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Unsolicited, Investigator-Initiated Research

Investigator-initiated means you create an application in any area of science NIH supports. Most of the applications researchers submit—and most of the research NIAID funds—is investigator-initiated.

Program announcements (PAs) are investigator-initiated funding opportunities.

Investigator-Initiated Applications

How does this work? Here’s an example. To apply for an investigator-initiated R01—a standard independent grant—you don’t have to wait for NIH to publish a special funding opportunity in your area of science.

Instead, you use the R01 parent program announcement to submit an application in a topic of your choice. If your application's topic does fall within the NIAID mission, it will be assigned to us, and we will fund the application if its overall impact score is within the NIAID Paylines.

That example was for R01, but NIH offers Parent Program Announcements for many other activity codes as well. NIH Institutes also offer other program announcements as described below at Find Program Announcements (PA).

Advantages of Investigator-Initiated Applications

The big advantage of going this route is that you have leeway to generate your own ideas and center your research within your own interests and expertise. Staying grounded in what you know best is a critical ingredient of success, especially if you are a relatively new investigator with an unknown track record.

You can also control when you apply. Most program announcements (PAs) have multiple receipt dates, so you have more flexibility to apply when it's best for you. Check the specific PA for submission dates, which often follow NIH Standard Due Dates.

Though you have the most latitude to generate your own ideas, you will have to convince peer reviewers that your topic can make an impact worthy of NIH investment.

Also keep in mind these features of investigator-initiated R01 applications:

  • New investigators are given a slightly higher payline than established investigators. RFAs do not have a differential payline based on new investigator status.
  • NIAID allows program officers to nominate meritorious applications for selective pay and R56-Bridge awards, which creates additional flexibility for investigator-initiated applications to be funded beyond the payline.

Get Advice

Your first step in determining the best fit for your proposed research and the viability of your project idea is to speak with a program officer.

Your program officer can also help you identify other priorities that do not appear on our published lists but are still programmatically important. Read more at Understand NIAID Research Priorities.

Find Program Announcements (PA)

Both parent and institute-specific PAs support investigator-initiated research.

A Parent Program Announcement NOFO is simply a vehicle for you to submit an investigator-initiated application for a given activity code. For example, you can apply for an R01 in any topic within the NIH mission using the R01 parent NOFO.

In contrast, Institute-specific announcements reflect Institute initiatives, each with their own requirements.

Because applications are investigator-initiated, you typically apply using NIH Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications. Check the due date listed in the NOFO to be sure.

Usually, applications are reviewed in the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR); some are reviewed by Institute scientific review groups. You can find the review location in the NOFO.

Use Our Concepts List for Investigator-Initiated Application Ideas

Here’s a tactic seasoned investigators often use: look at our Concepts: Potential Opportunities closely to see whether your expertise lends itself to any of these emerging priorities, then instead of waiting for a possible initiative, apply with an investigator-initiated application in one of those priority areas.

While not every concept becomes an initiative, concepts highlight NIAID research interests and are good resources for investigator-initiated topics.

You don't need to wait for NIAID to publish an initiative to apply in a topic covered by a concept—the earliest planning stage of an initiative. Savvy investigators look at concepts closely to see whether their expertise lends itself to any of these emerging priorities.

We do not guarantee that a concept will ever become a published initiative. But whether it does or not makes no difference because concepts give you a sneak preview of research areas in which NIAID would like to receive applications, including for investigator-initiated research.

Glimpse future initiatives. We publish concepts online so you can get a head start.

  • You can get started writing an application for a future RFA or PA before we publish it.
  • Even if we don't publish an initiative or your application is ready before we do so, you can submit an investigator-initiated application in the area.

Use concepts for ideas. Along those lines, use our concepts simply to get ideas for topics for an investigator-initiated application.

  • This powerful strategy lets you both meet our priorities and stay in your area of expertise (assuming the areas align), boosting your chances of succeeding.
  • If the application misses the payline, it may have a better chance of getting an R56-Bridge or selective pay award than it would otherwise. Those options are possibilities—not promises—but any edge can be critical to success.

When we post new concepts, you can get the news right away, usually within a month of a Council meeting. To receive notification of new concepts and initiatives, go to Subscribe to Email Alerts and select the appropriate interest category.

Examine Your Likely Review Committee

If you are submitting an investigator-initiated application, you'll be well served by taking the time to learn about the review committees that are most likely to receive your application.

To find review committees and serving members, look at CSR Integrated Review Groups. Find roster links at the top of the study section pages.

After homing in on a few study sections, speak with that committee's Scientific Review Officer (SRO) in order to assess whether that committee typically reviews applications in the same general scientific area as your proposal and would appreciate the significance of your field and project. Not every fit is perfect and SROs frequently bring in ad hoc reviewers to provide additional technical expertise.

Program officers can also serve as a resource on whether your proposed study section choice is a good fit.

You should never contact a reviewer directly. Instead, learn more about the committee members by visiting their websites or using the NIH database searches described at See Funded Projects Using RePORTER.

Though you can't know for certain whom your reviewers will be, learning about review committees, speaking with the SRO, and researching committee members can help you request the study section that's right for you. For more on requesting assignment, go to Use the PHS Assignment Request Form.

For more on why to keep the reviewers in mind as you write your application, see Know Your Audience.

Have Questions?

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 an NIAID Program Officer.

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