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April 13, 2011

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles.

How We Decide Which Applications to Fund

This is the nineteenth article in our New Investigator Series.

Previously, we wrote about what it takes to get independent support and how to plan, write, polish, and submit your application. In this article, we look at funding decisions and what you can expect.

Here we explore the factors that go into making funding decisions, look at issues that affect the timing of awards, and explain the lingo.


  • Institutes use different policies and different paylines to fund grant applications.
  • At NIAID, we fund all applications that fall within a payline.
  • For requests for applications (RFA) and some program announcements (PA), we fund mostly by overall impact score until we use up the funds for the program.
  • NIAID has two options for special funding beyond the payline for investigator-initiated applications; you must be nominated for either one.
  • Paylines evolve during the fiscal year, and toward the end of it, we fund many more applications.
  • If your application is up for funding, know how you can avoid delays in getting your award.

Your peer review results are in and your application has moved to an NIH institute for that momentous decision: to fund or not to fund. Here we explore the factors that go into making funding decisions, look at issues that affect the timing of awards, and explain the lingo so you can understand your options.

Let's start by noting that institutes use different policies and different paylines to fund grant applications. At NIAID, we mostly go by scientific merit as judged by your peer reviewers and reflected in your overall impact score or percentile for investigator-initiated R01s.

If your application is assigned to a different institute, talk to your program officer to learn what to expect. In this article, we describe NIAID's approach to funding grant applications, paying special attention to R01s.

We use two basic methods for making funding decisions: 1) using a score-based cutoff point, called a payline or 2) funding mostly in overall impact score order until we use up the money we have set aside for the program.

Approach 1—Investigator-initiated applications. If you did not respond to an RFA, you submitted an investigator-initiated grant application. We award most of these "unsolicited" applications in percentile or overall impact score order until we reach a payline. Each major grant type has its own payline, which we post online.

Approach 2—RFAs and PAs with set-asides. For requests for applications and some program announcements (called PAS—"S" is for set-aside), we fund mostly by overall impact score until we use up the funds—the level is stated in the initiative's NIH Guide announcement. We may skip over some applications to fund others that better meet an Institute priority or programmatic need.

Paylines Start to Finish

Think of a payline as a limbo bar you must clear—the lower you go, the better you do.

In the investigator-initiated world, paylines loom large in clinching an application's fate, so it is important to understand how they work.

Think of a payline as a limbo bar you must clear—the lower you go, the better you do—so an 8 percentile ranking is better than a 9.

At NIAID, we fund all applications that rank under the payline bar. For example, if the R01 payline is at the 8 percentile:

  • You would get a grant if your application ranks at the 8 percentile or lower (assuming it is not held up by administrative concerns, for example, human subjects or animal welfare issues).
  • If your application scores 8.1 or higher, the situation is more complex. Paylines evolve throughout the fiscal year and change differently for R01s and other grant types—more on these topics below.

Our table shows the relationship between the budget and NIAID's R01 payline as it unfolds. The timing is purely hypothetical and can vary by months but the phases are pretty much constant.

Correlation of Budget, Fiscal Year Stage, and R01 Payline With Hypothetical Timing

Start—October to January

Middle—January to August

End—August to September

No budget yet

Operate under a continuing resolution; fund few applications.

Use an interim payline (an administrative measure, not a true payline).

Have a budget

Set a conservative fiscal year payline.

Maintain the payline until the end of the fiscal year approaches.

Close the fiscal year

Stop using the payline.

Because the payline was conservative, generally have funds to award some grants that scored beyond the payline.

If you want to learn more about the impact of the annual budget process on our paylines, go to Paylines and Budget Pages Change Throughout the Year.

Effect of evolving paylines. Here are the main ways the changing fiscal scenario can affect you:

  • If you applied for funding to begin at the start of the fiscal year, it's more likely that you will have to wait for an award because funding is limited.
  • Even if your application misses the payline, it may get funded later in the fiscal year, as we talk about below.

Could You Qualify for Special Funding?

Your program officer must nominate you for special funding.

What to do if your application misses the payline? Start by calling your program officer to discuss your options.

NIAID has two small funding pools that could possibly benefit you: selective pay and R56-Bridge awards.

You can't apply for either option—you must be nominated by an NIAID program officer. For both, we choose R01 applications based on scientific merit and relevance to our programmatic priorities, giving some priority to new investigators.

Selective pay. Program officers nominate a small number of programmatically important R01 applications beyond the payline for review and ranking by our advisory Council. If our Council approves, you may get four years of funding for your project.

For the following reasons, you should not count on selective pay funding:

  • Even if your application is nominated, Council may not approve it.
  • Even if Council approves it, we may not be able to fund it if we do not have enough money left after funding applications within the payline.

R56-Bridge. An R56-Bridge gives you up to one year of support while you improve and resubmit your R01 application. If you get a Bridge award, start revising straightaway.

Resubmit anyway. Don't let the possibility of special funding keep you from resubmitting. You should resubmit as soon as you can effectively improve your application and address your reviewers' concerns.

You get only one opportunity, so prepare your resubmission carefully and thoughtfully based on your summary statement, feedback from your program officer, and advice of experts in your institution.

And if you need additional preliminary data, wait until you have it.

When We Defer a Funding Decision

Revise and resubmit based on your summary statement and feedback from your program officer.

If you did not get an award right after Council through selective pay or R56-Bridge, we put your application on hold for possible funding at the end of the fiscal year, if it ranks not too far from the payline.

NIAID typically defers decisions for such applications until June or July, after we know the results of the third review cycle.

At that time, we fund as many remaining applications as our research project grant budget allows.

Be Prepared or Be Sorry

If you are not able to act quickly, you may see a significant delay or even miss out on getting the grant altogether.

Even before you know whether an award is imminent, start preparing your just-in-time information.

If you are not able to act quickly when we are ready to give you an award, you may see a significant delay—and at the end of the fiscal year, you may miss out on getting the grant altogether.

Your grants management specialist will review your just-in-time submission as part of making sure your application complies with all NIH policies and regulations before we can make an award. Resolve any problems with either your grants specialist or program officer, who are both listed on your summary statement.

Just-in-time is one of several administrative steps that must take place at both NIAID and your institution after you are approved for funding.

How Long to Get the Grant?

Assuming no delays, you can expect to find your R01's Notice of Award in your eRA Commons account within about six to eight weeks of our advisory Council meeting or earlier if it underwent expedited second-level review.

You can help head off a delay by avoiding these common issues:

  • You didn't send your just-in-time or other required information in time, or you sent it without a grant number or with an incorrect one.
  • Required assurances and certifications are not active or up-to-date:
    • Human subjects.
      • Federalwide Assurance.
      • Institutional review board (IRB) or independent ethics committee (IEC) approval within 12 months of budget period start date or other human subjects requirements.
    • Animals.
      • Animal Welfare Assurance.
      • Institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) approval, if needed.
    • Misconduct in science.

If your application gets a bar to award, act quickly—see the links below under Resolve problems.

Caveat. The timing of your grant award hinges on the factors listed above as well as others, such as whether NIAID has an appropriation, which Council reviewed your application, and whether your application requires foreign clearance. Learn about timing considerations—read Funding Is Tied to the Fiscal Year, a section in “A Long Hard Look at Application Timing” in our New Investigator Series, and visit the links below.

Related Links

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No Surge in Applications in FY 2010 and FY 2011

In FY 2009, you and your colleagues responded overwhelmingly to the $8.2 billion NIH received for scientific research as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). NIH received over 20,000 new applications for ARRA funding alone.

For our part, NIAID used a big piece of our one-time, $1.1 billion in extra funding to award hundreds of one- and two-year ARRA investigator-initiated grants, on top of about 600 regular investigator-initiated grants from our FY 2009 appropriation. At the time, based on budget projections, NIAID planned to continue to make about 600 awards each year for investigator-initiated applications in FY 2010 and FY 2011. 

The massive positive reaction for ARRA raised expectations that we'd see a large increase in the number of applications submitted in FY 2010 and FY 2011—perhaps 1,000 more than in a typical year.

That didn't happen. Here is NIAID's speculation about why ARRA did not cause a big spike in applications:

  • PIs sparingly reused ARRA applications. For example, NIAID funded less than two percent of challenge grant applications assigned to us, but few investigators sent in their unfunded project as an R01 application. We saw this trend across all categories of ARRA opportunities.
  • ARRA winnowed the field. Some used their ARRA award to test ideas that did not pan out so they didn't have progress to follow up on. And, of those who applied for an R01 and did not get ARRA funding, many did not revise and resubmit their unsuccessful applications.
  • Budget blues affected PIs. News of continual flat budgets discouraged many investigators from applying.
  • NIH's resubmission policy may have played a role. NIH phased out second resubmissions during ARRA. Though we don't know how much impact one event had on the other, we noticed the following patterns:
    • Only some unfunded applicants submitted new applications for a different line of research, reducing the underlying volume of applications (second resubmissions made up about 13 percent of NIAID's funded applications in FY 2010).
    • PIs have started waiting longer before sending resubmissions—possibly to be more cautious and thorough in revising their applications.

Stay tuned for news on the FY 2011 funding picture.

Looking ahead, what can you expect for FY 2012? More on that in a future issue.

Header: Opportunities and Resources.

CHAVI-ID Picks Up Where CHAVI Leaves Off

Make way for the next iteration of NIAID's Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI).

Building on CHAVI's progress in breaking down immunological barriers to HIV vaccine research, here comes an RFA for a consortium focused on immunogen design. 

Though more targeted in scope, the new initiative redoubles CHAVI’s emphasis on flexibility, cutting-edge technology, and close collaboration among a multi-disciplinary team of researchers.  Read details in the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) announcement.

Header: Other News.

Good News for New Investigators: More Time to Resubmit Your R01

We expect to hear huge sighs of relief upon reading this: new investigators will get extra breathing room to submit resubmission applications for consecutive review cycles.

NIH has changed the schedule for releasing summary statements for initial R01 applications and the due date for the next cycle resubmission. You now have at least a month between receiving your summary statement and the resubmission deadline. More time means less of a rush to revise, which is crucial since you get only one chance to do so.

The revised schedule—which still lets new investigators receive summary statements earlier and submit resubmissions later than non-new PIs—begins for applications submitted for the June 5, 2011, due date for review at the fall 2011 study section meetings. It does not apply to applications responding to RFAs and PARs with special due dates.

For the timeline and additional details, see the March 23, 2011, Guide notice.

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New Branch Chiefs In NIAID's Patent and Licensing Shop

Recent promotions ensure that NIAID’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) has the experience to handle a wide variety of intellectual property issues as it manages technology transfers between our scientists and extramural partners.

Focus on Performance

Dr. Mukul Ranjan brings a decade of technology transfer expertise to his position of chief of the Immunology and Emerging Infections Branch. In his time with NIAID, he spearheaded the effort to create NIAID's first technology-transfer database and instituted changes in process that allow staff to perform the full range of activities—from agreements to inventions—to help intramural labs and extramural programs translate scientific discoveries into cures.

A member of the US Patent Bar and former bench scientist in NIH's intramural labs, Dr. Ranjan was most recently a technology transfer manager for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute before joining NIAID in 2001.

Tech Transfer From an Inventor's Point of View

In his position of Inventions Branch Chief, Dr. Vincent Feliccia approaches his job from a different angle than some. With long stints in both academia and the private sector, his diverse background gives him valuable perspective on what is important to a technology transfer organization.

As one of the few patent holders in NIH's technology transfer ranks, Dr. Feliccia brings personal experience to bear in managing our patent portfolio—worldwide, 700 patents plus another 600 pending applications. Before he came to NIAID in 2003, he worked for a biotechnology firm for almost 20 years before focusing on a career in intellectual property.

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Ks and Ts: Separate Space for Plans on Responsible Conduct of Research

If you're applying for a career development award or institutional training grant, you now get separate space to describe your plan for instruction in responsible conduct of research. Here are the details.

  • Training grants. Starting with the May 25, 2011, due date, the plan is:
    • Limited to three pages.
    • No longer part of the 25-page limit for Background, Program Plan, and Recruitment and Retention Plan to Enhance Diversity.
  • Individual career development grants. Starting with the June 12, 2011, due date, the plan is:
    • Limited to one page.
    • No longer part of the 12-page limit for the Candidate’s Background, Career Goals and Objectives, and Career Development/Training Activities During Award Period.

For the official word, see the February 11, 2011, and March 29, 2011, Guide notices. For a handy reminder of page limits, go to NIH's Table of Page Limits.

And, to learn about what a plan should include, see our Responsible Conduct of Research: Training SOP.

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News Briefs

Sign Up for an NIH Grants Seminar. Check out one of the upcoming NIH regional seminars on grants funding and administration. You can also join workshops on the eRA Commons. The next events are scheduled for Scottsdale, Arizona and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Read more in the March 31, 2011, Guide notice.

F31 Application—Watch Where You Put Your Information. Changes to instructions for NRSA Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (F31): put your test scores and grades in your biosketch (do not include transcripts) and describe your degree program in the "Other Attachments" section. See the April 1, 2011, Guide notice.

K Applications for AIDS-Related Research: Use Old FOAs. NIH reissued the entire series of parent announcements for career development awards, but you should use the previous version for AIDS-related applications intended for the May 7, 2011, due date. For details, check the April 8, 2011, Guide notice and go to NIH's Career Development (K) Announcements to make sure you get the right version.

Header: Advice Corner.

Get NIAID's Help With Press Releases

Have you made a major discovery and want to get the word out?

Our Office of Communications and Government Relations can prepare news releases and coordinate media inquiries to improve coverage from major news outlets and national publications.

Your first step: talk to your NIAID program officer about how we might help publicize your research, for example, with a news release, Web feature, or article in an NIH publication. If NIAID decides to highlight your work, our press folks will work with your press folks to hammer out the details.

Read more in our Requesting NIAID's Help on Publicizing Research Advances SOP.

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Play It Safe: Use Latest Forms, Instructions

Some things never change, but instructions and forms for grant applications do. NIH updates them often, so it's important you use the most recent versions.

To ensure you're doing just that, check your funding opportunity announcement and Notable Changes Made to SF 424 (R&R) Application Guides. You can also get a heads up that revisions are imminent from the NIH Guide. For instance, the February 16, 2011, notice announced that biosketch instructions would be revised to allow you to explain periods of reduced productivity.

If you've filled out and attached forms only to discover that updated versions have come out, do the following:

  • Cut information from the old forms and paste it into the new ones.
  • Add new details, if applicable. Using the modified biosketch as an example, you could include reasons for reduced productivity.
  • Reattach the form documents.

You don't want to strike out by using outdated forms or instructions, so to be safe, regularly cover all your bases—even up to the last minute before applying.

For instructions and forms, go to NIH Forms and Applications. If you want an NIAID-centric alternative to the Guide, check out key notices relevant to NIAID's community on Special Announcements.

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.

"Can a permanent member of an NIH study section submit an AIDS-related application late?"—anonymous reader

If you’re talking about an R01, R21, or R34 application that uses a standard receipt date, you're eligible for continuous submission. Your application would not be considered late. See NIH's Continuous Submission for details.

The standard late policy applies for all other situations, for example, RFAs and program announcements identifying the location of peer review. You can read details in our Late Applications SOP.

"In table 12A of the T32 application, do I use averages from the past ten years?"—anonymous reader

Yes. For more information, you may want to read How should training grant PD/PIs calculate their program completion rates for reporting on Table 12A? in NIH's Frequently Asked Questions about NRSA Research Training Grants.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated March 02, 2012

Last Reviewed April 13, 2011