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Proposing high-quality science is key to a successful application, but if that's your sole focus you're missing out on a big piece of the equation: getting the right peer reviewers.
Even the most elegant science is not likely to impress reviewers who don't have your scientific perspective. You’ll need your reviewers’ enthusiasm to carry your application to a fundable score.
So when you’re still picking a project, it’s helpful to know who shares your perspective and would best appreciate your work. Then when you write your application, you can keep those people in mind too.
But because you can't control who reviews your application, you do need to write an application that appeals to a broad audience: your primary and secondary reviewers, including those you did not expect, and the others on the review panel.
If some of those statements seem contradictory, they are. There are no simple answers, but keep reading to get our best advice.
Research Your Reviewers
Grant applications are no exception to the saying: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some reviewers are bound to deem your work boring, while others will find it exciting.
Though it takes some intelligence-gathering, one strategy for success is to look for a study section that has reviewers in the latter category from the outset when choosing a topic.
After you find some good options, look at study section members in more depth, for example, by visiting their Web sites and reviewing their publications. You can use RePORTER to see what projects they have underway.
Once you've looked at your reviewers, identify the three or so whose backgrounds and scientific records align best with your research area. While you can't know for certain who your reviewers will be, those closest to your field are most likely to be assigned as primary or secondary reviewers or readers, assuming you get your requested study section.
Ask yourself how enthusiastic they and possibly the others may be about topics you are considering. Would they view a project as high impact? In their own publications, have they identified gaps your research would fill or areas of exploration that your work would pursue?
Then choose a topic and write an application that meets their expectations so they’ll sit up and take notice.
No Good Fit? Rethink It
What happens if you don't find a good study section for the work you're contemplating?
You could hunt down a "second best" study section, but first rethink your research. Consider modifying your project, changing your scope, or asking a different scientific question.
Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has 184 standing study sections covering almost all areas of science, and that doesn't include special emphasis panels and institute-specific review groups. Your best bet is to carefully select a project that a study section can fully appreciate.
For those who propose multidisciplinary and highly innovative work, read our advice on these types of projects:
Also consider contacting a program officer in your area of science for advice. If you don't know who that is at this point, take a step back and figure out where your project belongs. Read more at Pick a Research Project, linked below.
Once you've found the right reviewers for your application, aim to get your application in their hands: request your chosen study section in your cover letter.
While that request can put the odds in your favor, there’s no guarantee CSR will assign your application to your top pick. As a fallback, also list the necessary expertise to review your application, in case CSR wants to assign it to a different panel.
Get more advice in Create a Cover Letter, linked below.
There are myriad reasons CSR can assign your application to a study section other than the one you request, for example, due to a reviewer conflict of interest or a scientific review officer who disagrees with your assessment of the science.
Within 10 days after applying, log into the eRA Commons to check that your application is assigned to a study section with appropriate expertise. Ideally this will be the study section you requested, but CSR may have more than one study section that fits the bill and it sometimes creates ad hoc groups to fill in gaps.
Later, once the actual roster appears in the Commons about 30 days before the review meeting, check that members have a track record or interest in your research. Rosters change from one review to the next as reviewers rotate on and off or miss a meeting.
At any time, contact your scientific review officer to discuss your options if you're concerned with the study section assignment, expertise of study section members, or a reviewer who you feel cannot give your application an impartial review. For more information and advice, go to Ensure You Get the Right Assignments, linked below.
Strategy for NIH Funding
NLM Databases and Electronic Resources—find publications
NIH RePORTER—find funded projects, experts in your field, their publications and grants, and study sections that reviewed their applications
Help us help HHS with its plans to potentially revise the Common Rule (45 CFR 46, subpart A).
Through a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA), you can contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of human subjects research protections while facilitating research and reducing the burden for investigators.
Before you jump in, take note.
This isn't a "come one, come all" FOA. That is, it limits competition by seeking only revision (aka, competing supplement) applications from grantees whose parent awards are active cooperative agreements when they apply.
Consider responding if your research can contribute to either or both of these areas:
The effectiveness of current protections in regulations, rules, and policies governing research with human subjects.
The use of broad, prospective consent for acquiring biospecimens in clinical settings.
Read the April 20, 2012, Guide notice for more details.
If you have questions, contact your program officer or NIH's Valery Gordon. Get answers as soon as possible since applications are due by May 25, 2012.
For information on the proposal to improve the Common Rule, go to HHS's ANPRM for Revision to Common Rule.
If you’re considering a move to another organization, some news for you: on April 20, NIH launched a new pilot that allows electronic requests for a change of institution.
You and the signing officials from both institutions can use the new pilot workflow in the Commons. Learn more in the Change of Institutions FAQs and get more details in the Commons Change of Institution user guide.
The new process should be easier than the traditional method of filling out the PHS 3734 form and routing it manually through your institution to NIAID.
As always, the eRA Help Desk welcomes your questions.
Here's news from around NIH.
FCOI Checklist for Institutions. NIH released a Checklist for Financial Conflict of Interest Policy Development to help institutions construct and maintain comprehensive policies regarding financial conflicts of interest. Read the April 18, 2012, Guide notice for more information.
NIAID Clarifies Areas of Interest for an R21/R33 RFA. New text in the Partnerships for Interventions to Treat Chronic, Persistent and Latent Infections (R21/R33) makes clear that applicants can propose approaches that seek to completely and permanently suppress an agent’s pathogenic processes without ongoing interventions. Get details in the May 1, 2012, Guide notice.
NCATS Creates Web Sites for Its Rare Diseases Programs. The National Center for Advancing Translational Science published Web pages for two programs: Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases and Office of Rare Diseases Research.
With the release of NIH's Checklist for Financial Conflict of Interest Policy Development, we'd like to take the opportunity to mention again how important it is to disclose conflicts of financial interest—even potential ones—to your business office.
Your institution has to manage, reduce, or eliminate all conflicts for you and your collaborators, and also ensure your subawardees comply with the NIH policy. Help it by knowing the rules and checking with your institutional official to see what you need to do.
And be forewarned: we may suspend your research funding if your institution doesn't comply with NIH's conflict of interest policy.
Read our Financial Conflicts of Interest for Awardees SOP for instructions, and visit NIH's Financial Conflict of Interest page for more information.
Feel free to send us a question at email@example.com. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
"In my progress report, do I need to justify an increase in my level of effort?"—Charles A. Paxton, University of Washington
No. As long as the increase would not result in a change of scope, you do not need to justify it.
If you're significantly increasing your effort, you may want to contact your program officer for advice on NIH rules you might need to follow, as well as other ways you may be able to support your research, e.g., by requesting an administrative supplement.
"I'm a sixth-year postdoc. Should I apply for an NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) when I move to another lab?"—anonymous reader
While you can apply for an NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) award in any year of your postdoctoral period, you would have to provide a very strong justification as to why you would still need mentored support at this point in your career.
Instead, you may want to apply for an R01 grant and take advantage of new investigator benefits, such as a higher payline and lower expectations for preliminary data and publications. Read our New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding for advice and take a look at our R01 Investigator Resources.
See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.
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Last Updated May 09, 2012
Last Reviewed May 09, 2012