Approaches for Staying Funded
To maintain funding throughout your career will take a strategy that will include writing a stream of applications at different intervals, rather than waiting until you're running out of funds.
To keep the research going, think about other possibilities, e.g., applying for an R21 or becoming part of a multiproject grant, and look into funding sources other than NIH.
You May Reuse Some Types of Applications
Most applications will not succeed on the first or even second try, but you have several ways to reuse an application that does not get funded:
- Apply to the same funding opportunity announcement.
- Apply to a different funding opportunity announcement.
- Apply as part of a team science application.
NIH will withdraw any application that overlaps with research that is underway, completed, or under peer review. Get advice in Reuse an Unfunded Application below.
You may also send an application for the same research to NIH and an outside organization (i.e., not part of the U.S. Public Health Service) simultaneously, though you will be able to accept only one award. Read more in Broaden Your Horizons below.
Staying Ahead of the Game
Even if you get a four-year award, we recommend that you start planning new applications in the second year or sooner.
To maintain funding throughout your career takes a strategy. At any point, you'll likely need several applications in the works to avoid a break in funding.
You have probably heard the maxim that the best time to look for a job is when you have a job. That's a helpful way to think about application writing, too.
You'll also need to make sure you publish. Keep in mind that your productivity, reflected by publications in reputable peer reviewed journals, is important—so don't neglect this key aspect of your career. NIH offered recommendations on how to identify credible journals in a Statement on Article Publication Resulting from NIH Funded Research.
Publishing not only improves your reviewers' impressions of your research accomplishments when you apply, but also gives other researchers an opportunity to learn more about your work. This may lead them to ask you to collaborate with them on an NIH grant—giving you potential new opportunities to get funding for your research, as we discuss below.
Juggle Multiple, Nonoverlapping Projects
Even though you're busy with other responsibilities, it's critical that you write additional applications as early as possible rather than wait until you're running out of funding to act.
Sequential applications are critical, especially with today's low application success rates. As soon as you can, start planning new applications on additional topics that will likely be reviewed by different study sections and possibly funded by different institutes.
In addition to renewing your existing grants, you'll need a series of new applications that will enable you to maintain a stream of funding over time. You can also maximize your chances of success by submitting new and renewal applications at different times.
To avoid a funding break, apply long before your grant ends. Remember: it takes more than a year and a half from application to award if you succeed on the first try, over two years if you must resubmit (most people do).
Uncover New Topics
At any point—even if you're still waiting to hear about your application's fate—consider writing an application on another topic. Ask yourself
- Are there offshoots of your research that could be the basis of another project?
- Have you uncovered a new line of promising research that you and your team have the expertise and resources to execute?
- Do you have or can you find new collaborators who can bring additional expertise to the team to enable you to go in a promising new direction?
Plan another application. When planning your next application, carefully consider the following advice.
- Pick a topic that is clearly distinct from your funded work.
- Be sure you have sufficient staff to do all the work.
- Take care not to dilute your best ideas with too many applications too close in topic. It takes a strong, virtually flawless project to compete successfully.
Also remember to mind your effort. You can apply for multiple awards with total effort levels that exceed 100 percent, but ask yourself: Can I juggle all the work?
You will need to convince reviewers that you have enough resources and time to do the work and are not stretched too thin (especially if you are a less experienced investigator).
If multiple applications are funded, we'll adjust your effort to be no more than 100 percent during award negotiation.
Consider an R21 or R03. In addition to a second R01, think about applying for an exploratory/developmental grant (R21) or small grant (R03) to explore a new avenue of research.
You need a solid track record demonstrating that you are qualified to conduct research in the new area.
Read more at Comparing Types of Research Project Grants.
Train. You may also want to consider getting additional experience, training, or collaborators—particularly if a promising lead requires new expertise.
Such training can come from formal courses offered by (or through) professional societies, hands-on training gained in the laboratory of an experienced colleague, or programs specifically designed to attract investigators new to a particular field of research.
To maximize your chances of success, submit your new and renewal applications at different times.
If you have a funded grant, don't count on a successful renewal. Because many applications fail at this point, you'll need other possibilities, which means more ideas, more applications.
To maximize your chances of success, consider submitting your new and renewal applications at different times, targeting them to different review committees and a different institute.
Your goal is to avoid a funding gap so you can keep your lab and your research team going. Since you can revise and resubmit each (investigator-initiated) application only once, having sequential applications in the works can help maximize your chances that one will succeed.
Reuse an Unfunded Application
Did your next application not get funded? You have several Options if Your Application Isn't Funded.
You could use the same research topic and any part of your proposal for a new application. Make sure the Specific Aims differ from your funded research and point out in your application and cover letter that there's no overlap, otherwise NIH will withdraw your application.
If you take that approach, you will likely have to modify the application to fit the requirements of your new funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Read the FOA instructions closely for details and learn more at Create a New Application.
You can get NIH funding through different types of collaborations. Read more at Build Your Team.
Respond to an RFA for Cooperative Agreements
Look for requests for applications (RFAs) that support cooperative agreements.
Under a cooperative agreement, you would work more closely with NIH program staff during the course of the project as compared to an R01 grant, but you will get funding for a research partnership that meets an NIH priority.
How do you find cooperative agreement opportunities?
Lead One Component or Core of a Multiproject Application
You could get your research included as part of a multiproject application, e.g., a program project (P01). Though you wouldn't be PI, you would be responsible for conducting meaningful research.
Keep in mind that when you apply for a multiproject grant, your goals, methods, and aims must sync well with other projects, remain synced for the duration of your grant, and demonstrate synergy.
Too often, PIs submit separate projects on a high-level shared theme (e.g., inflammation, host defense).
Reviewers will score your application poorly if they don't see how your combined projects would make a bigger impact than each project alone.
Learn more at Multiproject Research (P, U) Applications.
Seek Supplemental Funding to Join Another Researcher's Project
If you have a pilot study or a small project that dovetails with another PI's research, talk to that PI about requesting supplemental funding to incorporate your work into his or her grant.
For projects that fit within the scope of your collaborator's grant aims, have your collaborator request an administrative supplement. He or she can do this any time of year, though NIAID has some requirements your collaborator will have to meet. For example, your collaborator's grant cannot be in its first or last year of award.
For projects that expand the scope of your collaborator's grant, wait for an opportunity for your collaborator to apply for a revision of his or her aims through a funding opportunity announcement that targets your area of research.
Consult for Other Scientists—Especially NIH-Funded PIs
NIH-funded PIs frequently use grant funds to pay consultants to contribute a certain amount of effort to the project and provide specialized expertise.
Consider lending your own effort and expertise to somebody else's research.
Seek out other researchers within your institution, at conferences, and through publications, and formalize these consulting relationships with letters of collaboration.
Check with your institution's business office about whether it has rules or restrictions about consulting for other PIs. NIH will pay for consultants if they're budgeted in the application and do not have a substantive role (e.g., they don’t perform experiments).
For more on finding people who would likely need your talent, read See Funded Projects and Find Teammates.
Contract with NIH
Think about contracting with NIH to develop new technologies or deliver research materials, expertise, and manpower.
We support many academic investigators under R&D contracts, and also purchase a variety of products and services necessary to carry out our activities, such as running intramural labs and clinical trials and providing data, reagents, and other benefits to the public.
Search for "National Institutes of Health" on FedBizOpps for a list of NIH open solicitations. If your lab can fill any of those needs, submit a proposal in response to one of those solicitations.
You will probably compete with biotech companies and small businesses, but don't let that discourage you.
We review all proposals according to the evaluation criteria stated in the solicitation—meaning as long as you demonstrate you can meet the requirements of the solicitation, you stand a chance of being selected.
Broaden Your Horizons
Find institutional support. Talk to your department chair and business office about whether your institution has options to help you through a lapse in funding.
Support eligible doctoral students and postdocs using NIH training (T), career development (K), and fellowship (F) grants. If you can get support for these junior researchers using training and career development grants, do it. You may also want to consider diversity supplements.
Consider funding sources outside NIH: other government agencies, foundations, nonprofits, and companies you could collaborate with and earn income.
If you're thinking about collaborating with industry, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I developed the technology that a company might be interested in?
- Does my work lend itself to the development of a marketable product?
- Do I have contacts in industry that could help give me an entrée into the for-profit biotechnology sector?
- If I am working on a technology that could lead to a marketable product, have I looked at NIH's small business opportunities?
You may come up with ideas that are not appropriate for an NIH R01 but may be well-suited to funding from other agencies. Perhaps your research idea would be well-received by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, or another agency or foundation.
As we previously noted, you may send an application for the same research to NIH and an organization outside the U.S. Public Health Service simultaneously, although you will be able to accept only one award.
But another strategy would be to submit applications that are scientifically distinct so you can accept all awards.
To find organizations that support research in NIAID scientific mission areas, see Find a Foundation or Other Funding Source.
Your program officer can give you application advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirmation that NIAID will accept your application. You can find your PO's contact information in your eRA Commons account or on your summary statement.