To continue funding, you can either renew your grant by submitting a renewal, or you can apply with a new application. Here we cover how to make that decision and advise you on how to apply for a renewal.
Table of Contents
- Your Renewal May Not Be Allowed
- Renewal Decision Points
- Renewal or New?
- Deciding When to Apply for a Renewal
- Advice for a Successful Renewal
- How to Fill Out Forms for a Renewal
- Unfunded Renewal: Should You Try Again?
You may always renew a grant funded under an NIH Research Project Grant (Parent R01); see the parent R01 program announcements on our Notice of Funding Opportunities page. For any other type of grant, check for "Application Types Allowed" in the notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) before you prepare a renewal application.
Some activity codes do not have an option to renew, for example:
- Small Grant (R03)
- Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant (R21)
Requests for applications (RFAs) rarely allow renewals, but some do.
A good strategy is essential. Start laying out a game plan for staying funded by answering three questions.
Renewing a grant is a big challenge for many PIs who often find themselves running out of money as they revise and resubmit their renewal applications.
To keep your current project funded once the grant ends, you will need to apply for support and undergo initial peer review again.
A good strategy is essential. Start laying out a game plan for staying funded by answering these questions:
- Do I want to continue the current project at roughly the same level of resources?
- When should I apply?
- How will I maintain funding if I don't succeed on the first try?
Experienced investigators feel it is usually advantageous to apply with a renewal if they have made progress and want to continue the same long-term project.
Your situation and the science dictate which route is most advantageous: submitting a renewal or a new application.
To make this decision, it may help to conceptualize the difference between your long-term research goals and your short-term objectives, your Specific Aims.
If you think of your long-term goals as a line or bar, your Specific Aims are one segment. So while your goals may take a lifetime to achieve, you must be able to complete your Specific Aims within the award period of a grant.
Renewal. Request funding to continue to pursue the same long-term goals you have been pursuing but with new Specific Aims. Your peer reviewers take into account what you have accomplished when assessing the merits of your new application.
New application. Even if you stay in the same field, proposing a project that goes after new goals is a new application.
In both cases, reviewers judge the merits of the research, its relationship to your previous research, and the impact you have made on your field of science.
If your research has gone well, peer reviewers are likely to give you an edge no matter which approach you take because you have a proven track record, and they know it takes time to build a successful research team.
But experienced investigators feel it is usually advantageous to apply with a renewal if they have made progress and want to continue the same long-term project. Here is what we advise.
Apply with a renewal if you . . .
- Plan to continue your project under the same activity code (e.g., R01), with new Specific Aims.
- Made progress and accomplished most of your Specific Aims.
- You didn't have to follow your original Research Plan as long as you made progress.
- It's key that you successfully conducted relevant research, got results, and then used those results to pursue the next set of experiments.
- Want to submit to a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) that allows for renewals.
- To be sure, check the "Application Types Allowed" in the NOFO.
- If the NOFO was reissued, check for new rules, instructions, receipt dates, and review criteria—any of which may have changed since your previous application.
- Make sure we participate and accept applications in your area of research. If we don't, talk to the scientific contact for a different institute.
Apply with a new application if you . . .
- Want to submit to a NOFO that does not allow renewals.
- Want to significantly change or expand the scope of your research.
- Have not accomplished several Specific Aims or lack quality data to continue your project.
- Want to start over with a new idea.
- Your application can be a spinoff of the original line of research.
- Be sure to use a new title.
- Plan to switch to a new activity code, for example, change from an R21 to an R01.
- Want to apply under an RFA to continue the same line of research.
- Have used up your one resubmission.
And here is another approach.
Split your project into two applications: one for a different set of research goals and a renewal to continue the existing project. Be careful not to dilute the original application's quality.
In your cover letter, state that you are using this approach.
No matter when your renewal application arrives, reviewers expect to see accomplishments.
Consider whether to apply early rather than wait until the last possible receipt date before you would incur a funding gap.
To avoid a gap, think about applying one or more review cycles early to gain extra time in case you must resubmit, which you likely will. In FY 2014, only 18 percent of NIAID's R01 renewal applications succeeded on the first attempt.
But here's the catch: no matter when your application arrives, reviewers expect to see accomplishments. If your work is progressing slowly, it's better to wait to get results that you can describe in the application.
So ultimately your timing hinges on your comfort with your progress and the length of the grant. For example, if you have a three-year award, you may not have enough data to apply early.
Weigh the pros and cons of applying early, and ask your program officer for advice.
- If you apply early, you can get earlier feedback on your application.
- You can gain time to revise and resubmit if needed.
- If you apply before your research yields significant results, you could use up the initial goodwill of the reviewers. They won't appreciate spending their time on a premature application.
- Your application will likely be affected by the unknowable payline for the next fiscal year, which can make it harder to plan your strategy. We cannot fund your renewal until just before your old grant ends.
In some cases, waiting to spend more time polishing your application is a better strategy than rushing to meet a receipt date, and the delay may have only a small impact on the timing of an award.
No Time Limits . . . But
Another timing issue is: how long can you wait to submit a renewal application after your grant ends?
NIH does not set a time limit, but reviewers will probably be concerned by major gaps between projects because the science has likely changed. Take this into account when writing the application, and prepare a new application if the research is dated.
If the research is still current with the latest science, address the following points:
- Explain that your planned research is in sync with the science of your field.
- State what you have done during the hiatus.
- Highlight any new preliminary data.
Your renewal should not duplicate the Specific Aims of your previous grant.
A renewal should clearly link back to your previous grant's Specific Aims, show progress, and not duplicate the aims of the previous grant. Follow these tips.
Publish before you apply.
- Don't wait for the end of your grant to publish!
- Get your papers published or papers accepted for publication before you apply. Reviewers look at the quantity and quality of your publications as a reflection on your research accomplishments, and factor that into your renewal's overall impact score.
- Publishing gives other researchers an opportunity to learn more about your work, which may lead them to ask you to collaborate with them on an NIH grant.
Avoid a gap. Apply as early as you can before the end of your grant to avoid a break in funding.
Use the most current grant application for your notice of funding opportunity (NOFO). NIH regularly updates NOFOs with new instructions, forms, and formats. There will likely have been policy and forms changes since you applied for your current award. Verify that NIAID still participates in the NOFO and the eligibility requirements are the same. Check whether your research meets NIH’s definition of a clinical trial (CT) and be sure you are applying to a NOFO that matches (e.g., CT required or CT not allowed).
Revisit the science. Review your Research Plan, especially the Significance section.
- Ensure that your text reflects the latest research in your field.
- Make sure you stress the impact of your research on the field.
- Describe your progress and accomplishments made during the last funding cycle.
- We've found that some applicants don't seem to realize how important it is to emphasize their productivity from the previous award.
- Show the flow of the project in terms of your past and next steps. Describe how the new project is part of a logical progression for your research.
- Describe the significance of the renewal in the larger science and health context.
Showing progress is enough. While you have to demonstrate results, you don't have to do everything you promised.
- Reviewers care more about whether you got meaningful results than whether you conducted all the experiments you outlined in your application.
- It is problematic for reviewers when this information is missing or inadequately addressed since progress is a criterion for the overall impact score.
- How you describe your successes in your Research Strategy is up to you. As examples, you might take one of the following approaches:
- Create a single section to explain your progress under the previous award.
- Break up your accomplishments to place them in context with your new aims.
- Be sure your description is clear for reviewers and follows the SF 424 instructions.
- If you're working on a multiproject renewal application, we suggest covering progress in the application’s overall section as well as in the application sections for the individual projects and cores that are included in the renewal.
Revise and resubmit even if your renewal application is nominated for selective pay (this advice applies to R01s only).
- Selective pay approval is not guaranteed.
- You may still need to wait until the end of the fiscal year to get funding.
- If you resubmit and get a worse score, we may be able to fund the previous application.
- Keep in mind the length of time it may take from the date you apply to the date you get an award. See Timelines and Due Dates.
Change the Title, but Let NIH Know It's a Renewal
While it is often best to keep the same title, use a different title if it's a better fit. Your title should reflect the new Specific Aims you are proposing.
If you change your title, mention it in your cover letter and check the box indicating that your application is a renewal on the SF 424 Form and PHS 398 Checklist (the last page) of the grant application. That way, NIH will know that the title is new, but the application is a renewal.
Plan Your Renewal's Budget
Ask for enough money, but pay attention to the budget cap.
It's usually best to request the amount of money you need to perform the research.
But R01 renewals have an extra consideration: for the past several years—which we expect to continue—NIAID has capped the amount of money you can request at 20 percent.
That said, it could be some other number in the future, so be sure to check the Financial Management Plan for the latest information. Data won't be on the page when we don't have a budget, as explained on Paylines and Budget Information Changes Throughout the Year.
The cap affects all renewal applications, modular and nonmodular, regardless of funding level and applies to all budget years requested in the application.
Here's how we compute it. Our calculations below use the 20 percent figure. We base the cap on the direct costs of the last noncompeting award minus the following:
- Facilities and administrative costs for all subawards.
- Alterations and renovations.
We then increase that amount by 20 percent to get the cap level.
Here's an example.
- Your final year award of $200,000 includes two items that we subtract: subaward facilities and administrative costs of $5,000 and an administrative supplement of $45,000, which total $50,000.
- We subtract that from $200,000 to get a $150,000 base figure for your budget.
- Then we add 20 percent to get your cap: $180,000.
For modular grants, if the cap results in a number between modular increments, we round up to the next module. In the example above, that would take your budget request to $200,000.
Contact your institution's business office with questions about calculating your budget cap. Your grants management specialist will discuss your actual funding level when negotiating your award.
Strategies for Dealing With the R01 Budget Cap
If you need more money because your research has evolved in scope, submit a new application (versus a renewal) that has distinct Specific Aims.
As we explained above, you should usually request a budget level needed to adequately fund the science, although our budget cap for R01s can make that job harder. NIAID will not allow you to skirt the cap by requesting a larger budget after the first year.
To help you cope, you may want to consider the following.
- If you were a new investigator when you received your first grant, get advice from your program officer. Typically new investigators receive smaller awards than do more experienced grantees, so the cap can be a major problem.
- As a last resort, request a percent increase above the budget cap—but do not plan on getting it.
- Ask your program officer about the feasibility of getting funded beyond the cap, and what you can do if your request is denied. Your program officer cannot give you prior approval to exceed the cap.
- Keep in mind that it's rare for investigators to get the extra funds. To receive the money, you have to clear all these hurdles:
- Your application's study section must recommend funding.
- Your program officer must agree that you need the funds.
- Our advisory Council has to concur.
- We must have the funds to pay for your request.
If for any reason you don't get the money you need, you can negotiate fewer Specific Aims by letting your program officer know which ones you would not be able to do at the lower amount.
When Funding Is Tight
During both lean and fat years, we all have to live within our means, as difficult as that may be.
Here are some tips for dealing with a tight budget era.
- Keep expectations modest. Scale back plans. In general, don't increase your budget's direct costs by more than the budget cap percentage above the preceding award, since it's very unlikely that you will get more.
- If that strategy can meet your needs, you won't waste time planning a big expansion.
- If it doesn't, call your program officer for advice.
- Keep the ball moving. Try to start preparing early so you have plenty of time to resubmit if you need to—most people do.
- Stay real. Funding is always dependent on our budget constraints, so keep your budgets trim and awards at a reasonable number.
Renewals follow the same format and page limits as a new application with a few exceptions. Here is a summary.
- Include a description of your progress under your previous award (instead of Preliminary Studies) that has the following:
- Project period beginning and end dates.
- Summary of the importance of your findings in relation to your Specific Aims.
- Account of published and unpublished results, highlighting your progress toward achieving your Specific Aims.
- If you are conducting clinical research, fill out the PHS Inclusion Enrollment Report.
Progress Report Publication List
- Attach a report of publications, manuscripts accepted for publication, patents, and other items resulting from your last funding cycle.
- The Progress Report Publication List does not count toward your Research Strategy page limit.
- Cite articles that fall under the public access policy.
- Provide the NIH Manuscript Submission reference number (e.g., NIHMS97531) or the PubMed Central (PMC) reference number (e.g., PMCID234567) for each article.
- If the PMCID is not yet available because the journal submits articles directly to PMC on behalf of its authors, indicate “PMC Journal – In Process.”
Senior/Key Person Profile
- Highlight your inventions and patents in your biosketch.
- In each person's biosketch, include a personal statement and highlight contributions to science.
SF 424 (Cover Page)—several items, follow the SF 424 Application Guide.
Note: Though your renewal application describes your progress, you must submit a separate progress report for your grant. To determine whether to send an interim- or final-Research Performance Progress Report, see Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR).
Receipt dates. Use the renewal receipt date. Check your NOFO to see whether to use NIH's Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications. RFAs and some program announcements have unique application deadlines.
Study Section. You can request any study section in your cover letter if it’s relevant to the science. Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee your application will go there.
For the full instructions, check the SF 424 Application Guide and the NOFO's Guide announcement.
If your renewal application does not succeed, you may revise and resubmit once—but after that, you need to prepare a new application (i.e., you can't send another renewal application or resubmission).
The question is: do you try again with a new application for the same line of research, or do you go in a different direction?
Trying again could be a good option if reviewers showed strong enthusiasm for the significance of your scientific questions and approach, but had specific, fixable concerns—e.g., problems with your methods, reagents, or preliminary data.
Review your summary statement and talk to your program officer and colleagues about whether you should take this approach.
Also consider the welfare of your lab and your career, as well as new opportunities for success you might find by refocusing your energy, talent, resources, and personnel toward a different direction.
If you decide to pursue the same line of research, improve your application as much as possible and treat it like a new application:
- Do not prepare a progress report. Instead, use your progress as preliminary data.
- Bolster your Research Plan with updates and revisions based on new discoveries and feedback from previous reviews.
- Do not respond to reviewer comments, mention any previous reviews, or reference your attempts at renewal.
- Get all NIH approvals necessary for a new application, even if you had these for your previous grant. For examples, see the Big Grants SOP and Conference Awards SOP.
- Mark your application as "new" on your SF 424 Form.
- Apply for the new application deadline.
For more on what to do with an unsuccessful application and an explanation of what we consider "fixable" problems, read Options if Your Application Isn't Funded. Or, you can prepare a new application that goes in a different direction.