NIAID Funding News December 23, 2015

December 23, 2015, NIAID Funding News

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

In The News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles. 

Application Missteps—Poor Writing and Presentation

Faltering in writing and presentation could keep your reviewers from feeling enthusiastic about the application you've spent much time and effort preparing. See what stumbling blocks you could run into and how to steer clear of them.

First, Know Your "Limits" and Other Requirements

Before putting pen to paper, so to speak, get to know rules for page limits, font style, margin and font size, and other specifications. That way you'll know how much space you have to convey the essentials of your project and how much you'll have to winnow the amount of information you have.

Both the eRA Commons and NIH staff check for page limits and formatting. Learn more at Does eRA electronically enforce page limits? and NIH Checks Your Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding, linked below.

NIH may not review your application if you don't meet requirements, so it's best to know what's allowed by reading instructions for your funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Follow instructions in both the SF 424 Application Guide and theNIH Guide announcement. If the two differ, go with the Guide announcement since it reflects the most up-to-date information.

For the number of pages you can use for different application sections, also check NIH's Table of Page Limits.

If you're responding to an institute-specific program announcement or request for applications, you must also pay attention to the initiative's objectives and special requirements. Should our program staff determine that your application is not responsive to the announcement, your application will not be reviewed.

One of our scientific review officers emphasizes the importance of reading announcements carefully:

"Applications are sometimes nonresponsive because investigators don't take time to read about the essential components, which results in a lot of time spent writing aspects of the application that may not be relevant or responsive to the initiative. When uncertain about responsiveness, applicants should talk with the program officer listed in the FOA for clarity."—Frank DeSilva, Scientific Review Program

No Getting Around Page Limits

You should not attempt to get around page restrictions. Since NIH is on the lookout, you could be penalized.

Alec Ritchie, a program officer in our Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (DMID), has some general advice on what not to do:

"Applicants should not reference extra-application sources of information (e.g., FDA guidance sheet, company press releases, manuals) to circumvent page limitations. They should also avoid including Web links since reviewers are instructed to not click on them. One can argue that no information in the application should be dependent on material that isn't in the application, with the exception perhaps of publications."

Don't Misuse the Appendix

If you're contemplating circumventing page limits by including in the Appendix information that doesn't belong there, think again. You run the risk of possibly having your application withdrawn from peer review and funding consideration.

NIH clearly states the following in the April 15, 2010 Guide notice:

"Applicants...are prohibited from using the Appendix to circumvent page limitations in the Research Plan, such as the single page limit for Specific Aims or the specified page limit for the Research Strategy. If inappropriate material is included in an appendix (e.g., an extension of the Specific Aims or Research Strategy section) then the scientific review officer will instruct peer reviewers not to read or consider the material in their review of the application. In particularly egregious cases NIH has the authority to withdraw the application from review or consideration for funding."

One of our program officers highlights another downside of using the Appendix to get around page limits:

"Too often investigators will add extra material into the Appendix. Reviewers are often overburdened and not interested in taking that extra step to find what has been added. This leads to frustration for both reviewers and applicants."—Michael Minnicozzi, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation (DAIT)

Rights and Wrongs of Writing

Whether you're a strong writer or not, the following tips should be helpful as you compose your application. For more information, go to Part 3. Write Your Application, linked below.

Know Whom You're Addressing

No matter what you're writing, be it a newsletter article or grant application, you need to know who your audience is so you can address it appropriately by using the right elements like tone and terminology.

The primary audience for your application is your scientific review group, composed of about 20 reviewers. Three people—the primary and secondary reviewers plus an additional reader—will have expertise closest to your field and will read your application thoroughly.

Note that not all members will have the same expertise or knowledge of your science. Therefore, it's best to write in such a way that all reviewers will understand your project's objectives.

For more on this, read Know Your Audience in the Strategy for NIH Funding, linked below.

Frank DeSilva has additional tips:

"Being concise is important. Spoon-feeding is optimal. Repetition is good but do not overuse it. In addition to the Specific Aims and Research Plan, make sure to follow guidelines for the biosketch, letters of support, resource sharing plans, and other items since these in sum will generally leave an impression of good grantsmanship and a well written application."

A program officer in our Division of AIDS (DAIDS) offers this advice:

"Applicants should include key take-home messages in the application after presenting (or citing) preliminary data. That way a reviewer who is less familiar with the field can better understand the rationale for the study. This is critical for multidisciplinary applications."

Avoid Typos, Grammar Mistakes

When it comes to spelling and grammar, dot the i's and cross the t's—literally and figuratively. Having typos and bad grammar can interrupt the flow of your text and trip up readers. And when those readers are peer reviewers, you want to make sure nothing gets in the way of their perusing your application with ease.

Be careful not to submit an application riddled with spelling or grammatical errors. Two program officers tell you why:

"Typing and grammatical errors and similar 'minor' issues imply an insufficient attention to details that leads many reviewers to question the quality of the research being conducted in the applicant's lab. Therefore, proofreading for style, grammar, and formatting is crucial."—Wolfgang Leitner, program officer, DAIT

"Improper spelling and grammar in an application tend to reduce reviewer enthusiasm and perceived potential for success, likely resulting in a score comparable to one of lesser technical merit and likely outside the competitive funding range."—Alec Ritchie

Provide Explanations or Justifications

You can also make life easier for reviewers by spelling things out for them, for example, if your research involves human subjects. Here's what we mean:

"When applicants believe their human subjects research is 'exempt,' they should clearly provide up front a justification or any human subjects information relevant to review. They should not leave it to reviewers to determine or agree that the research is exempt."—Alec Ritchie

Our DAIDS program officer gives another human subjects-related example:

"Applicants often provide insufficient information for the use of human data or biological specimens that doesn’t meet the definition of human subjects research. It's not sufficient to indicate 'No Human Subjects Research Proposed.' Applicants must explain why the proposed studies do not constitute research involving human subjects."

It's (Almost) All in the Presentation

Looks aren't everything, but they're definitely something when it comes to your application. Make your reviewers want to read it by making it visually appealing: neat, well organized, and easy-to-read. They'll appreciate the effort, especially since they have so many applications to evaluate.

Here's how to help your application make a good impression.

"Make effective (but judicious) use of bold, CAPITALS, and underlines as well as headers to clearly define sections. Insert figures and flow charts to explain experimental design where appropriate in the application."—Frank DeSilva

In addition to figures and flow charts, use other visual elements like tables to clarify potentially confusing points, as our DAIDS program officer says:

"If research proposed in the grant application is for a substudy of work supported under another mechanism, consider the use of a table to illustrate which aspects are supported by the grant application and which are supported otherwise. This reduces the chance reviewers will be confused and indicate your application is overly ambitious, has an inadequate budget, etc."

Wolfgang Leitner has a tip for investigators who may have a lot of data to share:

"Rather than squeezing countless multi-panel figures into the application, publish first before submitting. It frees up space and increases the 'credibility' of the proposal. The added benefit frequently justifies skipping a submission cycle in order to get your papers out."

Investigators who are resubmitting have additional details to pay attention to:

"For resubmissions, allow time to go through and update numbering for references, figures, and tables. Reviewers get annoyed when hunting for a Figure 4 that no longer exists or when Reference 75 does not contain the experimental details that the Approach section indicated. Ensure the letters of support are updated to reflect the revised application. It causes confusion when a letter of support refers to work that is no longer proposed. Likewise, review the budget and budget justification to ensure they reflect the revised application."—DAIDS program officer

Find more information on presentation in Master the Application, linked below.

Don't "Overpack"

To keep your application appealing, give it "breathing room." That is, don't try to fit too much in the allotted amount of space. Doing so will result in pages that are filled to the brim with text or figures, which makes them user unfriendly and could ultimately be a strike against you at peer review.

The secret to not overpacking is to determine what you absolutely need to include; in other words, focus on the essentials, as Alec Ritchie describes:

"Applicants can put too much information within the required page limits. They must prioritize the material and consider how efficiently a reviewer will get through and appreciate the information presented. An overly dense application will not fare well at review."

Wolfgang Leitner also speaks to the "density" issue:

"A frequent criticism of reviewers is that applications are 'too dense.' This is the result of applicants trying to pack too much information into the proposal, which makes it difficult to read. Consequently, much of the densely packaged information gets lost during review."

He continues with a warning for those thinking about making room for content by using a work-around that ultimately doesn't work:

"Do not decrease the font or shrink the size of figures to be able to make the proposal fit! Reviewers will not appreciate such tactics. If the figure is too small and difficult to read, the information it contains may end up not helping you make your case."

On a related note: frequently, in an attempt to crowd even more text and figures in an application, investigators leave out figure legends and axis labels for graphs. The undesirable result: reviewers who are frustrated and left guessing.

Get Others to Read and Review

After you've finished writing, ask people—including nonscientists—to read your draft, especially if you are new to grant writing. Getting their fresh perspective is invaluable since they may spot issues you missed.

Alec Ritchie points out why getting readers is important:

"Having colleagues and collaborators review and critique an application before submission is essential. It's fairly obvious when this has not occurred and will not bode well for the applicant."

While you should get readers who are part of your project, it's a good idea to also recruit people without ties to your application. Wolfgang Leitner states:

"Ask colleagues who are involved in the project as well as those who aren't (and ideally know little or nothing about it) to read the proposal. However, keep in mind that people who are intimately familiar with the project may not notice flaws in arguments or that the proposal is hard to read."

Related Links

Header: Opportunities and Resources. 

NIH Launches New Program on Environmental Exposures on Child Health

NIH launched its new Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program on December 7, 2015, in a statement from NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. Accompanying the announcement is an ECHO website and seven companion funding opportunity announcements (FOAs).

Furthering the goals of the National Children’s Study (NCS), which closed in FY 2015, ECHO takes a different approach to determining how environmental exposures affect children’s health and development. This approach involves supporting multiple, synergistic, longitudinal studies—versus NCS's single longitudinal study—using extant maternal/pediatric cohorts to investigate environmental exposures, such as physical, chemical, and biological.

The ECHO studies will:

  • Focus on four key pediatric outcomes:
    • Upper and lower airway
    • Obesity
    • Pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes
    • Neurodevelopment
  • Address and share standardized core data elements that a central coordinating center and data analysis center will manage:
    • Demographics
    • Typical early health and development
    • Genetic influences on early childhood health and development
    • Environmental factors
    • Patient/Person (parent and child) Reported Outcomes (PROs)

The FOAs

The current ECHO FOAs are listed below. For all, optional letters of intent are due by March 15, 2016. The deadline for applications is April 15, 2016.

Direct questions to the scientific/research contacts named in Section VII. Agency Contacts of each FOA.

  • RFA-OD-16-001: Clinical Sites for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network (UG1)
  • RFA-OD-16-002: Data Coordinating and Operations Center for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network (U24)
  • RFA-OD-16-003: Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes: Patient Reported Outcomes Research Resource Center Core (ECHO PRO Core) (U24)
  • RFA-OD-16-004: Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Pediatric Cohorts (UG3/UH3)
  • RFA-OD-16-005: Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Data Analysis Center (U24)
  • RFA-OD-16-006: Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Coordinating Center (U2C)
  • PA-16-046: Limited Competition: Exposure Analysis Services for the Environmental Influences on Children's Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program (Admin Supplement)
    • Note that NIAID is not a participating institute in this FOA.

An Important Note About Application Forms

When applying for RFA-OD-16-003RFA-OD-16-004RFA-OD-16-005, or RFA-OD-16-006, select the FORMS-C-REVISED application package, which includes a budget form that allows seven year project periods. You will use FORMS-C when applying for the other three FOAs.

Do not use FORMS-D for any ECHO FOA.

For More Information: Website, Webinar

Go to the ECHO Program website for more information, including Frequently Asked Questions.

Learn more about the FOAs and ask questions during Webinars on January 14, 2016, and February 1, 2016, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Register at ECHO Funding Opportunities Announcement Webinar.

To read Dr. Collins' statement, go to Launching the Next Phase of NIH Research on Environmental Exposures on Child Health and Development.

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Understanding the Risk of Adolescence and Injury in HIV Susceptibility

Are you an investigator with an interest in researching the connection between the risks of adolescence and HIV susceptibility? If so, check out a new R01 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) that aims to further the innovative biomedical and proof-of-concept research needed to understand how reproductive maturation or injury alters the mucosal environments at HIV susceptible sites.

For the purposes of this opportunity, the following definitions apply:

  • Adolescent: A male or female, 14 to 19 years old. Further, the terms “adolescent,” “adolescence,” “age-related” and “age,” are synonymous and may be used interchangeably.
  • Injury: Anogenital injuries sustained from consensual coitus, sexual trauma due to assault, and cultural sexual or cleansing practices. “Trauma” is synonymous with “injury.”
  • Wound: The response to injury, including wound repair through resolution, post injury.

Responsive and Nonresponsive Focus Areas

This FOA supports high-risk, biomedical research efforts towards a better understanding of adolescent male and female genital and gastrointestinal mucosal environments. Such information is essential in providing the safest and most effective biomedical prevention strategies to those populations at a heightened risk of HIV infection.

Your research is expected to address how reproductive maturation and mucosal trauma (injury or repair) at any age alters the environment at HIV susceptible sites. Proposed studies may use human secretions, cells and tissues, and in vitro and in vivo (animal) models of HIV transmission and acquisition. 

Focus areas where basic and applied research will be supported include:

  • Mucosal changes (immunological, hormonal, microbiome, wound healing) of the anogenital tract of female and male adolescents during reproductive maturation, or injury and wound healing
  • Developing in vitro and animal models to study age-related and injury-specific responses and the accompanying wound healing process
  • In vivo imaging studies to measure and quantitate maturational, physiological, and biochemical changes in the adolescent or wounded mucosa

We will consider applications nonresponsive and ineligible for further review if they fail to address mucosal changes in adolescents, including following injury, or if they focus on the following:

  • Basic science-oriented research projects that focus on the mechanisms of, or earliest events in, HIV/SIV transmission in the absence of adolescents, injury, or wound healing
  • Clinical trials or “first–in-human” testing
  • Behavioral studies or programs, unless they comprise a limited part of the research and are solely to inform upon the predominantly biomedical studies proposed in the application

Research Operation Statement

Risk of Adolescence and Injury in HIV Susceptibility applications require a Research Operation Statement (ROS) in the Research Strategy section. The ROS offers the chance to explain your approach to the reviewers, and justify the need for hypothesis-generating research as part of the application.

For more information, see Section IV. Application and Submission Information of the FOA.

Application Information

Applications are due March 16, 2016. Proposed budgets are limited to $400,000 in direct costs per year, with a maximum project period of four years.

We strongly recommend that you apply early to allow adequate time to correct any errors found in your application during the submission process.

For complete details, read the December 4, 2015 Guide announcement. Questions? Contact the scientific/research contact for the FOA, Dr. Jim Turpin.

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Pediatric Pulmonary Tuberculosis: A Quest for Improved Diagnosis

Apply for NIAID funding if your research uses biomarkers or biomarker combinations to diagnose active pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) in children. Areas of special interest include: evaluation, validation, and assay development for a biomarker or biomarker combination; using easily accessible biologic specimens other than sputum or gastric aspirates; and applying biomarkers to children younger than five years old.

This R01 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will support work that could lead to a point-of-care diagnostic test, as well as projects to identify and validate biomarkers or biomarker combinations leading to improved diagnosis of active pulmonary TB in children, including those infected with HIV. Proposed biomarkers must have limited inter-patient variability and exhibit significant changes in activity, concentration, or other appropriate measurements to identify TB disease in children. We encourage applications that propose collaboration among pediatric TB researchers and include expertise from research in non-TB respiratory illnesses or infections.

Examples of research areas covered in successful applications include:

  • Identifying or applying currently used adult biomarkers for TB diagnosis in children
  • Miniaturizing methodologies of biomarker measurements for pediatric use
  • Identifying and developing TB biomarkers that can be used in combination with, or substitute for, current diagnostic strategies
  • Applying genetic and other novel TB biomarkers

We will deem applications nonresponsive and ineligible for further review if they focus on the following:

  • Establishing de novo repositories or cohorts
  • De novo search for a biomarker signal in the absence of preliminary data
  • Clinical trials
  • Studies that do not use biomarkers

Application Information

Application budgets are not limited but should reflect the actual needs of the proposed project. The maximum project period is five years.

Applications are due March 11, 2016. For complete details, read the November 24, 2015 Guide announcement. Send questions toEllen DeCarlo, the scientific/research contact for the FOA.

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RFP on Clinical Research Operations and Management Support

Consider responding to a new request for proposals (RFP) to provide clinical trials management support services through NIAID's Clinical Research Operations and Management Support (CROMS) program.

The successful CROMS contractor will provide services for NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (DMID) and DMID-supported investigators. See the solicitation for the full list; here is a sampling:

  • Compliance with U.S. and international regulations
  • Clinical site management, assessment, and interim monitoring
  • Information management
  • Training
  • Administrative support

We expect to make one award on or near January 3, 2017. The performance period is a base period of one year with the government having the option of adding up to six additional years for a total potential performance period of seven years.

Read the December 2, 2015 solicitation for more information, including proposal instructions, an amendment, and contacts. The proposal deadline is 12 p.m. Eastern time on March 10, 2016.

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Research Tropical Diseases in Endemic Areas

Help shine a light on a neglected tropical disease (NTD) by connecting with NIAID’s Tropical Medicine Research Centers (TMRC) program. The TMRC program supports research on the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of NTDs where they occur.

Through a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA), NIAID will fund research on the following NTDs: schistosomiasis, hookworm infection, ascariasis, leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis, Chagas’ Disease, trichuriasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, onchocerciasis, dracunculiasis, Buruli ulcer, echinococcosis, taeniasis and cysticercosis, and food-borne trematodiases.

The FOA will support activities such as the study of biomarkers, vectors and transmission, and coinfections (excluding HIV), as well as developing and evaluating diagnostics. We encourage both multidisciplinary research and research on multiple pathogens.

The FOA will not support research that does not require access to human subjects or specimens from disease-endemic sites. Nor will it support clinical trials or research on select agents. Pathogens not listed above may be researched only in the context of coinfections.

Your application must propose three components: an administrative core, a data management and biostatistics core, and three or more research projects. At least one of the research projects must be a clinical research study that involves human subjects enrollment. You may also propose scientific cores to facilitate resource sharing between projects, although these are optional.

Application budgets are limited to $500,000 in annual direct costs (which excludes consortia facilities and administrative costs). No more than 15 percent of your budget can be used to fund institutions and consultants from economically developed countries. The maximum project period is five years.

Two Notes on Eligibility

Your organization must be headquartered in a resource-constrained country, defined as those listed as low-income, lower-middle-income, or upper-middle-income on the World Bank List of Economies. We do not intend to support research that could be conducted primarily in U.S. institutions.

The principal investigator must commit to conducting field activities at the endemic site for a minimum of 90 days each year.

A Note on Renewals

If you submit a renewal application, you must provide the federal identification number—the IC two-letter code and serial number combination of the prior grant.

This research program cooperative agreement (U19) FOA is a reissue of an earlier FOA that used the specialized center (P50) activity code. By entering the federal identifier, you ensure our electronic system will correctly reconcile the differing activity codes.

Applications are due by June 3, 2016. Read the December 11, 2015 Guide announcement for complete details.

Header: Other News. 

Account for Reproducibility Following RPPR Form Changes

By January 25, 2016, NIH will publish updated Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) instructions for noncompeting (Type 5) NIH awards. The update continues NIH’s rollout of the new scientific Rigor and Reproducibility policy.

For RPPRs submitted on or after January 25, 2016, grantees must explain how they have ensured rigor and transparency.

If you begin your RPPR before the updated instructions are published, here are the two places you’ll need to address reproducibility:

  1. Include the approaches you took to ensure robust and unbiased results in response to “B.2 What was accomplished under these goals?
  2. Discuss efforts to ensure that your approach is scientifically rigorous and your results are robust and unbiased in response to “B.6 What do you plan to do for the next reporting period to accomplish these goals?”

Read the December 15, 2015 Guide notice for additional details and resource links.

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The Precision Medicine Initiative Is Ramping Up

NIH is building a national, large-scale research participant group called the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) Cohort Program to gather the data needed for advances in individualized medical care.

Toward that end, NIH is forming a network of centers to serve as resources for the Program, to include a coordinating center, a participant technologies center, a biobank, and multiple enrollment centers. The centers will be funded using cooperative agreement grant awards.

Interested in applying to establish and manage one of the centers? See the list of PMI Funding Opportunities to learn more.

Act quickly—applications are due in February.

NIH also published Request for Information: NIH Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program—National Direct Volunteer Physical Evaluation and Biospecimen Collection to gather feedback on how best to approach baseline physical evaluation and biospecimen acquisition from the nationwide cohort. Weigh in by submitting an online response before January 15, 2016.

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News Briefs

Don't Let Submission Issues Ruin the Holidays. 

NIH will be closed on December 25 and January 1. In addition, our staff are out of office more frequently over the holidays. Plan to submit your application before the deadline in case there are last-minute uploading problems. That way if you run into technical problems, you will have time to correct them. If you need immediate help, go to Applying Electronically—Finding Help

IICT Funding Opportunities Extended One Cycle. 

We've extended the expiration date for three Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trial (IICT) funding opportunity announcements by one cycle. The final receipt date for NIAID Clinical Trial Implementation Grant (R01)NIAID Clinical Trial Planning Grant (R34), and NIAID Clinical Trial Implementation Cooperative Agreement (U01) is now May 13, 2016.

Know the NIH Priorities for Health Economics Research. 

Before you apply for health economics research funding, make sure that your topic matches one or more of the high-priority areas described in the November 25, 2015 Guide notice. This will ensure that your application is judged to be in line with the NIH mission.

Header: Advice Corner. 

Caution: Roles Determine Eligibility and Other Requirements

We continue to see reviewers dock applications because the proposed roles and functions of researchers are ambiguous or incorrect. Since the scientific community uses some terms that NIH doesn't, the terminology you use might affect your eligibility for a funding opportunity announcement (FOA), as well as the information required in a grant application and to make an award.

Take a look at some advice we gave earlier this year about five role-related terms that have caused confusion: co-PI, co-investigator, collaborator, consultant, and other significant contributor. As you discuss the roles your colleagues can play in support of your planned research, use the guide below to ensure you have a shared understanding. 

At the end of the article, we offer advice on how to maximize clarity for reviewers.


Do not use the term co-PI. Because NIH doesn't recognize it as a role, it causes confusion since it’s unclear whether you mean PI on a multiple-PI award or co-investigator. And that confusion could affect your application; some FOAs have eligibility or level of effort requirements that affect only PIs.

Note that assigning someone the role of "Co-PD/PI" will not identify the application as a multiple PD/PI application. Colloquially, we sometimes hear the term co-PI used to indicate your fellow PIs on a multiple PI grant. But in that case, they should still be called PIs, not co-PIs.

You may have noticed that co-PI is one of the options listed on the SF 424 forms (standard grant application form). That's because other agencies use that role, but we don't.


Co-investigator is a term commonly used by the scientific community and in grant applications.

This role describes those involved with the PI in the scientific development or execution of the project, but they just don’t quite rise to the level of being principal investigators. They should be listed as key personnel.

Do not use “co-investigator” when you mean a PI on a multiple-PI application.

When deciding whether your application should have multiple PIs or a single PI with one or more co-investigators, there are no rules or percentages to go by. The decision should be based on the research proposed to ensure optimal management of the project. Assuming your chosen funding opportunity allows either option, we suggest discussing this with your colleagues and business officials.


Collaborators always play an active role in the research, and the position is sometimes defined interchangeably with co-investigator. As a loose guideline, think of a collaborator as a scientist whose distinct expertise complements your own while a co-investigator shares your area of expertise and therefore contributes in guiding the scientific direction of the overall project. One provides unique expertise, the other umbrella expertise.

Still, many areas of science have their own expectations for each of these roles. So long as the role of each contributor is thoroughly explained in your Personnel Justification and the Letters of Support, your choice between the titles of "co-investigator" and "collaborator" won't be a point of contention for reviewers.

Collaborators are typically listed as key personnel. They may get part of their salary paid from the grant in person months. Collaborators at other institutions could have their salary paid through a consortium agreement (also called a subaward).

Some senior-level collaborators may choose to work part-time for credit (e.g., the potential of future publications), rather than pay.


consultant provides advice or services and may participate significantly in the research. Often he or she helps fill in smaller gaps by, for example, supplying software, providing technical assistance or training, or setting up equipment.

List consultants as key personnel only if they contribute substantively and measurably to the scientific development or execution of a project.

Consultants do not receive a salary from your grant but may receive a fee as a transaction for their service.

Other Significant Contributors

When you have people who commit to contributing to the scientific development or execution of the project but do not commit any measurable effort (i.e., person months) to the project, their role would be other significant contributor (OSC).

OSCs are typically presented at effort of “zero person months” or "as needed." If their effort is measurable, you may not list them as OSCs.

Biosketches are required for all personnel identified in the application as OSCs. However, other support information is not required. Consultants should be included as OSCs if they meet the definition.

In Conclusion

To maximize clarity for your reviewers when you apply, make sure your Personnel Justification and Letters of Support thoroughly describe what each person will be doing. Your reviewers need to be able to judge whether there is sufficient expertise to conduct the project.

Too often, we see Letters of Support that are enthusiastic and indicate a willingness “to collaborate” but don't provide enough details about the exact role of the person in the project. When that happens, we have to request additional information from you before we can make an award.

For more on the roles people can play in your project, check out Design a Project in Part 2 of the Strategy for NIH Funding. That page has a subsection on Consultants or Collaborators—How They Differ, plus advice at What About Expertise?

You could also discuss how to address gaps in expertise with your program officer or local mentors.

Header: Reader Questions. 

Feel free to send us a question at After responding to you, we may ask your permission to include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.

“For a resubmission, can I reuse letters of support from the initial proposal or am I required to obtain updated letters of support?”—Marleen Vega-Perez, Yale University

Yes, you may reuse letters of support if your application is substantially similar.

That said, we advise you to consider how old the letters are when deciding whether to do so. Reviewers likely won’t mind reused letters if the previous application was recent. However, if they’re more than six to eight months old, the reviewers will likely be concerned that the letters are outdated.

“Can I list a newly hired faculty member as a preceptor on a T32 grant if he or she is scheduled to start after the application due date but before the grant would be awarded?”—anonymous reader

Yes. Be sure to include the new preceptor's name and official start date to assure reviewers that the preceptor will be on board in time to assist any new trainees wanting to pursue that preceptor’s area of expertise.

Header: New Funding Opportunities. 

See other announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

Content last reviewed on December 23, 2015