Determine Institutional Resources
To show reviewers your project's feasibility, your application must describe your access to needed institutional resources such as space, equipment, and facilities. This is especially important for major pieces of equipment. See NIH's definition of equipment.
Your department chair can tell you which resources and level of support your institution will furnish, so you can then figure out what pieces are missing.
If you are a new investigator, your reviewers will expect you to have fewer resources at your disposal compared to more established researchers. They will still expect you to complete all the work you propose.
As you design your Specific Aims and experiments, factor in the resources you'll need (both those at hand and those you request in the application) while staying within the limits of your targeted budget.
In your application’s Facilities and Other Resources attachment, describe the necessary resources at your disposal. Also state how the scientific environment in which the research will be done contributes to the probability of success.
Explore Your Options
Your planned experiments will reveal your resource needs, particularly expensive equipment (e.g., costing over $10,000). Then follow these steps to explore your options:
1. See what equipment you can share with other investigators
Try to gain access to large equipment by sharing it with other investigators at your institution or by sharing the cost of buying it.
2. Explore options to access core facilities that provide services and expertise
Consider whether you can access core facilities at your or a collaborator’s institution to meet your needs for a major piece of equipment and expertise.
If that works, you can avoid having to purchase the equipment and using time to set it up during the grant award period.
Reviewers often view shared resources approach favorably since you will be working with established facilities with demonstrated results. When appropriate, include letters of support in your application that ensure access to core facilities and shared resources, and stipulate whether access will be provided as a fee-for-service. Make sure to include any facility user fees in your budget.
3. See if you can find a collaborator who has the equipment you need, and determine whether you can work out a feasible arrangement
Sharing equipment has benefits, especially if costs are shared, but there can be downsides. For example, if your collaborator's lab is located far from yours, transporting samples may be a problem if the samples are infectious, temperature sensitive, or fragile.
Also, you might not want to be dependent on a collaborator’s machine if you’ll need it for several hours a day, every day.
Reviewers may also be less than enthusiastic about a project that is heavily dependent on resources that are ultimately beyond your control.
4. If the options listed above don't pan out and you're new to your institution, look to your start-up funds to see if you can afford a major purchase
Take into account other expenses you may have.
- For example, do your start-up funds pay for office supplies and support services? In some places, facilities and administrative costs pay for those items so find out your institution's arrangements.
- Inquire about policies for access and payment of stipends to graduate students. Is there a training grant, e.g., an Institutional Research Training Grant (T32), which can pay the stipend of students who want to work in your lab?
5. Request money in the application budget to buy the equipment
This approach is always fine for items such as reagents, small pieces of equipment, or other items not usually shared.
But asking NIH to pay for a major purchase is trickier, so we will give you some tips.
- Be sure the equipment is absolutely essential and be able to provide a justification.
- Take care that your reviewers would not expect your organization to have the equipment, e.g., because it's unique to your project.
- If your institution has such equipment, but you cannot have (sufficient) access to it, explain why that is the case.
- Use this rule of thumb to gauge reviewer reaction: if you will be using the equipment at least half-time, they'll likely feel the request is justified.
- Justify the request in your application by explaining why you need the equipment for your research and why you cannot get it any other way.
Should you end up buying the equipment, keep in mind that you will also need to budget for shipping costs, accessories, a maintenance contract, and repairs.
Be aware that if you move to another institution, you may not be able to take your equipment—or your funds—with you. That decision is made by your current institution, your grant's legal grantee.
You may want to get advice from experienced investigators before deciding whether to request funds for a major purchase.
- I include a section that informs my reviewers about the support I have from my institution. I describe how my institution will let me spend enough time to complete the project.
- When describing resources and equipment, I use a level of detail appropriate to my institution.
- If I am at a research institution that has major NIH funding, I list only major items of equipment that I can access, giving their location and capabilities.
- If I am at a research institution that gets little NIH funding, I list even basic items such as centrifuges.
- For research on animals, I omit basic items such as the number of animal cages if at an AAALAC-accredited institution (I state that I am). Otherwise, I spell it all out.
- It is clear how my scientific environment will contribute to the success of my project, including unique features that will help me accomplish my goals.
- If the research will be at more than one site, I state which facilities will house which parts of the project.
- I describe resources for each site.
- I list all sites on the Project/Performance Site Locations form (not the Other Project Information form).
A program officer in your area of science can give you application advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirmation that NIAID will accept your application.
Find contacts and instructions at When to Contact a NIAID Program Officer.