Help Us Help You—Contact Us Early, Write a Letter of Intent

Funding News Edition: January 08, 2020
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Contact a program officer early in your grant application preparation process, about 10 to 12 weeks before applying, so NIAID staff can help determine whether your proposed idea is responsive to your chosen funding opportunity announcement (FOA) or if there is a better fit with a different FOA. A program officer can also alert you to any application requirements that you must address before submission.

Several factors can lead to your application being deemed nonresponsive, as can certain application requirements if not completed on time. But we cannot alert you to potential problems if we do not know you plan to apply.

For example, NIAID requires applicants to seek prior approval at least six weeks before submitting a big grant, which is a grant that requests direct costs of $500,000 or more in any one year of the project. Were you to overlook this requirement, we would not review your grant.

Additionally, most NIAID FOAs do not allow clinical trials. If you assess that your research proposal is not a clinical trial but upon receipt NIAID does, then your application will not be reviewed. Discussing your research with program staff can help you avoid critical mistakes.

The advice you get from program staff can keep you focused on the best path forward. Without program advice, you could waste your only chance to respond to a request for applications.

Letters of Intent

Most NIH institutes ask prospective applicants to submit letters of intent 30 days before the application due date. However, if you can provide the requested information early, then send the letter early.

Letters of intent should include:

  • Descriptive title of proposed research
  • Name, address, and telephone number of the principal investigator(s)
  • Names of other key personnel
  • Participating institutions
  • Number and title of the FOA

Although letters of intent are not required nor binding, we often use the letters to better anticipate the volume of incoming applications and identify any unique expertise that needs to be included on a peer review panel.

The letter of intent has no effect on your score in peer review. Still, if you provide the correct information, our program staff can further advise you on how to best direct your effort. Here are some additional details you could include:

What to Discuss/Include

What We May Spot for You

Concise description of your proposed project (do not send us your entire application)

  • Whether your research would be a good fit for NIAID, and if not, which other NIH institute or center might be more appropriate
  • Whether it sounds responsive to the announcement
  • If there’s a better funding opportunity for your idea than the one you had in mind
  • Other concerns worth addressing before you apply

Whether your plans touch on special policy areas, such as human subjects, clinical, or animal research

  • Whether your analysis of the NIH definitions or exceptions seems to match
  • Whether your human subjects research might also be classified as a clinical trial
  • If there are special rules restricting your choice of animal species or animal-related plans
  • Other possible limits that could affect your planned avenue of research

Name of pathogens you plan to study, if any

  • Whether your research plan fits any opportunity-specific requirements about the type of pathogen
  • For example, perhaps your choice must be listed as an NIAID Category A, B, or C Priority Pathogen or an Additional Emerging Infectious Disease/Pathogen at NIAID Emerging Infectious Diseases/Pathogens

While optional letters of intent are due 30 days before the application due date, one month isn't likely to be enough time to address any major issues NIAID staff identify. The sooner we receive your letter of intent, the better.

Letter or not, we always recommend touching base with program staff sooner rather than later so that you have sufficient time to use their advice to improve your application. This advice is particularly important when applying to opportunities with only one remaining application receipt date. See Contacting Program Officers and Grants Management Specialists for instances when you must contact a program officer before applying and to learn more about how NIAID staff can help you at other stages of the funding process.

Contact Us

Email us at deaweb@niaid.nih.gov for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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