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August 4, 2010

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Feature Articles

Are You Ready to Conduct Your Research?

This is the fifth article in our New Investigator Series.

In previous articles, we talked about being ready for an independent grant, finding the right support type, and picking a research topic. Here we look at the resources you will need to complete your planned project.

Find out which resources and level of support your organization can give you, then assess what additional support you'll require.

Summary

  • To succeed in peer review, you must convince reviewers you have the resources you'll need to conduct the research, including equipment and space.
  • Build in all the expertise necessary to complete the experiments, including consultants and collaborators as needed.

Will You Have the Resources?

To create a successful application, you'll need to convince your peer reviewers that you have the resources and expertise to conduct the research.

While reviewers often expect new R01 investigators to have fewer data, resources, and publications than more established researchers do, you must still design a feasible project.

The basis of the overall impact score they give your application is the likelihood that the research will make a high impact on its field. No matter how elegant your science, you can't escape the likelihood factor—can you actually do it?

After you determine your needs, do some sleuthing in your institution. Find out which resources and level of support your organization can give you; then assess what additional support you'll require.

Take stock of the following:

  • Do you have a budget from your institution to purchase needed equipment?
  • Will you have access to necessary equipment, especially large equipment (for example, costing over $10,000) that you can share?
  • If not, can you collaborate with someone who has that access?

In general, don't request funds for equipment or resources already in place in your institution. Reviewers will delete the funds, and your credibility will suffer.

In some cases, consider whether to request the funds in your application—here are some guidelines:

  • It's fine to request funds for small pieces of equipment or items not usually shared.
  • As a new investigator, you should generally avoid asking for expensive equipment. Such a request is more likely to gain study section traction after you are more firmly established and in charge of a larger group.

If you decide to risk reviewer skepticism and ask for the equipment, make sure it's absolutely essential, and justify it well.

Redraw your plans if you are still coming up empty-handed for necessary resources.

What About Expertise?

Don't be shy about letting other people fill in gaps in your expertise.

Most projects rely on various types of expertise to carry out the different parts of the research.

Don't be shy about letting other people fill in gaps—experienced investigators do this too. Choosing highly experienced people to be on your team will help build reviewer trust in the future success of your project.

While you will be the project leader, you can expand your pool of expertise by including consultants and collaborators, especially those who are known and respected in the field. Reviewers may recognize their names, which can be helpful if study section members haven't heard of you.

What's the difference between consultants and collaborators? Collaborators generally play a more significant role on the project and are paid a salary from the grant, whereas consultants usually provide advice or services for a consulting fee.

Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application?

If your application includes an established PI, it will not qualify for the new investigator payline.

Another way to beef up expertise—or create a research team—is to be part of a multiple PI application.

Think carefully before you decide to go this route. And before making up your mind, get advice from a mentor or other experienced investigators in your institution as well as your program officer. Below we describe some caveats.

For a new investigator, it's important to establish your own identity, which may be more difficult with a multiple PI application.

You'll also need to make sure the approach fits the science. The multiple PI option is for collaborative, usually multidisciplinary, research also known as team science. To succeed, each PI must play a key role executing the studies or making critical intellectual input into the project.

It's very important to understand that for major grant types (e.g., the R01), multiple PI applications have big consequences for new PIs.

  • If your application includes an established PI, it will not qualify for the new investigator payline. You'll qualify only if all the PIs are new.
  • Once the application is funded, you will lose your new PI status.

Before you opt into a multiple PI application, also consider the following:

  • A multiple PI application is usually appropriate only if you could not complete the research without the other person. To succeed in peer review, your research must require a very high degree of synergy.
  • Multiple PI applications can have a harder time getting a fundable score—probably because they are more complex.
  • It may be more difficult to write a multiple PI application.
    • As is true for any application, the more intricate, the more likely reviewers are to find problems.
    • It can also be hard to correlate the pieces so they are well integrated and coordinated.
  • It's best if at least one applicant has already been a PI of an NIH grant.

Despite the caveats, a multiple PI application can benefit research appropriate for a team science approach. NIH allows multiple PIs for most research project grant applications.

Read more about team science in the next article "Team Science—Sharing the Sandbox"."

Show Them You Have It

Once you've made your most weighty decisions, you'll make sure the application conveys in detail that you have overlooked nothing.

You'll describe how you have access to the necessary equipment and lab space and how your institution has allotted space and resources for your research in the Facilities and Other Resources attachment of the Other Project Information Form.

And in the Senior/Key Person Profile Form, your biosketches will show how you have assembled a group of committed and talented collaborators that will help you bring to fruition every aspect of your planned project.

Related Links

Strategy for NIH Funding:

Other resources:

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Team Science—Sharing the Sandbox

Many people report that it's fun and intellectually stimulating to be part of a team.

Summary

  • Though team-type collaborations can bring rich rewards, you'll need thorough plans in place to avoid pitfalls.
  • At the outset, spell out in writing contentious areas such as authoring.
  • Find out whether your institution rewards people who are part of a team.

As research increasingly taps the expertise of multidisciplinary collaborative groups, more scientists are dealing with the challenges of team science.

While the rewards for working collaboratively abound, several areas can pose difficulties that can stymie the best of intentions. Here we highlight the main areas to consider when thinking about participating in team science and give you some tips for smoothing the way.

Pros and Cons of Teams

Before deciding whether being part of a team is right for you, consider these benefits:

  • You will likely be exposed to a broader range of ideas, knowledge, and perspectives than you would otherwise.
  • Your research may be better served by high levels of collaboration, e.g., it requires a broad range of expertise or is in a poorly defined area.
  • If you're a junior member of the team, you may gain better access to mentors.
  • Many people report that it's fun and intellectually stimulating to be part of a team.

And know about possible drawbacks (read options for dealing with or mitigating them in the text and sections below):

  • You will have less autonomy, e.g., you may need the group's approval to proceed in a new research direction.
  • You will need to accept the group's processes and culture, including possibly spending time in team meetings and discussions with team members.
  • You may not be first author on a paper published by the team even though you led a significant part of the research.
  • Reviewers may not see you as sufficiently independent to lead a major project.
  • Your institution may not recognize teamwork as indicating sufficient independence for a promotion.
  • A multidisciplinary application might not fit any of CSR's standing study sections.

Being independent enough to lead a major award. Reviewers need to believe that you are sufficiently independent to be able to lead a major project. NIH started using the multiple-PI approach to address this problem, but it might not be the best solution for you. For more information, see Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application? in the article above.

Institutional recognition. Make sure you aren't compromising your chances of advancement. Even institutions that profess to encourage team science may not actually reward it.  Before jumping in, find out:

  • Does your institution have ways to recognize and reward a team effort? 
  • Will being part of a team compromise your ability to get tenure?

Study section expertise. None of CSR's standing study sections may have all the expertise required to review your multidisciplinary application.

Review the committee rosters online at CSR Study Section Rosters. If you think the expertise may fall short, describe your research in terms that people who aren't in the field can understand.

Even after you weigh all the pros and cons, your personal preference is key. You may feel that either a team or solitary approach simply suits you better. Know yourself before moving ahead.

It helps to be able to see a different viewpoint as a horizon-broadening opportunity rather than a barrier you must overcome.

Making a Team Click

Even though a science team is work- and goal-oriented, maintaining positive personal relationships is paramount. Once you decide to link in, you'll need to be aware of the social factors that underlie a well-functioning team, such as:

  • Trust
  • Honest discussion
  • Commitment
  • Accountability

A successful team also needs good leadership, team building, a shared vision, ways to give credit, positive communications, and the ability to resolve conflict.

Below we touch on more concepts underlying teamwork, give you some concrete steps to take, and link to resources with more in-depth information.

Spell Out Expectations

Set rules for areas that are ripe for future conflict, such as determining who will be first author.

Probably the most important action a group can take to avoid rude awakenings is to spell out expectations at the outset. Make sure all persons understand their role and responsibilities and agree as a group on expectations.

Because people are more likely to collaborate smoothly when roles and responsibilities are clear, it's a good idea to create a shared vision with a written vision statement. Discuss the vision statement as a group so the whole team sees how the pieces fit together.

Have the group set rules for areas that are ripe for future conflict, such as determining who will be first author, and make sure all parties agree. Planning ahead puts everyone's expectations on the same page.

Here are some processes a group can put in place before embarking on the research:  

  • Set up a publications committee to deal with authoring and have the team agree on the rules.
    • Create a "prenuptial" agreement for major items such as who writes the manuscript and who is first author.
    • Alternatively, just have a well-defined written process.
  • Create rules for other types of credit and honors, such as making public presentations.
  • Address intellectual property and patent issues.

Meet Regularly, Share Knowledge

Effective teams meet regularly to discuss what's going on, including details about their work.

Think about scheduling group activities, which help people see themselves as striving toward a shared goal. These can include weekly lab meetings to talk about results as well as regular journal club meetings and, less frequently, formal seminars by group members.

To promote knowledge sharing, keep the following points in mind.

Encourage constructive criticism. The best collaborations occur when people feel free to speak their minds even when they disagree with their fellow team members.

Build trust. To reach a high level of sharing, group members must show respect for one another. Members need to feel that their colleagues will act for the good of the whole team. People will not share their ideas, knowledge, or data if they feel that others are not being honest or will use shared information against them.  

Deal with conflict. Conflict will inevitably arise, and dealing with it is critical.

It helps to think of conflict as a way to expand thinking and a potential source for igniting new research directions. Conversely, ignoring conflict will compromise trust and can undermine the research.

An effective team needs a way for people to bring up sensitive issues as they arise, so conflict does not fester. Early intervention can help resolve problems before they loom large.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are thinking about joining or setting up a research team, being open-minded is essential.

People from different disciplines usually have different perspectives and problem-solving approaches. While these differences can be a source of creativity—even groundbreaking insight—they can also generate friction.

You'll need time and patience to listen to ideas that are at odds with your world view. It helps to be able to see a different viewpoint as a horizon-broadening opportunity rather than a barrier you must overcome.

Collaborations Can Differ

Groups can decide what level of collaboration they desire, depending on the needs of the research and the people involved.

With a moderate level of collaboration, each scientist may work separately on part of a research problem, with results integrated at the end.

At a higher level of collaboration, a team works together to solve problems and share objectives and data. Because they collectively make decisions on the next step, the whole team needs to stay apprised of what's going on.

Working on a team can be both rewarding and challenging. If you decide to go down this path, learn more by talking to colleagues who have been on teams and reading the resources listed in the links below.

Related Links

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Expecting FY 2011 Funding? Expect to Wait

The lower interim paylines cause funding delays for many people.

Summary

  • NIAID might take months to fund new grants for applications reviewed at September Council.
  • Expedited Council awards have to wait until we have our FY 2011 budget.

If your application is reviewed at September Council for FY 2011 funding, expect to wait until at least late November to receive an R01, even if your application gets a very low percentile. For other applications, assume an even longer wait.

Budget uncertainties are likely to push your award to January or later. Here's why.

Our Appropriation Comes First

For September Council, we use FY 2011 paylines to fund applications, but we can't set those paylines until Congress passes our appropriation. If that happens by October 1, as scheduled, we'd be able to set our paylines a few weeks later.

But life is rarely so simple. In recent years, we've waited months for our appropriation and have had to use interim funding measures during that time.

During the delay, we use low, interim paylines and fund fewer grants than we do later in the year when we have a budget, to make sure we don't over-commit. First in are interim paylines for R01s, with interim paylines for applications other than R01s coming later.

The lower interim paylines cause funding delays for many people. For example, in FY 2009 we announced an interim 10 percentile payline for R01s in August but did not set our actual payline at the 12 percentile until March.

Typically, we cannot set an actual payline until sometime between February and April. Even after Congress passes the appropriations bill, our budget undergoes weeks of processing at the department level before our budget office can crunch the numbers to create the paylines.

For FY 2011, we expect this situation to recur. One word to the wise: don't use this year's paylines to judge whether you will have a fundable score next year. Each year has its own budget and funding targets.

As always, we encourage you to discuss your situation with your program officer after you get your summary statement. Stay tuned for more on this and related funding topics in future newsletter issues.

Expedited Review—Not So Fast

Even if your application undergoes expedited Council review, you'll have to wait until we have our FY 2011 budget before we award your grant if it went to September Council.

For the January and May Councils, expedited review is more helpful because you can get your award before the Council meeting.

Related Links

Opportunities and Resources

Sign Up Now for the SBIR Niche Assessment Program

Get an assessment of the potential uses of your technology and a market analysis—it takes only a few hours, and it's free.

Attention small business innovation research (SBIR) phase I awardees: the Niche Assessment Program is back to help jump-start your efforts to get your technology to market.

Here's how the program works: an NIH contractor assesses potential uses of your technology and then prepares a market analysis report that helps you figure out the best product to create with your technology.

The report can also help you prepare the commercialization plan required for your SBIR phase II application and introduce you to potential commercialization partners.

Sign up now—only 100 slots are open for NIH FY 2010 and 2011 awardees, allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. The assessment takes only a few hours, and it's free. For more details, see the July 13, 2010, Guide notice. You can also download the registration forms:

Other News

If You Get a Restricted Award

NIAID will make your award—with restrictions that keep you from spending funds on human subjects research until NIH lifts the bar.

Take note if you have a FY 2010 application with a bar to award due to study section concerns about human subjects research.

NIAID will make your award with restrictions that prevent you from spending the funds on the human subjects research part until NIH lifts the bar.

  • For a fundable, non-ARRA application. If you haven't submitted the paperwork to lift the bar, send it to your grants management specialist or program officer quickly so it avoids the bottom of the pile and can get a timely review.
  • For ARRA applicants. Your award cannot have any restrictions. Send your documentation now or you will miss out on funding altogether.

While a restricted award is not perfect, it's better than getting nothing because you can still spend money on other aspects of your project. Once NIH processes your documentation, we will issue a revised Notice of Award to remove the restrictions.

How long will you have to wait? From our experience, maybe months—even if you've already sent in your paperwork. Only NIH's Office of Extramural Programs can remove bars, and they're working through a deluge of requests from all NIH institutes.

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News Briefs

Reminder: New Venue for September Council. If you're planning to attend our advisory Council meeting on September 20, please note: it will be at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, not the usual Natcher Conference Center on NIH's main campus.

Federal Financial Reports to Go Electronic. Come this October or thereabouts, your business office will be able to submit expenditure information from your Federal Financial Report electronically through the eRA Commons. Watch the NIH Guide, eRA System Updates, or our Latest Funding Updates for the official announcement.

Advice Corner

Reader Questions

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

"How do I number sections in the new application format?"—Peter Karp, SRI International

NIH does not give you instructions about numbering. When we looked at actual grant applications with perfect or near-perfect scores we saw that some people used numbers and some did not.

While numbering sections and Specific Aims is not necessary, do make sure to include headers for each section, including the Research Strategy and its subsections.

In most cases, when you do not see an instruction from NIH, there is no requirement. This appears to be one of those cases. For more advice, see "Structuring the Research Strategy Section of Your Application" in NIH's Extramural Nexus.

"Would I need to follow rules for select agent research if I use only killed select agents?"—Anonymous Reader

Only if your agent is viable. Select agent rules grant an exception for research involving nonviable select agent organisms or nonfunctional toxins.

We suggest you keep records that show you've tested your agent to prove it's not viable. For more on select agents, read NIAID Select Agents Award Explanatory Statement for Awardee Institutions and Program Staff.   

"Does NIAID participate in the F31 parent announcement for predoctoral fellows?"—Sam Light, Northwestern University

We don't participate in the F31 parent announcement but we do participate in NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, which shares the same activity code.

See Fellowship Grants (F) for basic information and links to other resources. If you're looking for training opportunities, contact your institution.

Funding Opportunity Links

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated October 06, 2011

Last Reviewed August 04, 2010