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November 9, 2011

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles.

New Concepts—Why You Should Take Heed


  • Know the two main ways you can use concepts to your advantage.
  • Read our latest concepts online.
  • Find out the other functions our Council performs.
See if you could use any of our concepts to write an investigator-initiated application in your area of expertise.

Last month our advisory Council approved a fresh batch of concepts, so what does that mean for you?

Concepts are potential funding opportunities reflecting research topics that are high-priority for us, and we can think of a couple of ways you can use them advantageously.

Get the Inside Scoop

Let's say it up front: there's no guarantee that any concept will become a published initiative—a request for applications (RFA), program announcement, or solicitation. But by offering you a glimpse into Institute priorities, our concepts can give you ideas so you can:

  • Write an investigator-initiated application based on a concept in your area of expertise. Even if a concept is never published as an initiative, your application could have a funding edge because of the importance of the topic.
  • If the initiative is published, get a head start writing the application.

For the first option, applying in a high-priority area may give you a leg up on funding. We are more likely to fund high-quality research in priority areas using R56-Bridge or selective pay awards for applications that score beyond the payline.

If any of those ideas sound interesting, here's a sample of our latest concepts that got the green light at the September Council meeting:

For the full list, go to Concepts: Potential Opportunities in the links below.

How to Keep Abreast

We post our Council-approved concepts online a few weeks after each meeting—find the meeting schedule under the "Learn About Council Meetings" header on our Advisory Council portal.

Even easier, you can sign up for an Email Alert we will send you when we've posted new concepts. Check the concepts category when you Subscribe to Email Alerts, or add that category to your subscription.

Second-level review looks at applications with potential barriers to funding, such as human subjects concerns.

More About Council

At its three annual meetings, Council performs several functions, doing its weightiest work in its three subcommittees. Each member belongs to one of the subcommittees, which correspond to our program divisions: DAIDS, DAIT, and DMID.

These groups delve deeply into the concepts we propose and may recommend changes to features such as budget and mechanism (e.g., grant or contract).

Besides concept clearance, our Council has other responsibilities.

Second-level review. Before we can fund any application, it must undergo second-level review, usually by our advisory Council.

Second-level review looks at applications with potential barriers to funding, such as human subjects and animal concerns, or special circumstances such as foreign applications and renewal applications requesting more money than the renewal cap allows.

But all applications do not undergo second-level review at the Council meeting. Applications that rank within the payline and have no study section concerns undergo an expedited review by three Council members, so we can fund those grants earlier, even before Council meets.

For applications discussed at the meeting, the subcommittee recommends a course of action. Usually, Council will not recommend applications for funding until study section concerns are resolved.

Feedback on policy and programs. Council may also weigh in on policy changes we are considering. Occasionally, our Council requests a special working group to examine scientific or policy issues that touch us and our constituencies.

It may also give us feedback on how well our programs meet our goals and the needs of the fields they support.

Related Links

Header: Opportunities and Resources.

Find the Right Time With Research Funding Tools

We don't customarily reference the Rolling Stones, but we'll take some liberties with one of their classics and encourage you to put time on your side.

Our Web resources can help you anticipate application and review events and plan accordingly for investigator-initiated applications (for RFAs you need to stick with the dates in your funding opportunity announcement). You can stay abreast of when to do key activities with the following tools.

  • R01 Planning to Award Timeline by Review Cycle—from when to prepare an application to when you'll receive an award, this table has actual deadlines, not standard submission dates, for key events.
  • Strategy Timelines—covering each segment in our Strategy for NIH Funding, these timelines remind you of your actions at each step of application, resubmission, and renewal. They also give you a chance to review upcoming action items so you can make sure your plans are on track.

Don't forget to read our advice, too. Go to Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award for an overview of timing from application to award, including the consequences of applying at different times of the year and the status of the Institute's budget, factors that may delay your award, and other key topics.

Header: Other News.

NIAID-Supported Scientists Win Prestigious Presidential Award

President Obama recently welcomed to the White House winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Two of NIAID's scientists—one a grantee, one an intramural investigator—were among those honored.

They, along with 18 other recipients from NIH, were selected for the prestigious award, which recognizes high-potential leaders who are working at the frontiers of science and are committed to community service.

Our congratulations to:

  • W. Nicholas Haining, B.M., BCh., assistant professor of pediatrics, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School; associate member, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Dr. Haining's research focuses on understanding the basis of protective T-cell immunity in humans and developing novel therapeutic approaches to rescue function in exhausted T cells. Go to The Haining Lab: Research.
  • Sonja Best, Ph.D., chief, Innate Immunity and Pathogenesis Unit, Laboratory of Virology, NIAID Division of Intramural Research. Dr. Best's research includes studying the mechanisms that pathogenic viruses use to modulate host innate immunity and the role of novel IFN-stimulated genes in host resistance to virus infection. Go to Laboratory of Virology: Sonja M. Best.

Learn more about PECASE at Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Program.

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Here's to You, Peer Review

Kudos and thanks to all who generously volunteered to serve on NIAID peer review committees and our advisory Council in FY 2011.

If you are an experienced investigator, please consider volunteering for an NIAID peer review group. Your service helps us fund the best science. And if that weren't enough, your participation can give you invaluable insights into the process for your future applications. Learn more at How to Volunteer.

Does your entry on our list need a correction? Please email and accept our apologies.

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Getting Out Your Research News

Do you have exciting research news that you’re ready to publicize? NIAID could help you spread the word.

Tell your program officer you're getting published at least two weeks before your paper comes out.

If we decide to publicize your achievement, we may craft a press release, create a Web feature, write a story for another NIH publication, or highlight your news some other way. And we’ll make sure to keep your institution’s press office in the loop. Read more in our Requesting NIAID's Help on Publicizing Research Advances SOP.

Even if we don’t partner with you, you can still send us your institution’s news release and we’ll post it on our new News from NIAID-Supported Institutions page. Ask your press office to notify us at 301-402-1663 or email when it’s planning to issue its release.

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News Briefs

Here's a news item from the NIH Guide.

2011 Revamp of Grants Policy Statement. NIH updated the Grants Policy Statement to include all policy changes, clarifications, and revisions from the past year. Read details in the October 20, 2011 Guide notice.

Header: Advice Corner.

Getting a Grant for Innovative Research: The Advice Continues


  • Learn about two paths you can follow: standard R01 and innovation initiative.
  • For a standard R01, pay attention to the application's Approach section, write to experts and non-experts in your field, and make your intentions clear.
  • Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of innovation initiatives.
  • Know where to look for funding opportunities that target high-risk, high-impact research.
  • Find out why it may be best to apply for both a standard R01 and an innovation initiative.

Innovation took Apple's Steve Jobs a long way, but could it have gotten him an NIH grant?

Perhaps, but it probably would have been difficult. As many of you researchers know, it's not easy getting funding for groundbreaking, high-risk, high-impact projects. That's not to say it's impossible—you just need sound advice.

We doled some out in September's article "How to Get Funding for Innovative Research" and continue here with guidance on making innovation work for you, whether submitting an application for a "standard R01" or in response to an "initiative for innovation."

Note: for this article, we differentiate between opportunities that do not specifically seek innovation ("standard R01") and those that do ("initiative for innovation" or "innovation initiative").

Incorporating Innovation Into a Standard R01

When applying for a standard R01, you walk a fine line by having to address the innovative aspects of your proposed research while being careful not to appear too "out there."

If reviewers think you're stepping too far outside of the box, your application probably won't score well since the likelihood of success will be perceived as low.

The article we mentioned above, "How to Get Funding for Innovative Research," provides an approach on how to help your application succeed in peer review. Here are a few additional tips.

A lack of details in the Approach section will likely have a negative impact on your overall impact score.

Make Your Approach Above Reproach

It goes without saying that your Research Strategy has to be airtight. That goes for all three sections: Significance, Innovation, and Approach.

Reviewers use the first two to assess your project's importance, so you may be tempted to brush over the third. Don't.

Make sure you use it to clearly address those who may be less familiar with your methods or other aspects of your innovative research. A lack of details in the Approach section will likely have a negative impact on your overall impact score, so don't skimp on this part.

Provide more details in the Approach section if you are combining disciplines or applying a new technology for which the review panel appears not to have expertise.

For pointers on writing the Research Strategy, including the Approach, go to Write the Research Strategy in Part 3 of our Strategy for NIH Funding.

Help ensure that everyone "gets it" by communicating to a broad audience.

Address All Your Reviewers

When writing your application, it's critical to address all members of your review group: experts and non-experts in your field. Though we've said it before, it's a point worth raising again as we talk about innovation.

Even after perusing rosters and requesting a study section, there's no guarantee the people you want evaluating your application will actually do so. That means those who are likely to best understand your innovative project might not be involved.

To get your points across in limited space, write in the style of a Scientific American article by using a conversational tone that excites readers into valuing your proposal as highly significant.

Also, help ensure that everyone "gets it" by communicating to a broad audience. Here are two examples.

  • Let's say you propose to create a mouse model to investigate potential therapies for a disease. If non-experts don't know that there isn’t a small animal model for this disease, they won’t grasp why your work is innovative.
  • Another scenario: one reviewer might be familiar with mouse models but not the disease, and vice versa.

For help with writing to a broad group of readers, go to Write to Your Audience in Part 3 of our Strategy for NIH Funding.

Tell your reviewers exactly what you plan to accomplish.

Make Your Intentions Clear

Reviewers need to understand your intentions as well.

Going back to our example, while your long-term goal might be to develop a drug using your mouse model, you have to delineate your short-term objectives.

Are you the trailblazer trying to create the model or someone trying to take that model to the next step where it can be used reliably for testing compounds? Tell your reviewers exactly what you plan to accomplish.

If That Shoe Doesn't Fit, Try Another Shoe: Innovation Initiatives

If incorporating innovation into a standard R01 application doesn't or didn't work for you, consider this alternative: respond to an initiative, e.g., an RFA, that specifically seeks bold, high-risk, high-impact research.

The pros of taking this approach may appeal to you, but be aware of the cons as well.

Assess the Advantages

You may make better headway applying for an innovation initiative, given the following:

  • You may be able to take more risk if none of the applications are expected to have preliminary data.
  • Applications responding to an initiative are reviewed together, so expectations for level of risk and content will be the same for all.
  • Review panels will include expertise based on the topics of submitted applications so you’re not in a position of having to fit a square peg (your application) into a round hole (a standing study section).

If you want to go this route, here are some initiatives to consider.

  • NIH Common Fund—has several opportunities for scientists who propose highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research.
  • NIAID's Innovation for HIV Vaccine Discovery RFA
    • This initiative supports "original, high-risk, and unconventional research that, if successful, may have a substantial impact on approaches to HIV/AIDS vaccine discovery and development."
    • Applications are due by January 6, 2012. Get complete details in the funding opportunity announcement.

Consider Crucial Caveats

An innovation initiative may work for you in the short-term but what about in the long-run? That's where caveats come in.

Assuming you get funded, look down the road to when your grant is over. What are your next steps? You could renew, but that's not an option with innovation initiatives. You could try for a standard R01, but that might not be easy.

The outlook, post-initiative, is not rosy. But don't take our word for it. Here's what two investigators—both funded through the NIH Director's New Innovator Award—have to say.

"It’s not been easy to compete for standard R01s (where, in my opinion, risk taking does not fare well). Other restrictions: we will no longer be considered new investigators and will not have the opportunity to renew our grants, like a typical R01."—Sanjay K Jain, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health

"Since many new innovator programs are high-risk, high-impact, often involve interdisciplinary aspects, and lack sufficient preliminary data for all aims, transition from new innovator program to a regular R01 may still be difficult mainly due to lack of interdisciplinary expertise and different degree of risk tolerance by most regular R01 study sections."—Xilin Zhao, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Find some aspect of your highly innovative work that is more conventional and use that for a standard R01 application.

Combination Is an Option

Given the caveats above, what's a person to do?

Your best bet might be to apply for both a standard R01 and an innovation initiative.

Your choice depends on the source of your innovation. If it hinges on showing feasibility for a new animal model, consider applying for a standard R01 to further develop the model since you’ll have proof-of-concept and preliminary data.

However, if the innovation stems from combining disciplines in areas that don’t fit traditional study sections, your application may have a tough time succeeding in peer review. Multidisciplinary research presents a challenge to the peer review system because you don’t typically find all the expertise needed to review the application in one group.

If possible, find some aspect of your highly innovative work that is more conventional and use that for a standard R01 application. That way you'll be conducting more mainstream research that may lead to publications and may fare better with peer reviewers.

Bottom line: you need to have your bread and butter—research with a higher probability of success (i.e., less risky)—so you can apply for a standard R01. At the same time, you can pursue highly innovative work that entails more risk by applying for an initiative that targets innovation.

Read about what you can do with innovation after you get R01 funding in our article "How to Get Funding for Innovative Research."

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.

"What should I do if I suspect misuse of NIAID grant or contract funds?"—anonymous reader

Grantees should contact NIH's Office of Management Assessment. Contractors should send a report to the HHS Inspector General at For more details, read our Reporting Fraud, Waste, and Abuse SOP.

You may contact NIAID, but our staff are required to refer your allegations elsewhere, confidentially, without responding to them.

"What should I do if I suspect research misconduct on an NIAID grant or contract?"—anonymous reader

If you feel comfortable notifying your institution's business office, start there. Your institution must, by law, have a policy and procedure for addressing allegations of research misconduct. You may also contact HHS's Office of Research Integrity at, but HHS customarily deals directly with your institution's officials.

Please be aware that research misconduct is fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. It is not fraud, waste, or abuse of NIAID funding, and does not include honest errors in collecting data or differences of scientific opinion.

As with allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse, you may contact NIAID, but our staff will forward your information to the appropriate office.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated November 09, 2011

Last Reviewed November 09, 2011