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January 5, 2011


Reader Questions

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Recent NIAID Funding Blog Posts.

At Our WITS End: Specimens and Data for You

Now you can get access to over 900,000 archived specimens and data from the completed Women and Infants Transmission Study (WITS).

WITS initially explored the natural history of HIV-1 infection, but with the advent of potent HIV therapy, was expanded to include the safety and efficacy of antiretroviral therapy. From 1990 to 2007, the prospective study followed over 2,000 HIV-infected pregnant women and their infants, children, and adolescents living in the U.S.

WITS specimens can be linked to the study’s clinical data and include:

  • Peripheral blood collected in EDTA, ACD, and heparin tubes.
  • Cord blood collected in ACD and heparin tubes.

If you would like access, please read the WITS SOP (PDF) and email for more information.

Previously the samples have been used to examine the clinical and immunologic characteristics of HIV disease, impact of maternal plasma HIV-1 RNA levels on perinatal HIV transmission, HIV-1 genotypic zidovudine resistance, risk of maternal-to-infant transmission, and role of viral coinfections on mother-to-child HIV transmission.

WITS was primarily funded by NIAID with cofunding from National Institute on Child Health and Human Development and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Questionable Policy Change

We are posting this on behalf of Joel Baseman, Ph.D., who emailed us the following:

“I would appreciate clarification of the logic of the new policy negating the submission of limited supplemental materials that include “late breaking research findings” related to the specific aims of non-RFA applications.  I think that 1-2 pages of highly relevant grant-related data would be “Enhancing Peer Review” (NOT-OD-10-115), not diminishing it and certainly not adding substantial burden to the reviewers, review process and SRO.  To the contrary, these late breaking research findings, provided voluntarily at least one month prior to the peer review meeting, should be extremely helpful to reviewers.”

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Providing Materials for Autoimmune Research Is Pure "Magic"

For investigators focused on identifying genes involved in autoimmune diseases, we have a resource right up your alley: the Multiple Autoimmune Disease Genetics Consortium, sponsored by NIAID.

Though MADGC (pronounced “magic”) is not new, it may be new to you — and we don’t want you to miss out.

The repository has specimens as well as genetic and clinical data from families with two or more people affected by different autoimmune diseases. These materials can help researchers understand the genes that autoimmune diseases have in common.

Many scientists have taken advantage of MADGC — see Recent Publications. If you’d like to as well, contact Peter K. Gregersen, M.D., at

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Like a Short Story? Read Our New Sample Applications!

During our break from publishing the newsletter, we’ve been busily working with funded investigators to give you new examples of outstanding applications with a 12-page Research Strategy.

Now that we are funding these shorter applications, we can finally deliver this widely anticipated resource. Four investigators who wrote exceptional applications have graciously agreed to let us post them online.

Please join us in thanking the following investigators for their generosity to the research community.

  • Colin Parrish, Ph.D., of Cornell University: “Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids”
  • Adam Ratner, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University: “Gardnerella vaginalis: toxin production and pathogenesis”
  • Boris Striepen, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia: “Biology of the apicomplexan plastid”
  • Carolina Wählby, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute: “Image analysis for high-throughput C. elegans infection and metabolism assays”

We scanned more than 30 applications that scored in the exceptional range to find ones we felt were sound examples and then lightly annotated them to highlight essential grantsmanship principles.

At last we are able to give you evidence-based advice for writing the key science sections of the application. Look for that topic in the next articles of our New Investigator Series in January.

Go to Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements for links to the full applications, summary statements, and Research Plans only.

Header: Feature Articles.

Start Writing Your Application

This is the twelfth article in our New Investigator Series.

Before in this series, we looked into qualifying for independent support, picking a project, and planning your application. In this article, we explore how to get started writing the first part of your Research Plan, the Specific Aims.


  • Starting with a short well-defined title helps keep you on track.
  • In your Specific Aims, spell out significance and innovation; then briefly state the two or three concrete objectives of your research.

To get the most out of our advice, you should be familiar with the planning steps we described earlier—see Related Articles below. Our advice is geared mainly to the R01, NIH's standard research grant.

In this article we give you an approach to getting your writing off the ground, and then we delve into creating the Specific Aims section of the Research Plan.

At this point, we assume you have defined your hypothesis, decided on Specific Aims, and determined which experiments you will conduct to support those aims. To learn about those steps, read "Laying the Groundwork for Your Research Plan" in our October 27 issue.

Now that we have posted the Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements, you can get a glimpse of writing strategies for successful applications. There are many ways to create a great application, so explore your options.

Writing in a logical sequence will save you time.

Keeping It All in Sync

Information you put in the Research Plan affects just about every other application part. You'll need to keep everything in sync as your plans evolve during the writing phase.

Writing in a logical sequence will save you time. We suggest proceeding in the following order:

    1. Create a provisional title.
    2. Write a draft of your Specific Aims.
    3. Write your Research Strategy:
      1. Start with your significance and innovation sections.
      2. Then draft the Approach section considering the personnel and skills you'll need for each step.
    4. Evaluate your Specific Aims and methods in light of your expected budget (for a new PI, it should be modest, probably under the $250,000 for NIH's modular budget).
    5. As you progress in designing your experiments, reevaluate your hypothesis, aims, and title to make sure they still reflect your plans.
    6. Prepare your Abstract (a summary of your Specific Aims).
    7. Complete the other forms.

To avoid overloading you with information, we are presenting the advice in this article as a guide to use as you work on your draft.

For each part, we start with basic concepts and a rationale that you can use to prepare an initial draft. After you've done that, go over each point under our Checkpoint headers to critique your draft and improve it.

Check the list, review your work, revise your text. Repeat until perfect.

First Step: Give It a Title

Within the character limit, include as much information as you can about the research area, your project's goals, and the research problem.

It may seem like an odd place to start, but giving your project a title at the outset can help you stay focused and avoid a meandering Research Plan.

So you may want to launch your writing by creating a short well-defined title—NIH gives you only 81 characters—to help keep yourself on track as you work.

Your title (together with your Abstract) will become public if NIH funds your application. So write it in simple language that anyone can understand—to the extent that this is possible.

Within the character limit, include as much information as you can about the research area, your project's goals, the problem your project addresses, and possibly your approach to studying it. Make your title specific: saying you are studying lymphocyte trafficking is not that informative.

Here is an example of a strong title: "Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids" from Colin Parrish, who submitted one of our sample applications.

Checkpoint. After you write a preliminary title, check that:

  1. My title is specific, indicating at least the research area and the goals of my project.
  2. It is 81 characters or less.
  3. I used as simple language as possible.
  4. I state the research problem and, possibly, my approach to studying it.
  5. I use a different title for each of my applications. (Note: there are some exceptions—see Part 11b. Not Funded, Reapply and Part 12. Renewal Application in the links below.)
  6. My title has appropriate keywords.

Review what you've written and revise as necessary.

Later you may find that you need to change your initial title. That's fine—at this point, the title is just an aid to keep your plans focused.

Explain Your Aims

Since all your reviewers read your Specific Aims, you want to excite them about your project.

If testing your hypothesis is the destination for your research, your Research Plan is the map that takes you there.

You'll start by writing the smaller part, the Specific Aims. (We will discuss the main part, the Research Strategy, in our next article.)

Think of the one-page Specific Aims as a capsule of your Research Plan. Since all your reviewers read your Specific Aims, you want to excite them about your project.

Write a narrative. Use at least half the page to present and provide the context for your planned research. A good way to start is with a sentence that states your project's goals. For the rest of the narrative, you will:

  • Describe the significance of your research.
  • Give your rationale for choosing the project—in some cases, you may want to explain why you did not take an alternative route.
  • Briefly describe your aims and show how they build on your preliminary studies and your previous research.
  • To target a study section with broad expertise, summarize the status of research in your field and explain how your project fits in.
  • State your hypothesis.

In the narrative part of the Specific Aims of outstanding applications we reviewed, people also used their aims to:

  • State the technologies they plan to use.
  • Note their expertise to do a specific task or that of collaborators.
  • Describe past accomplishments related to the project.
  • Describe preliminary studies and new and highly relevant findings in the field.
  • Explain their area's biology.
  • Show how the aims relate to each other.

Depending on your situation, decide which items are important for you. For example, it's a good idea for a new investigator to highlight preliminary data or qualifications.

Many people use bold or italics to emphasize items they want to bring to the reviewers' attention, such as the hypothesis or rationale.

List your aims. After the narrative, enter your aims as bold bullets, or stand-alone or run-on headers (as in List your aims. at left).

  • State your plans using strong verbs like identify, define, quantify, establish, determine.
  • Describe each aim in one to three sentences.
  • Consider including bullets under each aim to refine your objectives.

How focused should your aims be? Get an idea from Dr. Parrish's application cited above:

  • Aim 1. To define the structural variation in parvovirus capsids, and to determine the effects on capsid functions and DNA release.
  • Aim 2. To define the structural interactions between various parvovirus capsids and variants of the transferrin receptor or artificial receptors.
  • Aim 3. Use antibodies to probe the capsid structure, and also to determine how binding to overlapping sites leads to variable neutralization.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft Specific Aims, check that:

    1. I keep to the one-page limit.
    2. Each of my two or three aims is a narrowly focused, concrete objective I can achieve during the grant.
    3. My aims highlight the significance of the research to science and health.
      • They give a clear picture of how my project can generate knowledge that may improve human health.
      • They show my project's importance to science, how it will close a gap in my field.
    4. My text states how my work is innovative.
    5. I describe the biology to the extent needed for my reviewers.
    6. I give a rationale for choosing the topic and approach.
    7. I tie the project to my preliminary data and other new findings in the field.
    8. I explicitly state my hypothesis and why testing it is important.
    9. My aims can test my hypothesis and are logical.
    10. I can design and can lead the execution of two or three sets of experiments that will strive to prove each aim.
    11. I use language that an educated non-expert can understand, to the extent possible.
    12. My text has bullets, bolding, or headers so reviewers can easily spot my aims (and other key items).

For each element listed above, analyze your text and revise it until your Specific Aims hit all the key points you'd like to make.

After the list of aims, some people add a closing paragraph, emphasizing the significance of the work, their collaborators, or whatever else they want to focus reviewers' attention on.

Note: You don't need the application forms at this point—write the text in your word processor and upload it into the application form when it's final.

Related Links

Related Articles

  • "How to Pick a Project"
  • "Are You Ready to Conduct Your Research."
  • "Your Application Takes Center Stage"
  • "Your Project's Scope: Plot Your Boundaries"
  • "May the Force Be With Your Application"
  • "Laying the Groundwork for Your Research Plan"

See the full list of articles in the New Investigator Series on the Early-Stage and New Investigators portal.

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New Rules for Multiproject Application Reviews: Scores for Cores

We've changed the scoring of cores of multiproject applications submitted to NIAID, starting with investigator-initiated program project applications submitted for the January 25, 2011, receipt date, and other applications submitted for FY 2012 funding (September 2011 Council).

Cores to Get Scores

In the past, cores in multiproject applications were evaluated as either “acceptable” or “unacceptable.”

Now, to give reviewers a range of possible scores, we will be scoring cores as follows:

  • For investigator-initiated program project (P01) applications, all cores will receive overall scores using a 1 to 9 scale.
  • For multiproject applications submitted in response to a request for applications, all cores will get one of the following:

How We Score Multiproject Applications

Here's what you can expect when you submit your application to NIAID.

  • The overall program receives an overall impact score using a scale of 1 to 9, reflecting reviewers' final assessment of the likelihood for the entire program to exert a sustained, powerful influence on its field.
    • Reviewers consider the scientific and technical merits of the application as a whole, including individual research projects and any supporting cores.
    • They evaluate your application as an integrated research effort focused around a central theme. 
  • Only the research projects get criteria scores—not the overall program or the cores.
  • Please note that some RFAs may have special guidance on peer review, so check the funding opportunity announcement for the details.

For more on review of multiproject applications and our advice on how to proceed, take a look at our recently updated Guidance for Preparing a Multiproject Research Application.

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Applying in January? Remember NIH's Policy Changes

You've probably heard the expression "when it rains it pours."

If that's true, you may want to have your umbrella handy when the January 25, 2011 receipt date comes around.

Several policy changes go into effect, among them:

  • End of the error correction window. You will no longer have two days to fix errors and warnings resulting from eRA Commons validation after the submission deadline. Read more in the August 16, 2010, Guide notice.
  • Updated application forms. For fellowships, career development awards, and training grants, use forms labeled “ADOBE-FORMS-B1” starting January 25, 2011. See the September 29, 2010, Guide notice for more information .
  • Time limit for resubmitting. You have 37 months to resubmit a new, renewal, or revision application. Rules are more complex for continuous submission and late applications—get details in the October 1, 2010, Guide notice.
  • No more second resubmissions. NIH won't accept a second resubmission, except for applicants eligible for continuous submission and resubmitting an AIDS-related application originally reviewed for August 2009 Council or earlier—those applications are due by February 7, 2011. Go to the April 15, 2010, Guide notice for more information.

For reminders of some other policies NIH announced over the past year, read the November 24, 2010, Guide notice. Also use our Top Policy Changes for just the main points on the most important changes.

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Join the 2011 International Human Microbiome Congress

Meet scientists from the medical, microbial, and computational fields, and learn about cutting-edge microbiome research from global leaders.

If you're into human microbiome research, check out the International Human Microbiome Congress, being held from March 9 to 11 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Meet scientists from the medical, microbial, and computational fields, and learn about cutting-edge microbiome research from global leaders. Topics include the following:

  • Animal microbiomes
  • Environmental metagenomics
  • Quantitative metagenomics
  • Ethical, legal and social implications of human microbiome studies
  • New technologies and computational tools for the study of the human microbiome
  • Other metagenomic research areas

Sign up by January 21 to qualify for a discount. And students and postdocs can apply for a travel stipend of up to $500 until January 14. To register and learn more, go to International Human Microbiome Congress.

The Congress is hosted by the International Human Microbiome Consortium, of which NIH is a leading member.

Related Links

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More Temporary Funding for NIAID

Under Congress's most recent continuing resolution, NIAID's operations are funded through March 4, 2011. We still do not have a budget and have not added anything to our Financial Management Plan.

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News Flash!News Flash: NIH Approves More Stem Cell Lines

Four more stem cell lines are eligible for NIH funding—identified as SA001, SA002, BJNhem19, BJNhem20. Go to NIH's Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry for a full list of approved lines.

Header: 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.

"Do all ICs have the same new investigator policy?” – an anonymous reader

No. NIH set a goal of parity with non-new PI success rates, but allows each institute or center to decide how to get there. For example, NIAID sets a higher payline for new investigators to help them secure their first award.

To learn more, check out the following pages:

Also see NIH's New and Early Stage Investigator Policies.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated December 21, 2012

Last Reviewed January 05, 2011