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August 18, 2010

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

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Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Feature Articles

A Long Hard Look at Application Timing

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.

Summary

  • For an application funded on the first try, plan on at least 21 months from writing to award—much longer if you need to resubmit, which most applicants do.
  • Often the longest wait is for funding, which depends on several factors, including the application's score and timing of the Institute's budget for the fiscal year.
  • The best time to apply is when you are ready. Each submission cycle has advantages and disadvantages you should be aware of.

How Long Will It Take?

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.

Basic Preparation Timeline With Typical Timeframes

  1. Initial preparation. Plan on allowing two months or more of dedicated time to prepare for a simple R01, e.g., one that does not include vertebrate animals or human subjects.
  2. Getting feedback. Allot at least two weeks to finalize your application; the time will vary depending on the responsiveness of your internal reviewers:
    • Send it to colleagues, mentors, and peers for an internal review.
    • Make changes resulting from that review.
  3. Your institution. Visit your institution's business office early to find out procedures and timelines.
    • Your institution may need your application weeks or even months before your receipt date to process, sign, and submit it.
    • Make contact early—as soon as you start to think about applying, and also ask what help they provide to make the process easier for you.
  4. Checks and edits. Allow at least a week to check and recheck it to make sure nothing is missing and all information is consistent, search for factual errors, check spelling and grammar, and proofread.
  5. Submission. Plan to have your institution submit a month before the receipt date in case issues crop up. Make sure the application is actually submitted at least two days before the receipt date so it has enough time to get through Grants.gov and eRA Commons.
  6. Review and award. After the receipt date, it will take roughly 5 to 20 months to go through both levels of review and get an award—three months less for AIDS and related research—assuming success on the first try.

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.

R01 Planning to Award Timeline for Initial Application and Resubmission

For a text equivalent, see the linked page.

* 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.

Stay Ahead of "Drop Dead"

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.

Funding Is Tied to the Fiscal Year

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:

  1. NIH has an appropriation so NIAID can set paylines and award grants.
  2. Your application's percentile rank or overall impact score is fundable at the outset.

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.

  • We begin each fiscal year using interim paylines so we can start making some awards.
    • An interim payline is not a true payline in that it is not tied to the budget level.
    • Rather, it is an administrative measure that enables us to get some very low-scoring grants out the door (at NIH, the lower score, the higher the quality of the application).
  • After Congress passes our appropriation, our budget office crunches the numbers and sets our new paylines so we can award more grants.
  • We generally start posting interim paylines around September and post actual paylines in winter or sometimes even spring, as we did in FY 2010.

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.

  • We set our actual paylines at very conservative levels because we don't know the scores of applications coming in later in the fiscal year. (Note that here we are referring to our actual paylines, not the interim paylines we discussed above.)
  • Toward the end of the fiscal year, we usually raise our paylines and make more awards.
    • We fund many of those applications by percentile or overall impact score order.
    • We pay others for programmatic reasons—a good reason to discuss the importance of your research with your program officer.

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.

When Is the Best Time to Apply?

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

  • Even with an extremely low percentile, your award will likely be delayed because your application goes to September Council, the first of the fiscal year, when we typically do not have a budget.
  • The good news: cycle 1 has the shortest waiting time if you need to resubmit.
    • It is the only cycle that lets you resubmit in the same fiscal year (in cycle 3) without a rush. Note: resubmission timing is changing for new investigators starting with applications submitted for the June 5, 2011, due date. See the March 23, 2011, Guide notice for details.
    • Most PIs need to resubmit, so assume that you will too.
  • Resubmitting in the same fiscal year is helpful because you know the payline, and you avoid the start-of-year wait.

Cycle 2—Submit in June

  • We may still be operating under interim paylines, so you may experience a delay.
  • In theory, you can resubmit in the same fiscal year (in cycle 3), but you will probably have only around three weeks to revise after getting your summary statement.
  • If you resubmit for cycle 1, you're applying for funding at the beginning of a fiscal year, which almost always delays the award, and the payline is unknown.

Cycle 3—Submit in October

  • If your score is just outside the payline, you won't have to wait long to find out if your application is one of those NIAID will be paying at the end of the fiscal year.
  • If your application is not funded, you will need to resubmit in the next fiscal year under an unknown payline. If you resubmit quickly for cycle 1, you will most likely experience a delay for the award as well.

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.

Dealing with a Delay if Fundable

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.

  • NIH lets you begin spending funds within 90 days of an expected award.
  • Institutions have different policies on early spending. Ask people in your business office what you are allowed to do.

Is a delay a problem?

  • You may need to consider where your support will come from during the interval it takes to apply for and receive an R01.
  • Talk to your institution about your options. Something to think about for the future—the best time to negotiate institutional support is when you are accepting a job.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

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.

Related Links

Opportunities and Resources

Find Help at Every Step of the Way

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.

Step How to Find Help
Before and while preparing your application

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.

When registering in the Commons

Contact the eRA Commons Help Desk.

As you fill out the forms

Contact the Grants.gov Help Desk.

While preparing or submitting to Grants.gov

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.

After the application moves to the Commons

Contact the eRA Commons Help Desk to get help with validation or report system issues.

Two weeks later, check assignments

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.

Before initial peer review Contact your scientific review officer with any initial peer review question.
After initial peer 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.

After approval for funding or while managing award

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.

Other News

Paylines in the News—Both New and Old

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.

An interim payline is an administrative action that enables us to fund very low-scoring (high-quality) applications while we do not have a budget. Because interim paylines are not true paylines, we do not announce them through our Email Alerts.

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.

Related Links

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Meatier Summary Statements in the Works

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:

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News Briefs

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?"

Advice Corner

ARRA Grants Get No-Cost Extensions Too

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.

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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.

"Can you help me write a small business grant application?"—an anonymous reader

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.

"Is the page limit for final progress reports the same as the page limit for regular annual progress reports?"—Dr. Melissa Azur, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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.

Funding Opportunity Links

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated February 23, 2012

Last Reviewed May 11, 2011