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October 26, 2011

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles.

Ten Steps to a Winning Application

Everybody likes a shortcut—this one cuts to the chase of our new Strategy for NIH Funding.

On the upside, the Strategy gives you more advice than we've ever published before. On the downside, it's a lot to read.

In this article, we boil down R01 application planning to 10 key steps.

For your application to succeed, it must meld a highly significant topic with iron-clad feasibility. NIH calls that combination "impact"—thus, the result of peer review is the overall impact score.

Reviewers will ask: Could the project move the field forward without being too risky? Could you accomplish it within the time and resources at your disposal?

The steps below give you a roadmap for designing a high-impact project.

If you are a new investigator or entering a new field, start at the beginning. If you are continuing your research, begin with Step 3.

1. Conduct a self evaluation. To apply for an R01, you'll need significant experience and publications (first or last author) in your field—an area of science like AIDS or a technology like x-ray crystallography.

To make sure your reviewers agree, evaluate your training, publications, and presentations at scientific meetings. Assess what field of research you qualify for; you may want to ask your advisors and mentors for their take as well.

2. Find a niche. Now that your self evaluation is done, you're ready to identify your own niche in your field.

Your niche is the narrow area in your field where you will conduct research and create new knowledge for the next several years.

3. Draft two to four (three is most common) Specific Aims you could accomplish in the four or five years of a grant.

In this step, you narrow your niche down to a single project. Create an initial draft of the project's Specific Aims: goals you can accomplish within the timeframe of a grant and with resources you can access.

As you toss around ideas, keep impact in mind. Your Specific Aims need to be able to push the frontiers of knowledge ahead, starting from what's known. See our graphic for an illustration.

Illustration: starburst graphic showing how your research pushes the borders of your scientific field outward.

To further illustrate these concepts, the following table gives you examples for the first three steps, using PIs featured in our Sample R01 Applications and Summary Statements.

PI Field Niches Project Title
Colin Parrish, Ph.D. Viral diseases of dogs and cats, concentrating on parvoviruses. Host range control, receptor binding, antibody binding to viral proteins and capsids, biology of cell entry, and viral evolution for parvoviruses and other viruses. "Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids."
Adam Ratner, M.D., M.P.H. Pathogenesis of infectious diseases, focused on bacterial diseases affecting children. Bacterial colonization and host range, evolution and function of bacterial toxins, infectious causes of preterm birth, and epidemiology of pediatric infectious diseases. "Gardnerella vaginalis: toxin production and pathogenesis."
Boris Striepen, Ph.D. Cell and molecular biology of protozoan parasites. Function and cell biology of the parasite chloroplast and novel targets for the treatment of cryptosporidiosis. "Biology of the apicomplexan plastid."
Carolina Wählby, Ph.D. Methods for high throughput image based screening. Screening of C.elegans, focusing on infectious diseases and fat metabolism. "Image analysis for high-throughput C. elegans infection and metabolism assays."

4. Identify an institute, review committee, and potential reviewers. Start by making sure NIH has an institute that would fund the research you are considering. Then, look for a study section and potential reviewers who would appreciate your idea for a project.

Check out study section members and their interests, and keep looking until you find an auspicious group to target your application to.

Ask: are they capable of reviewing every aspect of the research? Can you identify people on the committee who could serve as your primary and secondary reviewer? Would they be excited about your project?

If you get a negative result at any step after this point, go back to Step 2 or 3.

5. Start sizing up your Specific Aims. At this point, you need to further assess the high-impact Specific Aims you drafted.

Can you justify these aims with preliminary data? Do they lend themselves to a hypothesis (or hypotheses)? Could you achieve your objectives? If not, choose others to achieve your goals.

6. Outline your experiments. After this initial test of your draft Specific Aims, you're ready to start sketching out experiments, timelines, and anticipated outcomes.

As you work through the next steps, reassess the feasibility of your aims and research design. For example, you may need to scale back your aims if they would cost too much money or take too long to complete.

7. Define the characteristics of your research team. Make sure you have the necessary expertise to complete all aspects of the research.

If you need more expertise to complete the experiments, consider using a team approach or hiring consultants.

8. Define the resources you can access and those you will need to secure. Reassess whether the project is still feasible with resources you have.

If you do not have access to equipment you require, explore options for sharing it with other investigators in your institution or requesting funds to buy it in your application.

9. Divide your research into projects that fit within a reasonable budget. As you continue planning, ask yourself: can you get the work done with a reasonable amount of money?

For an R01, most people prepare and justify a modular budget up to $250,000, especially new investigators or those entering a new area.

Go back and check that your plans are in sync with the budget you are planning. Then check again as you complete Steps 8 and 9, keeping in mind that, for most people, personnel costs are the biggest expense.

10. Write an application that will excite your reviewers. Now that you have determined that you have designed a feasible project that will interest your reviewers, start writing.

Make a strong case to your reviewers—convince them that you understand the problem, can perform the research, and have access to necessary resources and expertise. And write for both your reviewer audiences: those who are subject matter experts in your field and the others who are experts in related fields.

We will soon publish a series of articles expanding on each of the steps outlined above.

Related Links

Header: Opportunities and Resources.

Fellowship Program Offers Training in Technology Transfer

If you want to try your hand at something other than conducting research, check out this opportunity from NIAID's Office of Technology Development (OTD).

The Technology Transfer Fellowship Program can help you learn technology transfer, develop new professional skills, and open up employment opportunities in fields related to technology transfer and the NIH mission.

As a fellow, you'll be involved in negotiating technology transfer agreements (e.g., clinical trial agreements and Material Transfer Agreements) between NIAID and outside parties, such as universities and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Here's the skinny on the program.

  • Eligibility
    • You must have a science background and an advanced degree in the sciences or a degree in law or business.
  • Duration
    • One year, with the option to renew annually for up to three years.
  • Amount of Support
    • Stipend levels range from $48,000 to $55,000. You'll also receive health insurance.
  • Application and Selection Process
    • Applications comprise a letter of interest and CV.
    • There is no deadline for applications.
    • OTD keeps all applications on file. When a slot opens up, senior staff select candidates for an interview from among the applications.
    • If you are not contacted for an interview within a year, you can resubmit updated materials for upcoming vacancies.

Send questions or an application to the fellowship coordinator at NIAIDtdc@NIAID.nih.gov.

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As Loan Repayment Program Deadline Nears, Get Free Application Advice

November 15 marks the deadline for your Loan Repayment Program (LRP) application, and NIH is offering some last-minute application advice.

Watch a Webinar on application tips and guidance, find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and read more in our July 6, 2011, NIAID Funding Newsletter article “Pay Attention to Loan Repayment Programs.”

You can also reach out to the 1,500-member NIH LRP Ambassador Network and connect with participants who successfully navigated the LRP application process. To patch into that network, contact Monika Ellis in NIH's Division of Loan Repayment.

NIH’s LRP can repay up to $35,000 of your student loan debt each year if you qualify. NIAID supports two repayment programs: Clinical Research LRP and Pediatric Research LRP.

Learn more at NIAID's Loan Repayment Programs.

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Collaborate with Russian Counterparts on HIV/AIDS Research

Thanks to a new administrative supplement, U.S. and Russian scientists can partner on HIV/AIDS research projects.

With the Administrative Supplements for U.S.-Russia Collaborative HIV/AIDS Research, you can further existing collaborations or forge new ones as long as the research you propose is within the aims of your grant.

This opportunity seeks projects in the following priority areas: basic science of HIV, microbicides, vaccines, behavioral and social science research, HIV-related comorbidities, and functional genomics.

Here are some other highlights:

  • Supplements are for one year and provide up to $100,000 in direct costs.
  • You must have an R01, R21, P01, U01, or P30 grant with at least one year remaining when you submit the supplement request.
  • You cannot use funds to conduct a clinical study requiring an investigational new drug.

Applications are due January 15, 2012, and must be submitted as an email attachment in PDF format to RussiaUS_Supplements@niaid.nih.gov.

Read the October 12, 2011, Guide notice for the full details.

Header: Other News.

Mentored Career Development Awards Prove Their Worth

To apply or not to apply for a mentored career development (K) award?

If you're wavering, a new NIH report may convince you to go for it.

In a nutshell, the evaluation shows that mentored K programs foster the independent research careers of early-stage clinicians and research doctorates. That means if you receive a mentored K grant, you'll likely reap benefits that go far beyond short-term funding.

The proof is in the report's data, which is based on a study of three Ks: Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01), Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08), and Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23).

Among the notable findings:

  • Securing a mentored K award had a significant impact on program participants, as seen in their publication records and subsequent applications for and receipt of NIH grants.
  • Researchers who previously received a K01, K08, or K23 award later had a markedly higher R01 award success rate than those without prior career development support.
  • Compared to unfunded applicants, awardees received more subsequent NIH research support and were more likely to apply for—and receive—R01 renewals.

Go to NIH Individual Mentored Career Development Awards Program for additional outcomes and details. And to learn more about Ks, go to our Career Development Awards (K) portal.

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Opening NIH's Clinical Center to Extramural Researchers

NIH wants to give you better access to clinical resources at its Clinical Center, and NIAID is all for that.

Please help us by answering NIH's request for information on possible frameworks for collaborative partnerships (not actual projects). Some questions to get you thinking:

  • How can Clinical Center resources help advance your research?
  • What physical barriers prevent access to the Clinical Center or partnerships with the NIH intramural community?
  • How can NIH make it easier for you to access the Clinical Center and NIH intramural investigators?
  • If you've used the Clinical Center or partnered with an intramural program at the Clinical Center, what worked and what didn't work?

For more details and questions to answer, read the October 12, 2011, Guide notice. Send comments by December 1, 2011, to ClinicalCtrPartner@mail.nih.gov.

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News Briefs

Here's a news item from the NIH Guide.

New Rules for Peer Review Conflicts. To give scientific review officers more leeway in selecting reviewers for multidisciplinary applications, NIH updated its rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest during peer review. For details read the September 26, 2011, Guide notice.

One-Day Extension for AREA and Other Grant Applications. Due to a technical problem in the eRA Commons, NIH moved the AREA grant submission deadline from October 25 to today, October 26. It extended deadlines for other funding opportunities, too, but of those affected, NIAID participates in the AREA program only. Read the October 25, 2011, Guide notice for more information.

Header: Advice Corner.

Extend Your Grant With a No-Cost Extension

Are you struggling to finish your research by the end of your grant period?

Feel free to take a no-cost extension so you can wrap up your work, close out your grant properly, or give yourself a little extra time to apply for a renewal. With a no-cost extension, you can continue conducting research for up to one year with no additional funds.

Assuming your certifications and assurances are up-to-date and you're staying within your project’s approved scope, getting an extension is a do-it-yourself job. Just enter your request in the eRA Commons before the end of your grant's project period and we'll automatically give you an extra 12 months.

Don't miss your deadline because once your grant ends, you'll need our permission to take an extension. If your end date has passed and you still need time, tell your grants management specialist as soon as you can, and prepare your closeout documents in case we decline your request.

NIAID almost never allows you to extend your grant beyond 12 months. However, if you need to do so, request prior approval at least 30 days before the end of your extension. Our program and grants management staff will evaluate your justification.

For details on what to include in your request, when to send it, and what we do with it, read the No-Cost Extension SOP.

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Switch to a Multi-PI Grant After Award? Think Hard

If you heard about the September 28, 2011, Guide notice, you know that NIH now allows grantees to change to or from single to multiple PI awards with prior approval.

We advise you to get in touch with your program officer before you go down that path.

NIAID is setting a high bar for approvals, and your request will need to include a strong scientific justification for making such a drastic shift.

As with any change of PI, our staff will review the qualifications of prospective PIs, look for changes in scope, and check for anything that would affect your ability to accomplish your Specific Aims.

If you're moving from a multi-PI to a single PI award, our staff will also evaluate whether you can continue your research without the talents and resources of the other PIs.

We don't mean to discourage you from adding or removing PIs if it strengthens your project, addresses an unforeseen event, or helps you meet your scientific goals. We just want to make sure that you have appropriate expectations.

See the Change of Principal Investigator SOP for details on making this move, and read Team Science in Part 2 of our Strategy for NIH Funding for advice on collaboration.

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.

"Can I submit an unsuccessful RFA application to a program announcement?"—anonymous reader

Yes, and there is a major advantage to doing so since you submit it as a new application and therefore get an opportunity to resubmit. We have more information in Option 3: Repurpose the Application in Part 6 of our Strategy for NIH Funding.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated October 26, 2011

Last Reviewed October 07, 2011