Writing a Winning Application—Define Resources

Funding News Edition: November 04, 2020
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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.

Credit: NIAID

In the sixth installment of our series, we explore assessing your needs and how you will access the resources required to conduct your planned research. As with previous steps, we are keeping to the Iterative Approach to Application Planning.

Take Stock

Providing enough data and information to support the feasibility of your project and describing the available resources are just as important as wowing reviewers with the project’s innovation and potential impact to advance science within the field.

A key part of "yes we can" is access to needed resources, especially major pieces of equipment. See NIH's definition of equipment and our webpage Determine Institutional Resources.

If you are a new investigator, reviewers will understand that you may have fewer resources at your disposal compared to more established researchers; however, they will expect you to complete all the work you propose.

As you design your Specific Aims and experiments using our iterative process, you'll 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.

Fill in the Blanks

As you plan your experiments, you'll come to realize your resource needs, particularly expensive equipment (e.g., costing over $10,000).

In your application, describe your institutional support for space and facilities in the Facilities and Other Resources section of the application. Your department chair can provide you a letter of support to describe the resources and level of support your institution will furnish.

Note: Unless otherwise instructed in a funding opportunity announcement, the Equipment document should be uploaded to the application package as a separate attachment, not included with the Facilities and Other Resources document.

State how the scientific environment in which the research will be done contributes to the probability of success. If there are multiple performance sites, describe the resources available at each site.

1. Ask to share equipment 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 and shared resources 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.

Using shared resources will also help improve your application since doing so shows 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 or service charges in your budget.

3. 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 logistical challenge and expensive if the samples are fragile, temperature-sensitive, or biohazards or other potentially dangerous substances.

Also, there is some risk if you are dependent on a collaborator’s machine being available on a regular basis for several hours a day. Reviewers may 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 need to pay for, like instrument warranty and maintenance costs.

5. Request money in the application to purchase necessary equipment and lab supplies.

This approach is generally allowable for items such as reagents or inexpensive small equipment or other items not usually shared. But asking NIH to pay for a major purchase is tricky, so here are some tips.

  • Be sure the equipment is absolutely essential for your research and provide a strong, detailed justification explaining why you need the equipment for your research and why you cannot get it any other way.
  • Provide sufficient details about the available equipment and resources at your institution, detailing how the equipment needed is unique for your specific project, and not available at your institution.
  • If your institution has such equipment, but you cannot have (sufficient) access to it, explain why that is the case, e.g., multiple users, equipment is unavailable for continuous long hours required for your experiments, user costs outweigh price of additional equipment. Also, clearly explain how not having sufficient access could impact your project.
  • 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. Listing other potential users of the instrument at your institution can also strengthen your request.

If you request funding to purchase equipment, keep in mind that you will need to provide a detailed budget breakdown, including items such as shipping costs as well as customs and import duties and taxes, if applicable; installation costs; required accessories; service agreements, warranties, and the necessary software to control and monitor operating the equipment.

You should also be aware that if you move to another institution, you may not be able to take your equipment—or your grant—with you. That decision is made by your current institution, since it is the legal grantee.

It's a good idea to get advice from experienced investigators before deciding whether to request grant funds for a major purchase.

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