Are you a new investigator looking for funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) that fit your research area but haven’t found one? Luckily, a large percentage of the research NIAID funds is investigator-initiated (unsolicited), so if you come up empty searching for solicited request for applications (RFA) announcements in your area of expertise, the next step is to find the right investigator-initiated FOA.
How Investigator-Initiated Applications Work
Each activity code (e.g., R01, R21) has a Parent Program Announcement (PA). If your area of research is within NIAID’s mission, you can apply to the parent PA that best fits the scope of your research and your timetable. If your application scores within NIAID Paylines, it has a very good chance of being funded if money is available and you’ve addressed any concerns following peer review, as explained in our April 3, 2019 article “Act Immediately To Resolve Bars to Award and Prepare Just-in-Time Information.”
Advantages of Investigator-Initiated Applications
Without the specific expectations NIAID provides with an RFA, like a single due date, you are better able to make the administrative side of applying for funding fit your needs.
Staying within your area of expertise and interest is a distinct advantage, especially for new principal investigators (PIs) who have relatively fewer publications. You also can use the multi-PI option to bring in one or more additional PIs with distinct and complementary expertise.
NIAID does not usually differentiate between new and seasoned investigators when awarding applications submitted in response to an RFA. However, for R01 applications in response to a PA, we use two separate paylines, so new investigators have a slight advantage when submitting investigator-initiated applications.
Investigator-initiated applications are subject to NIH's standard Application Due Dates, which means there are three windows in any year in which to apply. This flexibility means that you can make sure your application is “ready for prime time” before submitting.
Finding the Right PA
It’s a good idea to consult with a program officer who works in your area of research before applying. He or she may be aware of additional research priorities beyond what appears in the currently listed FOAs. You can find contact information in “Section VII. Agency Contacts” of the parent PA.
In addition to NIH parent PAs, NIAID maintains an Opportunities and Announcements page you can use to find NIAID-specific PAs. Simply filter by PA to bring up all the active announcements at NIAID:
Use NIAID’s Concepts List to Gauge Institute Interest in a Science Area
The earliest planning stage of a funding initiative is an Advisory Council-approved concept, which is listed on our Concepts: Potential Opportunities page. These concepts are approved one to two years in advance of any published FOA but highlight NIAID’s interest in these scientific areas. Even though there are no announcements to apply to yet for recent concepts, you can still check to see if your expertise fits any of them. If so, you can submit an investigator-initiated application—no need to wait.
Potential Review Committees
You should consider examining which review committee is likely to review your investigator-initiated application. NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) lists its standing committees—including contact information for the scientific review officers in charge of these committees—on its Integrated Review Groups page. You can also use this experience to better Know Your Audience when writing your application.
To request assignment to the most appropriate study section for peer review, you may Use the PHS Assignment Request Form. You can list expertise, request to exclude reviewers, and specify to which institute you would like your application assigned. Requests to exclude individuals as reviewers will be honored if the reviewer is truly conflicted based on NIH policy. Do not provide suggestions for reviewers to include.
If you do not use the PHS Assignment Request Form, CSR will assign your application based on research area and other criteria.
Once you figure out exactly what science you’re submitting to which FOA, you’ll want to make sure the requested budget is large enough to cover the research. Though reviewers do not use your budget request to assess scientific merit, they will check if it is reasonable, appropriate, and fully justified. If you significantly over- or underestimate, reviewers will take that to mean you don't grasp the scope of the work.
For investigator-initiated grant applications with proposed budgets of $500,000 or more in direct costs (excluding facilities and administrative costs) in any one year, NIAID requires PIs to seek approval from a program officer at least six or more weeks before applying. See our May 2, 2019 article “Know Which Unsolicited Applications Require Prior Approval as Big Grants.”
For More Information
If you think submitting an investigator-initiated application is right for you, go to our Unsolicited, Investigator-Initiated Research page for more details.