and its constituencies.

Council also gives feedback on how well our programs meet the needs of the fields they support and Institute goals.

Related Links

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icon: news flash.News Flash: Institutions Can Nominate Students to Meet Nobel Laureates

NIH will cosponsor graduate students to attend a meeting where select students from around the world will meet with Nobel laureates. Taking place on June 26 to July 1, 2011, the meeting features recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; the annual event is in Lindau, Germany.

Institutions may nominate up to two students who:

  • Are U.S. citizens enrolled at a university as full-time graduate students.
  • Will have completed by June 2011 at least two years of graduate studies and not more than four years in physiology, medicine, or a related field, including the basic biomedical sciences.
  • Are supported by or working on a project, grant, or fellowship sponsored by NIH or the Department of Energy Office of Science.

To apply, institutions should complete online nominations by Monday, November 1, 2010, at 4:00 p.m., Eastern Time.  NIH will nominate around 55 students to participate as part of the U.S. delegation. 

About 550 students from more than 70 countries are expected to benefit from formal lectures and face-to-face meetings with the Nobel laureates and network with their fellow students. Find more information at 61st Lindau Meeting and go to Contacts for help.

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 Symposium Marks Immune Tolerance Network Anniversary

On November 1, NIAID will hold a symposium to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Immune Tolerance Network (ITN), an international consortium of researchers who develop and evaluate tolerance-inducing therapies for immune-mediated diseases and transplant rejection.

Called  “Ten Years of Tolerance,” the symposium will be held at NIH’s Natcher Conference Center from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci will open the session, highlighting the Institute’s vision for ITN and its history.

Other speakers include past and present ITN directors as well as Jean-François Bach, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator in immune-mediated disease research who is secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. Find a list of speakers at  ITN Symposium.

NIAID has supported the ITN since 1999, with additional funding from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. For more information, contact Laura Straub at

Other News

Stopgap Funding Gets FY 2011 Underway

Both House and Senate included $50 million to launch the Cures Acceleration Network or CAN.  


  • Until we get our appropriation, we will operate under a continuing resolution, which locks expenditures at previous fiscal year levels.
  • We are funding a limited number of applications, using interim R01 paylines at the 8 percentile, 12 for new PIs.
  • Our budget office will set other interim paylines later in the fall or winter.
  • Medical Countermeasures Initiative may create new responsibilities for NIAID.

As is usual for this time of year, we await our appropriation from Congress, beginning the new fiscal year with a continuing resolution (CR).

The CR locks expenditures at previous fiscal year levels. That means postponing important budget decisions, such as setting actual (non- interim) paylines.

At the September 20 Council meeting, Dr. Fauci outlined the big picture for the new fiscal year, which started on October 1.

More Money Requested for NIH

For FY 2011, the president is requesting for NIAID a $5.0 billion budget, a 3.3 percent increase over FY 2010; for NIH, the level is $32 billion, a 3.2 percent boost. So far both House and Senate appropriations subcommittees have initially approved these levels.

Also relevant to NIAID, both chambers included $50 million to launch the Cures Acceleration Network or CAN, which, if passed, will be NIH-wide. CAN was authorized by the landmark health care reform bill, which was signed into law in March.

While under the CR, we are funding a limited number of applications, including R01s to an interim payline of 8 percentile and to the 12 percentile for new PIs. This interim payline is not a true payline but an administrative measure that allows us to fund top-scoring applications until we have our FY 2011 budget.

We do not send Email Alerts for interim paylines. As soon as we receive our true paylines and financial management plan, we will send you alerts. To sign up, Subscribe to Email Alerts.

Meanwhile, our budget office will be setting other interim paylines in January or February.

Check the Paylines and Funding portal for new information on the payline, financial management plan, and other budget-related pages.

Keep in mind that we expect the final R01 payline to be higher. For general information about the process, read Paylines and Budget Pages Change Throughout the Year.

White House Initiative May Mean New Programs

NIAID may see new responsibilities due to the Medical Countermeasures Initiative (which is separate from CAN) to improve the country's ability to respond rapidly to biological attacks and sudden disease outbreaks.

Most of the work and money would go to FDA and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), but we could play a role helping to move scientific discoveries to product development.

New authorities give us two new ways to do that: a strategic investment fund and a Concept Acceleration Program.

  • Strategic Investment Fund
    • Gives NIAID oversight of an HHS program that strategically invests funds in small companies that are developing promising drugs in areas of critical to public health, such as emerging infectious diseases.
    • Helps strategically valuable companies get products through early-stage development.
  • Concept Acceleration Program
    • Enables NIAID to create and coordinate teams of scientific, medical, and product development experts to guide investigators working on multi-use medical products for biodefense, drug resistance, and emerging diseases.
    • Nurtures promising concepts that may otherwise die on the vine.

Related Links

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October Brings End of a Funding ARRA

Beginning with FY 2011, NIAID funding comes from our regular appropriated funds with no special requirements.

ARRA funding is over, so for us it's back to business as usual. Beginning with FY 2011, NIAID funding comes from our regular appropriation with no special requirements.

Here's a retrospective and some forward-looking advice to keep you moving in the post-ARRA period.

Our Approach: Get People to Work, Protect Future Budgets

From the start, we expected ARRA to be a one-shot deal, so we set funding policies to mitigate long-term commitments that would eat up our budgets in future years.

  • To move awards out the door quickly, we focused on research that met ARRA goals and was already proposed or in progress. Because most applications had been peer reviewed, we could issue awards and put people to work within a few months.
  • Though we funded some four-year awards with ARRA money for the first two years, we focused primarily on projects that would be completed in full during the ARRA period: two-year research grants, one-year R56-Bridge awards, and supplements.
  • The remaining money went to R&D contracts, intramural programs, service centers, fellowships, training grants, career awards, and NIH opportunities created for ARRA.
  • When selecting awards, we followed our standard review and approval process, filtering out projects that did not fit ARRA criteria.

To spread the news, we published a series of NIAID Funding Newsletter articles and created an email distribution list for ARRA-specific alerts. We posted policies, procedures, and funding information on our ARRA portal, much of which we recently archived now that ARRA is over.

The new fiscal year will resemble other years—a return to status quo—though we expect to see more competition for funding.

Just Another Year

FY 2011 brings us back to earth.

However, we do not expect to have a budget that enables us to fund all the applications seeking to continue work begun under ARRA, and we won't have money to make extra bridge awards.

NIAID avoided commitments that would take money away from later budgets. Consequently, the new fiscal year will resemble others—a return to status quo—though we do expect to see more competition for funding due to an influx of renewals of ARRA grants. Read updates in Funding Newsletter to keep up with budget news.

A Time to Renew

For those of you who received an ARRA R01 and want to continue your research, submit a renewal application. If you succeed, we'll fund you with regular appropriated funds under our standard terms of award.

For more on that, read How to Renew Your Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Related Links

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icon: news flash.News Flash: New Time Limit for Resubmission Applications

Gone are the days of taking as long as you want to resubmit if your application did not succeed. NIH has imposed a 37-month time limit between applying for a new, renewal, or revision application and a resubmission.

NIH will not accept resubmissions of applications sent before December 25, 2007.

For those of you who applied under continuous submission rules, in general NIH will accept resubmissions within 37 months of the original application’s submission deadline (e.g., February 5 for an R01, even if you sent the application in March.)

But rules can be complex for continuous submission and late applications, so read the October 1, 2010, Guide notice for more information.

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News Brief

Updated Forms for Fellowships, Training and Career Development Grants. Starting with the January 25, 2011, receipt date, you must use updated application forms, which are designated “ADOBE-FORMS-B1.” See the official word in the September 29, 2010, Guide notice.

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.

"Because renewal R01s are capped at 20 percent above the direct costs of the last noncompeting award, if that award was $200,000, may we round up to the nearest $25,000 to $250,000?"—an anonymous reader

Yes, in this case, the last noncompeting award direct cost was $200,000, so a 20 percent increase would bring the direct cost amount to $240,000. However, for modular grants if the cap results in a number between modular increments, you round up to the next module, so you may submit a modular budget request for up to $250,000.

"If my L2 visa is due to expire before the end of the project period, am I still eligible to apply?"—an anonymous reader

Possibly, if you can remain at your institution long enough to finish your project. If so, then state in your application that your visa will allow you to remain in the U.S. long enough for you to be productive on the project. Your institution ensures that you have an appropriate visa.

Since your visa is due to expire before the end of the project, talk to someone in your business office or call an NIAID grants management specialist to get information tailored to your personal circumstance. Go to the Grants Management Program Contacts.

"Does NIAID have a policy for well-funded investigators?"—an anonymous reader

No. While some NIH institutes have policies for people who have a lot of NIH funding, NIAID does not limit the number of grants or the total dollars a person can receive.

We also support MERIT awards for investigators with stellar records of research accomplishment – see the MERIT Awards and Extensions SOP.

Additionally, we encourage investigators with a lot of grant funding to serve on review panels – read more in the May 7, 2010, Guide notice.

Funding Opportunity Links

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated October 04, 2011

Last Reviewed October 13, 2010