A Useful Reminder: Contact Us Early, Write a Letter of Intent

Contact a program officer early in your grant application preparation process, since NIAID staff can help determine whether your proposed idea is responsive to the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) or if there is a better fit with a different FOA.

Several factors can lead to your application being deemed nonresponsive, as can certain preapplication requirements if not completed on time.

For example, most NIAID FOAs do not allow clinical trials. If you assess that your research proposal is not a clinical trial, but NIAID does, then your application will not be reviewed. As a second example, NIAID requires applicants to seek prior approval at least six weeks before submitting a big grant, which is a grant that requests direct costs of $500,000 or more in any one year of the project. Were you to overlook this requirement, we would not review your grant.

As a rule of thumb, you should reach out to a program officer 10 to 12 weeks before applying. While optional letters of intent are due 30 days before you submit the grant application, one month isn't likely to be enough time to address any major issues NIAID staff identify.

This doesn't mean you should bypass the letter of intent, as we often use the letters to help anticipate the volume of incoming applications and identify any unique expertise that needs to be included on a peer review panel.

Note that the letter of intent has no effect on your score in peer review. Still, if you provide the correct information, our program staff can further advise you on how to best direct your effort. Here are some additional details you could include:

What to Discuss/Include What We May Spot for You
Concise description of your proposed project. Do not send us your entire application.
  • Whether your research would be a good fit for NIAID, and if not, which other NIH institute or center might be more appropriate
  • Whether it sounds responsive to the announcement
  • If there’s a better funding opportunity for your idea than the one you had in mind
  • Other concerns worth addressing before you apply
Whether your plans touch on special policy areas, such as human subjects, clinical, or animal research.
  • Whether your analysis of the NIH definitions or exceptions seems to match
  • Whether your human subjects research might also be classified as a clinical trial
  • If there are special rules restricting your choice of animal species or animal-related plans
  • Other possible limits that could affect your planned avenue of research
Name of pathogens you plan to study, if any.
  • Whether your research plan fits any opportunity-specific requirements about the type of pathogen
  • For example, perhaps your choice must be listed as a NIAID Category A, B, and C Priority Pathogen or an Additional Emerging Infectious Disease/Pathogen at NIAID Emerging Infectious Diseases/Pathogens

The advice you get from program staff can keep you focused on the best path forward. Without program advice, you could waste your only chance to respond to a request for applications.

Letter or not, we always recommend touching base with program staff sooner rather than later so that you have sufficient time to use their advice to improve your application; see Contacting Program Officers and Grants Management Specialists. This advice is particularly important when applying to opportunities with only one remaining application receipt date.

To learn more about how NIAID staff can help you at other stages of the funding process, see Contacting Program Officers and Grants Management Specialists.

Content last reviewed on July 20, 2016

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