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February 16, 2011

Articles

Reader Questions

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Recent NIAID Funding Blog Posts.

Into Filariasis Research? Sign up for a Free Minicourse.

If filariasis is part of your research or on the radar, think about signing up for a free one-week filariasis minicourse March 14 to 18, 2011, at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA.

The seminar introduces students, postdocs, PIs, university professors, and industry representatives to whole organism and molecular techniques commonly used in the field.

Sponsored by the NIAID/NIH Filariasis Research Reagent Resource Center, a.k.a., FR3, the minicourse features daily lectures on topics such as:

  • Vector and nematode biology.
  • Experimental models of filarial disease.
  • FR3 molecular and parasite resources.
  • Molecular data analysis and reporting.
  • Bioinformatics and pathogenesis.
  • Control of filarial diseases.

Plus, daily lab exercises give you hands-on experience with important techniques including:

  • Propagating vectors.
  • Purifying and characterizing filarial nucleic acids.
  • RT-PCR.
  • Isolating filarial life cycle stages from vertebrate and invertebrate hosts.
  • Handling host animals.

Taught by FR3 personnel and filariasis researchers, the course gives you a great opportunity to learn, ask questions, and network with leading investigators in the field. You can even request a stipend to attend.

For more information, go to Annual FR3 Minicourse Details; contact Shelly Michalski at michalsk@uwosh.edu for additional help.

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Paging Clinical Researchers: RFA for Lasker Scholars Is Here.

Those whose interest was piqued by December’s Guide notice on the Lasker Clinical Research Scholars program will be glad to hear this: the request for applications is now out. See the February 2, 2011, Guide notice.

This unique opportunity offers early-career clinical researchers a chance to obtain an independent research position either in NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) or at an extramural research institution. The program has two phases:

  • Phase 1 — work five to possibly seven years as as tenure-track investigator in an NIH institute or center.
  • Phase 2 – after completing the first phase, choose one of two options:
    1. Remain in the IRP with continued intramural funding and potential progression to tenured senior investigator status.
    2. Continue research at an extramural institution by competing for a grant under the Lasker program.

To be eligible, you must be a physician or dentist who is within six years of completing core residency training.

As for research areas, NIH will give highest priority to projects in fields listed in the funding opportunity announcement. For NIAID, that means research in infectious diseases including TB, neglected tropical diseases, malaria, and hepatitis.

For complete details, read the Guide notice and go to Lasker Clinical Research Scholars Web site.

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Universities Favor Research Over Teaching? Your Thoughts, Please.

In “Changing the Culture of Science Education at Research Universities,” a recent article in Science (requires subscription), the authors state the following:

“The reward systems at research universities heavily weight efforts of many professors toward research at the expense of teaching, particularly in disciplines supported extensively by extramural funding…Departmental and university cultures often do not adequately value, support, and reward effective pedagogy.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a related piece, “Scientists Fault Universities as Favoring Research Over Teaching.”

What do you think? Leave us your comments.

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Visit NIAID’s Improved Careers and Training Site.

A while back we informed you about bookmarking Careers and Training at NIAID, your first source of information about working for us.

If you haven’t been checking regularly, you haven’t seen a new layout and some other changes that can help you get what you need.

Some recent enhancements:

  • Slide show that links you to NIAID’s exhibit schedule, student training information, and testimonials from NIAID employees.
  • Expanded list of internships and training opportunities.
  • Revamped Benefits of Working at NIH/NIAID page that goes beyond health care and retirement.

You can also send a personalized e-Card to invite friends, family, colleagues, and coworkers to visit the redesigned site.

Favorite standards are still there — read our April 14, 2010, Funding Newsletter article “Check Out Our One-Stop Shop for NIAID Career Opportunities” for a rundown, or head straight to Careers and Training at NIAID.

Don’t rely solely on the Web site to get your career news — get it from Twitter, too. Follow @NIAIDCareers.

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Panel Recommends Government Oversight for Synthetic Biology Research.

A presidential report proposes steps the U.S. government should take to help researchers navigate the risks and rewards of synthetic biology.

Issued by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, the report makes 18 recommendations, including the following actions:

  • Evaluate the government’s research portfolio to make sure its investments advance the public good.
  • Require ethics training for engineers and biologists in the field.
  • Identify gaps in risk assessment practices.
  • Analyze containment and control mechanisms, for example, a “suicide gene” in case of an unexpected release of synthetic organisms.

These suggestions are based on five ethical principles:

  • Public beneficence — best interest of the public.
  • Responsible stewardship — concern for those who cannot represent themselves.
  • Intellectual freedom and responsibility — accountability for creative potential.
  • Democratic deliberation — respect for opposing views.
  • Justice and fairness — equal distribution of benefits and burdens across society.

The panel’s recommendations are just that — no new laws have been created or existing regulations changed as yet.

Read its report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies and Frequently Asked Questions at Bioethics.gov.

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Build Up Your Study with HLA Analysis Tools.

To give you access to more free resources, NIAID’s Immunology Database and Analysis Portal – ImmPort — launched a suite of new tools to support HLA typing data analysis. For example, a tool to reduce genotypic and allelic ambiguity, based on known population allele frequencies, helps you deal with the uncertainty associated with certain typing methods.

Genotyping human HLA has become an essential part of immunogenetic studies because polymorphisms are associated with increased risk of autoimmune diseases and differential sensitivity to infectious diseases.

If you are new to ImmPort, you can access the HLA analysis tools after registering as a Life Science Researcher at Register User: Notice. For existing users, log in to your account and click on “MHC Analysis” in the Tools menu.

Go to ImmPort for advanced information technology support in the visualization, query analysis, archive, and exchange of data for life science researchers, including both mechanistic and clinical research data and analysis tools. Find more ImmPort enhancements at Release Notes.

Header: Feature Articles.

Tips for Other Application Parts

This is the fifteenth article in our New Investigator Series.

Previously in this series, we wrote about what it takes to get independent support and how to plan and develop your application. In this article, we give you advice on preparing key parts of the application other than the Research Plan.

Summary

  • Use your Specific Aims as a template to create your Abstract.
  • In your Resources section, describe your institutional support, including time, resources, and equipment.
  • Make sure your biosketches show how you and your key personnel have sufficient experience for your roles on the project.
  • As a new investigator, most likely use a modular budget of up to $250,000.
  • Know what items you can and cannot request in your budget.
  • Cite the literature thoroughly but limit to fewer than 100 citations, if possible.
  • Talk to staff in your business office about help with budget and cover page information.

This information is geared to the R01, NIH's standard research grant. To get the most out of our advice, first complete the planning steps described in the articles listed under Related Links below. At this point you should have written your Research Plan (Specific Aims and Research Strategy).

Below we give you advice on these parts of your application:

  • Abstract and narrative
  • Resources and equipment
  • Biosketches
  • Budget
  • Citations

Some information—such as key personnel, resources, and consortium (subaward)—appears on more than one form of the Grant Application Package. Make sure that any information you add is in sync with other forms and with your Research Plan.

Visit your business office. Visit your institution's business office early to learn its procedures and timelines. Your institution not only may need your application weeks or even months before the receipt date, but may offer help that you may not be aware of.

Talk to business office staff as soon as you start to think about applying, and ask what services they provide. They may take care of much of the nitty-gritty detail work, hold your hand through the budgeting process, or even edit the text, but only if you work with them to meet their deadlines.

Hone Your Abstract and Narrative

To create your abstract, use your Specific Aims as a template.

After you finish your Research Plan, you are ready to write your abstract (called Project Summary/Abstract) and Project Narrative.

These sections may be small, but they're important because:

  • All your peer reviewers read your abstract and narrative.
  • Staff and automated systems in NIH's Center for Scientific Review use them to decide where to assign your application (even if you requested a specific institute and study section).
  • They show the importance and health relevance of your research to members of the public and Congress who are interested in what NIH is funding with taxpayers' dollars.

Think brief and simple.

Abstract. Write a succinct summary of your project that both a scientist and a lay person can understand (to the extent that you can).

  • Use your Specific Aims as a template—shorten it and simplify the language.
  • In the first sentence, state the significance of your research to your field and relevance to NIAID's mission: to better understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.
  • Next state your hypothesis and the innovative potential of your research.
  • Then list and briefly describe your Specific Aims and long-term objectives.

Narrative. In your Project Narrative, you have only a few sentences to drive home your project's potential to improve public health.

Be sure to omit confidential or proprietary information in these sections! When your application is funded, NIH enters your title and abstract in the public RePORTER database.

Include appropriate keywords, e.g., immunotherapy, genetic risk factors. The keywords will help NIH staff assign your application, enable NIH computer systems to retrieve your grant properly, and let the public find your project.

Spot the Sample

Check out these effective abstracts and narratives from our sample applications on New Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements:

  • Colin Parrish, Ph.D., of Cornell University: “Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids”—go to Parrish Full Application.
  • Adam Ratner, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University: “Gardnerella vaginalis: toxin production and pathogenesis”—go to Ratner Full Application.

Your Project Summary/Abstract and Project Narrative are attachments to the Other Project Information form.

How's that title? If you created a provisional title already, this is a good time to check that it's still apropos. In any case, you may want to go over the pointers we gave you under the header First Step: Give It a Title in our January 5, 2011, article "Start Writing Your Application."

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

    1. My Project Summary/Abstract and Project Narrative are accessible to a broad audience.
    2. They describe the significance of my research to my field and state my hypothesis, my aims, and the innovative potential of my research.
    3. My narrative describes my project's potential to improve public health.
    4. I do not include any confidential or proprietary information.
    5. I do not use graphs or images in these sections.
    6. My abstract has keywords that are appropriate and distinct enough to avoid confusion with other terms.

Show Resources, Institutional Support

If you are at a research institution that gets little NIH funding, list even basic items such as centrifuges.

As you likely know by now, proposing elegant science is not enough. Reviewers will scrutinize your application to make sure you have the resources to get the job done.

As an early-stage investigator, you'll also need to show how your institution is invested in your success, including startup funds, lab space, and mentoring.

Spot the Sample

Look at the Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment attachments of the same applications:

  • Check Dr. Parrish's application to see how he describes space and resources for his lab and office, the science environment, including biohazards, and computer facilities and equipment. Go to Parrish Full Application.
  • See Dr. Ratner's application for an example of a paragraph about institutional commitment for a new investigator. Go to Ratner Full Application.

You'll find these attachments on the Other Project Information form of the Grant Application Package.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

    1. I inform my reviewers about the support I have from my institution.
    2. I describe how my institution will let me spend enough time to complete the project.
    3. I use a level of detail appropriate to my institution:
      • If at a research institution that has major NIH funding, I list only major items of equipment that I can access, giving their location and capabilities.
      • If I am at a research institution that gets little NIH funding, I list even basic items such as centrifuges.
      • For research on animals, I omit basic items such as the number of animal cages if at an AAALAC-accredited institution (state that I am). Otherwise, I spell it all out.
    4. It is clear how my scientific environment will contribute to the success of my project, including unique features that will help me accomplish my goals.
    5. If the research will be at more than one site, I state which facilities will house which parts of the project.
      • I describe resources for each site.
      • I list all sites on the Project/Performance Site Locations form (not the Other Project Information form).

Spotlight on the Team

Don't skimp here—your personal statement can be a big factor in how you rate on the Investigator review criterion.

Reviewers look carefully to see whether the PI and others have enough experience with the techniques to execute the Research Plan.

All people who play a substantive role need a biosketch, even if they are not paid a salary from the grant, including consultants and technical staff. Attach the biosketches to the Senior/Key Person Profile form.

Make your personal statement shine. Don't skimp on this key section of the biosketch. Your personal statement can be a big factor in how you the PI rate on the Investigator review criterion.

All key personnel's biosketches have a personal statement too, which must explicitly state how their experience qualifies them for their role on your project, including their relevant education, expertise, and accomplishments.

Spot the Sample

For strong examples that show all of the above as well as the leadership of the PI, look at these sample applications:

  • Boris Striepen, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia: “Biology of the apicomplexan plastid”—go to Striepen Full Application.
  • Carolina Wählby, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute: “Image analysis for high-throughput C. elegans infection and metabolism assays”—go to Wählby Full Application.

Carefully choose publications and research support. Highlight your team's expertise by listing no more than 15 publications or manuscripts in press for each person. In your Appendix, you may also include three manuscripts that are not public if they have been accepted for publication.

In the biosketches, also list any research support for each key person. Reviewers also look here to check qualifications, so briefly describe all supported research most relevant to your project.

Spot the Sample

For a well-thought-out description of research support for the PI and her collaborators, go to the biosketches in Dr. Wählby's application at Wählby Full Application.

Did you prepare your application and then find out that a key person is leaving?

Even if he or she will be gone by the time the application is funded, you can keep that person on the personnel list. Reviewers understand that people move and assume you will find a replacement with similar skills. Do not use "to be named."

If you have a replacement, submit the biosketch and letter of support or collaboration to the scientific review officer at least 30 calendar days before the review meeting.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

    1. My personal statement showcases my skills.
    2. It should convince reviewers that I am the right person to lead the research.
    3. The other biosketches will convince reviewers that members of my team can all perform the roles I need them to play on the project.
    4. In the research support section, I highlight each person's accomplishments.
    5. The publications I choose reveal my skills and those of my team.
    6. My biosketches are consistent with other parts of the application.

One more note on the Senior/Key Person Profile form: do not attach Current and Pending Support, a.k.a., other support, unless (very rarely) you are applying through a request for applications or program announcement that instructs you to do so.

We will ask for your other support information later if we plan to fund your application.

Plan a Modular Budget

As a new investigator, you should generally avoid asking for expensive equipment, e.g., over $10,000.

Your first budget principle to follow as a new investigator: in general, you will keep within the $250,000 of a modular budget. In FY 2009, about 80 percent of new investigators went the modular route.

The second budget principle is to stay within NIH's rules: you may use grant monies only for costs that are allowed, reasonable, and necessary. An NIAID grants management specialist can help if you have questions.

As you designed your experiments, you may have kept track of the resources you will need to conduct the research—if you did not, you need to go back and figure this out.

Then determine which resources your organization (or that of your collaborators) will provide and which to add as budget items in your application.

Here are some guidelines for requesting those funds:

  • It's fine to ask for money for small pieces of equipment or items not usually shared.
  • As a new investigator, avoid asking for expensive equipment, e.g., over $10,000.
    • 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 expensive equipment, make sure it's absolutely essential.

In addition to NIH's rules, your reviewers will weigh in too. If you request funds for equipment or resources you listed as available, reviewers will delete the funds, and your credibility will suffer. Expect your reviewers to:

  • Look for reasonable costs and judge whether your request is justified by your Specific Aims and methods.
  • Read the percent effort you've listed for each key person and judge whether the figures are in sync with their expectations based on the research you propose.

If your budget is ballooning out of scale, consider cutting back experiments or Specific Aims. Redraw your research until it fits within the target range for your budget.

As a new PI, use a detailed budget only if you cannot avoid it.

Checkpoint. After mapping out an initial plan, check that:

    1. I plan a modular budget of $250,000 or less. 
    2. I plan expenses that are consistent with the research I am proposing.
    3. Based on the support I expect from my organization, I know:
      • Whether I have a budget from my institution to purchase needed equipment.
      • Whether I have access to necessary equipment, especially large equipment, that I can share or can collaborate with someone who has that access.
    4. If I don't have access to needed resources and plan to request the funds in the application:
      • I plan to ask for funds only for small pieces of equipment or items not usually shared to avoid reviewer skepticism of NIH's investing in a big-ticket item for a new investigator.
      • I plan to take a risk by asking for absolutely essential equipment costing more than $10,000.

Create Your Modular Budget

If you've never prepared a budget before, get help from somebody who has.

If you've never prepared a budget before, get help from somebody who has. Reviewers will view the correlation of your funding request with the project's scope as a gauge of your competence.

Prepare a modular budget that requests funding in $25,000 increments if your budget is less than $250,000 and you are working at a domestic institution (unless stated otherwise in a request for applications or program announcement).

Fill in the PHS 398 Modular Budget form with your budget request for each year and the total.

Because modular budgets have no increases for inflation for future years, you'll have to plan the entire budget—everything you'll need—at the outset.

Also keep in mind that you have considerable flexibility to rebudget funds after you get the award, though the total dollars will not change.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

    1. I am requesting the same number of modules each year, except special needs such as equipment.
    2. All my costs are justified by my Specific Aims and methods.
    3. My costs are allowed, reasonable, and necessary. I do not include anything that could appear to be extravagant, such as a lot of travel.
    4. If I am asking for equipment costing more than $10,000, I:
      • Create a separate module for it.
      • Make it a one-time request and do not add it to my base amount.
      • Include a thorough justification in the Additional Narrative Justification attachment.
    5. To calculate costs, I gauge salaries to be 60 to 80 percent of the request. I am aware that my salary, as PI, cannot exceed the mandatory cap and that NIH sets compensation limits for graduate students.
    6. My Personnel Justification lists all key personnel, including nonconsortium collaborators, their expertise and precise role, and the calendar months they will devote to the project.
    7. My Consortium Justification lists consultants and collaborators with whom I have a consortium (subaward) arrangement including their roles and calendar months they will devote to the project.
    8. All percent effort estimates are in sync with a person's role on the project.
    9. My direct costs and facilities and administrative costs (F&A, also known as indirect costs) are consistent on all budget pages.
    10. I completed the justification attachments: Personnel, Consortium, and Additional Narrative (if needed, for example, if the number of modules varies annually).

Connect to Science With Citations

While we suggest limiting citations to fewer than 100, don't omit essentials because this section shows the breadth of your knowledge of your field.

By citing wisely in your Research Plan, you put your research in its scientific context for your reviewers and convince them that you know your field.

Then in your Bibliography and References Cited Attachment, list all the publications you have cited. We suggest that you limit your citations to fewer than 100, but don't omit essentials or items that highlight the breadth of your knowledge.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

    1. I succeed in highlighting my knowledge of the field using no more than 100 citations.
    2. I follow NIH's public access policy, putting the PubMed Central ID or NIH manuscript number in the citation when citing a paper that results from NIH funding.
    3. Each citation includes the names of all authors (in the same sequence as the publication), article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication.

Read the Application Guide

The advice we give you here is just that—you still need to read the SF 424 Application Guide for detailed instructions on completing the forms. The sections described above appear on these application forms and attachments:

  • Other Project Information—attach Project Summary/Abstract, Project Narrative, Bibliography and References Cited, Facilities and Other Resources, and Equipment.
  • Senior/Key Person Profile—attach Biographical Sketches (do not attach Current and Pending Support; NIH may penalize you if you do).
  • PHS 398 Modular Budget—attach a Personnel Justification, Consortium Justification, and, if needed, an Additional Narrative Justification. (Note: if you are requesting more than $250,000 use the R&R Budget for a non-modular budget).
  • SF 424 (R&R)—for this cover page, your institution completes some of the information.

Contact Your Business Office

Talk to staff in your business office about what budget and cover page information they will give you or prepare, for example, your institution's facilities and administrative cost rate.

They will also review and sign your application before you submit it. As PI, you do not sign it, but give your institution a signature assurance to keep on file before each submission.

Hopefully, you've already visited people in your business office early enough to learn what information and how much time they'll need from you. Depending on the institution, the amount of time can vary from weeks to months.

Related Links

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Participate in Town Hall, RFI on Clinical Trial Networks

In our January 19, 2011, article "News Flash: NIAID Town Hall Meeting on March 7—Save the Date!," we invited you to join in our continuing discussion about the future of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Clinical Trials Networks, with "other important information" to follow.

We now have that other important information, namely, registration form and contacts, with a draft agenda coming soon. Go to NIAID Leadership Group for a Clinical Research Network on Infectious Diseases Other than HIV and visit the Registration page to sign up for this free meeting.

In related news, don't miss your chance to give input directly to NIAID on what research areas or studies the new networks should focus on. We'll take your comments until April 4, 2011. Read the February 8, 2011, Guide notice for details and instructions on how to send remarks.

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Get Connected to eRA Commons' Listservs

If you haven't signed up for email bulletins from the Commons, you may be missing important news on system updates, user tools, and administrative tips.

Subscribe to eRA Commons listservs to get information on technical matters and tidbits to help you navigate the system, e.g., tips on improving your interactions with the Commons help desk and details of security improvements.

Sign up at Get Connected.

Header: 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.

"I switched institutions without transferring my grant. Can I apply for a renewal from my new institution?"—anonymous reader

No. You cannot apply for renewal of a grant awarded to another institution.

However, you can ask your former institution to relinquish its rights to the grant and transfer legal responsibility to your new institution. If your previous institution has closed out the grant, you can't restart the work but you would be able to submit a renewal application to continue your research.

NIAID has to approve this change in advance but does not play any role in the exchange. See the Prior Approvals for Post Award Grant Actions SOP for details.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated February 03, 2012

Last Reviewed February 15, 2011