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In the world of grants, perhaps no three letters are more familiar to investigators than "RFA." That said, most probably know what the abbreviation stands for but little about what a request for applications really is or how it works.
If you want to learn the basics of RFAs, you should find this overview useful. In addition to expanding on what they are, it covers three other bases: who reviews applications, how NIAID makes funding decisions, and what you can do if your application isn't funded.
Defining RFA: The Name (Almost) Says It All
As its name implies, an RFA is a way to solicit applications from researchers.
To be more specific, it's a type of initiative that NIAID issues to stimulate targeted research, which is research in pre-defined high-priority areas of science. To learn more about targeted research and its converse, read Investigator-Initiated Versus Targeted Research in the Strategy for NIH Funding, linked below.
Here are some other aspects of RFAs you should know:
Application Evaluation: First, Responsiveness Then Peer Review
Before your application gets to its peer reviewers, NIAID program and scientific review staff check whether it's responsive to the RFA for which you applied. That means they'll check to see if it (and you) meet all of the RFA's requirements, from applicant eligibility to scientific fit with the RFA's specific research needs.
If they decide that your application is nonresponsive, they will let you know then withdraw it from our system. Your application will therefore not proceed to initial peer review.
And speaking of peer review...
For applications responding to RFAs, staff in our Scientific Review Program organize special emphasis panels (SEPs) composed of reviewers with knowledge relevant to the science.
You can find a roster for most ad hoc review committees for NIAID's requests for applications on NIH's Special Emphasis Panels page. We usually post the roster about a month before a review meeting, so check the site as the meeting date noted in the eRA Commons approaches. If you still can't find the roster, contact the scientific review officer listed in the Commons.
For more on peer review and staff withdrawal of nonresponsive applications, see the resources linked below.
Before we get into the details of RFA funding, we recommend reading the resources linked below under Funding Fundamentals. It may help to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with funding terminology and concepts before proceeding.
Once peer reviewers finish evaluating and scoring applications, it is then up to NIAID's program staff to decide which to fund.
Program staff examine a list of applications in overall impact score order, from best (numerically lowest) to worst (numerically highest). These scores are usually not converted to a percentile since they are primarily reviewed in just one SEP for a single receipt date.
We fund RFAs mostly in overall impact score order until we deplete the money set aside for the RFA (we do not set a payline for RFAs).
We say "mostly" because we may, with justification, skip over some applications to fund others that better meet a priority or programmatic need.
Keep in mind that if you do get funded, your funding amount could be lower than what you requested in the event we make financial adjustments to fund a sufficient number of applications. If that's necessary, NIAID staff will let you know during award negotiation.
Not Being Funded Is Not Always the End of the Road
You don’t necessarily have to give up on your project if your application isn’t funded.
You can submit the same project again as a new investigator-initiated application by applying for one of NIH's Parent Announcements or another program announcement that supports your activity code. Another option: change activity code and carry forward some or all of your project's aims.
Whichever route you take, you'll need to meet the requirements (e.g., scope, budget, project duration) of the new funding opportunity announcement for which you are applying.
You should also take to heart the recommendations of the reviewers from your initial review – these may be equally relevant to any subsequent submission to a Parent Announcement or other program announcement.
For more information, read "Option 3: Repurpose the Application" in Options if Your Application Isn't Funded, linked below.
Your chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) research just may get a boost—NIAID is now offering clinical specimens to the CFS research community.
These specimens, from CFS patients and controls, are courtesy of Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University, the principal investigator on an NIAID-supported study. NIAID considers these samples to be an extremely valuable resource that may lead to significant advances in understanding the etiology or pathogenesis of CFS.
Some specifics about the samples:
How do you get these samples?
NIAID believes the fairest way to decide who should have access to the specimens is to use the normal application and review process. So, apply to a funding opportunity announcement of your choosing, proposing to use some of these specimens as either part or all of your CFS-related research plan. Be sure to also explain why you’re choosing the type and quantity of samples you’re requesting.
If you are awarded funding, you will receive samples from Columbia University on a first come, first-served basis.
Is your organization working to develop dry vaccine technologies against NIAID Category A, B, and C Priority Pathogens?
Consider responding to the recent request for information (RFI) on the availability of dry vaccine formulation technologies and their use in biodefense vaccine development.
Input from developers will be crucial for NIAID’s ability to gauge the state of the science, and could be used for future funding opportunities, so your participation is highly encouraged to help develop this important research area.
While specific vaccines are important, this RFI is focused on the vaccine technologies themselves, as NIAID is looking for robust methods to produce stable, single-dose, cold-chain-free dry formulations.
Responses are due by November 30, 2012. For full details, read the October 11, 2012, Guide notice.
If you read our October 10, 2012, article "Three Words for the Start of FY 2013: Continuing Resolution, Uncertainty," you know our FY 2013 budget situation is unclear.
Until we get our budget or a new continuing resolution, we'll issue grants—competing and noncompeting—at up to 90 percent of the amount approved for the current budget period.
Depending on what our budget looks like once we receive it, we may be able to restore some or all of your funding later this fiscal year. This is the same approach we've taken in previous years.
For more information, see our Financial Management Plan. We'll update that page and the Paylines and Funding portal as we have news to report.
Feel free to send us a question at firstname.lastname@example.org. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
"If my application is not discussed, can it ever get funded?"—anonymous reader
Yes. Many excellent applications are not discussed, usually due to intense competition within the study sections they're assigned to.
You have several possible paths to funding—for more on that, read Options if Your Application Isn't Funded in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
"If my application is not recommended for further consideration (NRFC), can it ever get funded?"—anonymous reader
No. Though NIH allows you to revise and resubmit, an application that gets tagged NRFC likely has such fundamental problems that you'd need to create an entirely new application to fix the flaws. Contact your program officer to discuss your next steps.
"Should I include abstracts in the publication section of my progress report?"—anonymous reader
No, do not include abstracts in the publications section.
See other announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.
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Last Updated November 14, 2012
Last Reviewed November 14, 2012