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March 16, 2011

Articles

Reader Questions

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Recent NIAID Funding Blog Posts.

Ghostwriting – What's Your Take?

We’re giving you the opportunity to express your opinion on grantees using ghostwriters for journal articles and more. The Project on Government Oversight watchdog group raised the issue in a March 2, 2011, blog post after writing a letter to Francis Collins. Also see Dr. Collins’ response.

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NIAID’s Priorities: Do You Get the Concept?

We don’t believe in crystal balls, but if you’re trying to glimpse into NIAID’s future research priorities, check our list of concepts, newly updated for those approved at February Council. Go to Concepts: Potential Opportunities.

Though only some concepts go on to become initiatives, all of them target research NIAID considers high priority.

When you plan an investigator-initiated application and start gathering preliminary data, set your research compass in the direction the concepts point. Even if we never publish a funding opportunity announcement for a given concept, your application could have a funding edge because of the importance of the topic.

If we end up setting aside money for an initiative, you’ll already have the makings of a great application.

See the following pages for information and advice:

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ISO Projects That Improve Flu Vaccine Production.

If you want to conduct research on strategies, methods, or tools to optimize the production of influenza vaccines, consider NIAID as a potential source of funding.

We are eager for investigator-initiated research, and we have several different types of grants to support your work.

Read the February 8, 2011, Guide notice to learn about some of our high-priority areas of research and see what funding opportunity announcements may suit you.

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Ready, Get Set, Submit Your Application.

Previously, we wrote about how to create an appealing application and what to do once you’ve finished writing. In this article, we look at the ins and outs of submitting your application.

Summary

  • Tackle technical aspects early on.
  • Understand what’s involved with Grants.gov and eRA Commons validations.
  • If your application doesn’t pass validations, carefully consider the options.
  • Withdraw your application only after you’ve weighed several factors.

It’s been a long road up to this juncture, but you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel now that you’re ready to send your application on its way to NIH.

Since you’ll likely do this electronically,* you should be aware of the steps your application will go through, decisions you may have to make along the way, and what you can do to ensure smooth sailing.

Submitting your application is not as easy as you may think. That’s why you shouldn’t go it alone if you run up against a roadblock or are confused about how to proceed.

To see whom to contact for help, go to Contact Staff for Help in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

*R01s and most other grant types require electronic submission. To find out whether an application must go the cyber route, check the funding opportunity announcement or the Timeline of NIH Transitions to Electronic Submission.

Get Your Technical Ducks in a Row

The last thing you want at this point is to run into technical hiccups that could throw a wrench into the application process. To sidestep last-minute difficulties, follow these troubleshooting tips.

Use the Right Software Version

Make sure to use the right version of the Adobe forms and Reader and that everyone who opens your application package uses a compatible version of Adobe Reader. Otherwise the application file may be corrupted. Compare your software with Grants.gov’s Compatible Versions of Adobe Reader.

If you’re like many others who have more than one version of Adobe Reader or Acrobat — the most current version and one too old for the Adobe forms — take note. You can inadvertently corrupt your application if you or others who work on your file open it with the wrong version.

Here’s what to do:

  • Uninstall the old version if you can. If not, see the next bullet.
  • Always open the program and then open your file using the program’s menu.
  • Do not click directly on the file name to open the program. If you do, Windows could choose the older program, which can ruin your file.

Dodge Interference

If you find you have trouble at the final submission step, try these tips to avoid interference from browser security settings and other programs.

  • Delete browser history cache entirely.
  • Remove all browser toolbars.
  • Ensure pop-up blocker is off.
  • Close all other applications.
  • Under Internet Options, Settings, make sure that “Every time I visit the web page” is checked.
  • In Adobe’s Trust Manager, Allow All Web sites. Find the Trust Manager under Edit, then Preferences.
  • Open the application file only by dragging from the desktop into Internet Explorer.

For more help, review NIH’s Finding Help, Avoiding Common Errors, and PDF Guidelines along with Grants.gov’s Troubleshooting Tips.

Application Package: Check That It’s in Good “Form”

Before you hand off your application to your authorized organizational representative (AOR) — the person who submits your application to Grants.gov — you may want to do a preliminary check to see that your forms are in order.

You can do this by using the “Check Package for Errors” button at the top of the Grant Application Package page. This button looks for some very basic Grants.gov form errors (e.g., ensures you completed all the fields marked required by Grants.gov.)

Even if you get an all-clear after clicking the button, keep in mind that additional Grants.gov and all Commons validations take place after you submit your application.

Don’t Be Late for a Very Important Date

For your application to be on time, Grants.gov must successfully receive it and timestamp it by 5:00 p.m. your institution’s local time on the due date listed in the funding opportunity announcement.

To play it safe, plan to have your institution submit a week or two before the receipt date so you’ll have time to resolve issues that could crop up.

If you end up cutting it close to the receipt date, make sure your application is actually submitted at least two days before the deadline so it has enough wiggle room to get through Grants.gov and eRA Commons.

That said, we recommend that you allow even more time since your application may not successfully pass the two-step validation process on the first try. If your application doesn’t pass validations, you may need several more days to make corrections and get the corrected version through before the deadline. Learn more at All About Validations below.

More reasons for leaving extra time: NIH is not the only agency that uses Grants.gov for application submission, and there may be overlapping submission dates you’re unaware of. With so many applicants flooding the system, it’s no surprise it can get bogged down. Don’t get caught in the tidal wave.

Should you be late in submitting your application, NIH may accept it, though this is rare.

All About Validations

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to understand what validation does and does not do.

  • It does an automated check of an application against the SF 424 Application Guide and funding opportunity announcement that can result in errors or warnings.
  • It does not spot content issues, for example, a missing data table from your Research Plan. To bypass problems, plan ahead.

Your application must pass two validations: Grants.gov and eRA Commons. If it fails either one, you must go through the entire submission again. For this reason, we reiterate: get your application in well before the receipt date.

Validation #1: Grants.gov

Your application’s first stop is at Grants.gov where it will be checked for basic items. After submitting your application, your organization’s representative should receive a Grants.gov submission receipt with timestamp.

Next, your organization’s representative should receive a validation confirmation or rejection email message from Grants.gov. While this can take just minutes, it may take 48 hours or more when there’s high volume. Plan for the delay and submit earlier, if possible.

There’s good news and not-so-good news if your application doesn’t pass Grants.gov validation. It all depends on whether the deadline has passed.

  • Good news, before deadline — fix the issues and have your AOR submit a corrected application.
  • Not-so-good news, after deadline – if your application does not get a Grants.gov timestamp by the deadline, it will be late. Since NIH rarely accepts late applications, you will likely have to correct and wait four months for the next receipt date (if any; requests for applications have a single receipt date).

Validation #2: eRA Commons

Once your application clears the Grants.gov gate, it proceeds to NIH’s eRA Commons for a more thorough check. This check may result in errors, warnings, or both.

  • Errors are inaccuracies, inconsistencies, omissions, and some formatting problems that cause your application to be unacceptable.
  • Warnings are potential issues that won’t stop your application from moving forward but can reflect serious problems you should correct.

Given these definitions, your application can pass Commons validation with either 1) no errors or warnings, or 2) no errors, with warnings. If it has errors, it will fail.

We recommend that you don’t wait for the confirmation email Commons sends you and your signing official after validation. Rather, check the eRA Commons Status module frequently.

In Case of “Error.” If Commons flags errors, you’ll need to fix them since they stop your application from moving forward. However, whether you can do so for the same application cycle hinges on whether you have enough time to get the application through Grants.gov again.

  • Before the deadline, ask your organization to submit the corrected application.
  • For your corrected application to be on time, it must get a Grants.gov timestamp by 5:00 p.m. your institution’s local time on the day of the submission deadline.
  • If it doesn’t get the timestamp by then, it is late. You’ll probably have to wait for the next receipt date, assuming there is one.

Note: Your corrected application must pass Commons validation without errors to move on to the next step.

Check the Image. Once your application passes Commons validation, the system generates an application image for your review. A word to the wise: do not skip this step by assuming your application is in good shape. Only you can check in Adobe that your finished application pages were loaded correctly.

You have until midnight EST two business days after your application passes validations to review the application image.

To view the image, use the eRA Commons Status module. During this period, called the viewing window, decide whether you want your signing official to reject it. Also consider if you want to make changes due to warnings from Commons validations.

If you’re happy with the application image, do nothing and your application will continue to peer review. If you’re not satisfied, go to the next section. Correcting your application may take you a while, but you shouldn’t feel squeezed for time if you gave yourself a comfortable cushion, as we advised earlier.

Correcting After Commons Validation

If you plan to correct, consider the timing and severity of the issue. As we describe below, you can correct only before the receipt date.

  • During two-day viewing window, with plenty of time before the deadline
    • If you have enough time to get a corrected application through Grants.gov validation before the deadline, have your signing official reject the application image before the two-day viewing window expires.
    • Then ask your organization to submit the corrected application.
    • For your corrected application to be on time, it must get a Grants.gov timestamp by 5:00 p.m. your institution’s local time on the day of the submission deadline.
  • Just before the deadline
    • If you’re not sure whether you have enough time to get a corrected application timestamped by Grants.gov before the deadline, you have a tricky decision to make. Decide whether to send a corrected application by balancing two factors:
      • Timing. A corrected version might miss the deadline. So if the application has only minor flaws, you may choose to allow the original application to proceed without correction instead.
      • Severity of the issue. If you allow a severely compromised application to proceed uncorrected, you may waste one of your two allowed application attempts.
    • If your application does miss the deadline, you will probably have to correct and try again for the next receipt date (if any) because NIH rarely accepts late applications. See Rules for Late Applications in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
  • After the deadline, before the viewing window ends. 
    • You can't make corrections now, but if your application image suffered from a technical issue due to NIH's software, you won't be penalized for delays.
    • Contact the eRA Commons Help Desk immediately for help.
  • After the deadline, after the viewing window ends.
    • No corrections allowed. Your application has moved to NIH’s Center for Scientific Review.
    • It will be reviewed as is unless your scientific review officer allows you to send additional information or you withdraw it.

Keep reading for more on withdrawing an application.

To Withdraw or Not to Withdraw

You may want to stop your application from moving forward to peer review if you feel it is not up to snuff or you’ve run out of time for corrections and can’t send additional data. If you are certain you do not want NIH to review your application you can withdraw it, or if the viewing window hasn’t expired, you can simply reject the application image.

Proceed with caution if you plan to withdraw the application and resubmit for the same deadline. After your application is withdrawn, you no longer have an active application in the system. What’s more, as the deadline approaches, you have the same disadvantages as anyone who applies at the last minute.

And remember: allow at least two days to get your corrected application into the system.

Checkpoint. Before deciding to withdraw, check that:

  1. I balance the severity of the problems with the amount of time I have left to correct them in the same review cycle.
  2. I compare with the time lost if I wait for the next due date.
  3. I keep in mind that my goal is to impress reviewers with the best possible application.
  4. I don’t use up my one allowed resubmission and squander the goodwill of reviewers on a sub-par application.

After you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to withdraw your application from consideration, ask your organization to fax a signed letter to CSR’s Division of Receipt and Referral at 301-480-1987. Specify the NIH accession number for the version you want to withdraw.

Related articles:

Related Links

Header: Feature Articles.

Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trial U01—Apply on Paper

U01s are going electronic—but what does that mean for the investigator-initiated NIAID Clinical Trial Implementation Cooperative Agreement (U01) funding opportunity announcement?

For the May 13, 2011, receipt date, apply on paper.

For subsequent receipt dates, apply electronically. We expect other processes to stay the same—the only difference is you'll use the electronic Grant Application Package instead of paper forms.

Go to Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trial Resources for more on this opportunity and its related ventures, the R34 planning and R01 implementation awards. Read the February 23, 2011, Guide notice for information on the transition to electronic forms.

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Comment on Our Sample Applications

Would you like to start or participate in a dialogue with your fellow investigators about our Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements?

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News Briefs

Here are some notes on a few recent Guide notices.

Modified Biosketch Lets You Get "Personal" About Productivity. Have personal circumstances impeded your productivity? Starting with the May 25, 2011, receipt date, you'll be able to explain what they are in the personal statement part of the Biographical Sketch. For more information, read the February 16, 2011, Guide notice.

Reference Letters: Leeway Goes by the Wayside. For fellowship and career development applications, reference letters are now due when your application is. The five-day grace period is a thing of the past. Read NIH's heads-up in the January 20, 2011, Guide notice and see the official word for fellowships in the February 24, 2011, Guide notice.

Call for Comments About Animal Care Guidelines. Use the Comments Form to chime in on NIH's plans for the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Read the February 24, 2011, Guide notice to see what NIH is looking for.

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.

"When will you post sample research progress reports?"—several readers

Though it's on our "to-do" list, we cannot promise a date. We get quite a few requests for a variety of samples, including progress reports.

It takes time to find good samples, and for something like progress reports, this process is more difficult because we have no metric to distinguish between candidates. For our sample applications, we started by looking at applications that scored in the exceptional range. Progress reports entail a more subjective analysis.

Once we find good examples, the rest of the process takes time too—we have to get approval from PIs, vet examples through a panel of experts, redact appropriate information, and reformat documents for viewing on the Web.

So it will be a while before progress reports make their way onto our site.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated October 04, 2011

Last Reviewed March 16, 2011