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Questions and Answers

Who is eligible to apply for an NIH grant?

NIDCR supports scientists at various stages in their careers, from pre-doctoral students to investigators with extensive experience who run large research centers. Applicants are invited to work with their institution to develop an application for support. While the principal investigator (PI) conceives and writes the application, NIH recognizes the applicant institution as the grantee for most grant types.

Each type of NIH grant program has its own set of eligibility requirements, found in section III of every Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA):

Example:

PA-07-288
Part I Overview Information
Components of Participating Organizations

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) (http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/)
Title: Immunology of Biofilms (R01)
Section III. Eligibility Information
1. Eligible Applicants
A. Eligible Institutions
B. Eligible Individuals
2. Cost Sharing or Matching
3. Other-Special Eligibility Criteria

There are two avenues for submitting a grant application:


What should I do before I write an application?

Start planning well before the application submission date.


  • Assess the state of your field of research to determine if your ideas represent an area that needs additional research effort

  • If you are interested in responding to a specific Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), call the Program Director listed in the announcement.*

  • If you are submitting an unsolicited (investigator-initiated) application, call the Program Director at NIDCR who handles applications in your topic area:*
*Program Directors can provide important advice and feedback regarding the relevance of your ideas to NIDCR’s mission or to the objectives of a particular FOA.

  • Determine what resources and support are available at your own organization and what additional support you may need, such as collaborators or consultants.

What should I consider when writing my application?

Develop a focused and testable hypothesis. Outline specific methods that will accomplish your aims within the time and budget requested. Be sure to acknowledge potential pitfalls and alternative approaches to the proposed experiments. Be realistic about the scope of the research proposed and avoid proposing more work than can be done within the grant period.

How do I submit an application?

All applications must be submitted in response to a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which includes Request for Applications, Program Announcements, or Parent FOAs (“unsolicited” or investigator-initiated applications).

Electronic Submission

Many of the common funding mechanisms (R01, R21, R03) now require electronic submission.

Others (K, T, U and P mechanisms) will transition to electronic submission in the future. Be sure to follow the instructions in the particular FOA to which you are applying.

Example:


Request For Applications (RFA) Number: RFA-DE-08-008

Department of Health and Human Services
Participating Organizations
National Institutes of Health (NIH) http://www.nih.gov/

Components of Participating Organizations
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/

Title: Centers for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health (U54)
Section IV. Application and Submission Information
1. Address to Request Application Information
2. Content and Form of Application Submission
3. Submission Dates and Times
A. Receipt and Review and Anticipated Start Dates
1. Letter of Intent
B. Sending an Application to the NIH
C. Application Processing
4. Intergovernmental Review
5. Funding Restrictions
6. Other Submission Requirements


Register in Grants.gov and eRA Commons

Before submitting a grant application electronically to NIH, an organization applying for the grant must complete a one-time registration in both—
 

Principal Investigators are not required to register at Grants.gov but must register in eRA Commons.

What happens after submission?

All applications go to the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). CSR then determines whether an application will remain there for review or whether it will be forwarded to a specific NIH Institute (such as NIDCR) for review.

In general, CSR conducts peer review of:

  • investigator-initiated (unsolicited) applications
  • applications submitted in response to program announcements (PAs)
NIDCR reviews applications that address Institute-specific programs such as:
 
  • centers
  • program projects
  • institutional training awards
  • multi-site clinical trials
  • applications responding to requests for applications (RFAs)
For those applications remaining at CSR for review, CSR also determines which Institute is the most appropriate to potentially fund that application.

How do I find out where my application will be reviewed?


You can login to the NIH eRA Commons to find your review and institute assignments. If you are not satisfied with these assignments, you can request a change by contacting the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) at CSR who is handling your application.


How is my application peer reviewed?

First Level of Review

All applications reviewed at CSR go through a two-stage process. Initially they are assigned to an Integrated Review Group (IRG), which assesses the scientific and technical merit of the application. Applications are then assigned to specific scientific review groups (SRGs)--also known as study sections--based on the topic of the research, or to Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs).

  • Study sections typically include 20 or more scientists from the community of researchers. Some SRGs are regular standing study sections. Members typically serve four-year terms and temporary members also are used for specific expertise.
  • SEPs are review groups formed on an ad hoc basis to review applications requiring special expertise.
  • For unsolicited applications, you are encouraged to suggest the most appropriate scientific review group for review of your application. However, suggesting specific reviewers is not appropriate.
If an application will be reviewed at NIDCR, the Scientific Review Branch decides whether it will be reviewed by its standing committee, called the Special Grants Review Committee, (which in general reviews training awards, career development awards, and certain small research grants), or by a Special Emphasis Panel convened by the Institute.

Review Criteria

Whether your application is reviewed by CSR or NIDCR, the Scientific Review Officer in charge of your application assigns primary, secondary, and tertiary reviewers to review your application. They read the application thoroughly and write a critique, based on specific review criteria, before the meeting.

How are applications scored?

At the review meeting, applications are discussed and each reviewer assigns a priority score. Priority scores range from 1.0 to 9.0, with 1.0 being the best score and 9.0 the lowest. Reviewers assess the scientific merit of the applications but do not make funding decisions. Following the meeting, the Scientific Review Officer compiles the scores and the average score is multiplied by 10 to arrive at a final priority score.

Not Discussed (formerly unscored) Applications

Some applications will be subjected to streamlined review and will not be discussed. These applications fall roughly in the lower half of the distribution for applications reviewed at a meeting.  This designation requires unanimous consent from the reviewers and results in the application not receiving a score and not being discussed in detail at the meeting. The investigator will still receive the written critiques prepared by the reviewers. However, these applications will not move forward for further review.

Scoring of Unsolicited Applications

For unsolicited applications that are reviewed by CSR, priority scores are converted to percentiles. The percentile ranks your application relative to the other applications that have been reviewed by the same study section for its last three meetings. Percentiles range from 0.1 (best) to 99.5 (lowest).

Scoring of NIDCR-Reviewed Applications

For all applications reviewed by NIDCR, the Institute uses priority scores to help rank applications for possible funding.

How will I be notified of the initial review outcome?


After the study section or Special Emphasis Panel reviews your application, scores are made available to applicants in their personal eRA Commons account. Scores are usually available within several working days after the review meeting. If your score has not appeared within two weeks after the review meeting, call your Scientific Review Officer.

Summary statements containing the reviewer’s critiques and the Scientific Review Officer’s overall summary of the review are also available in the eRA Commons, usually by six weeks following the review meeting.

If you are not happy with the outcome of the review, you should contact your Program Director to discuss your options. In most cases, it is recommended that you consider the comments made by the reviewers and use them to guide you in revising and resubmitting the application.

If you feel that the review was technically flawed, you can appeal the outcome of the review. Appeals must be based on procedural flaws in the review process including:

  • bias in the review
  • conflict of interest
  • lack of appropriate expertise
  • factual errors in the review
The appeals process is not intended to deal with differences in scientific opinion between or among the applicant and reviewers. Appeals are rarely successful and generally result in a significant loss of time during which an investigator could have improved and resubmitted the application. See more information on the appeals process.

Second level of review

The second level of review is conducted by the National Advisory Dental and Craniofacial Research Council (NADCRC). Council must concur with the findings of the Integrated Review Group and approve all applications that may potentially be funded. Most investigator-initiated applications are voted en bloc (as a group, rather than individually), while applications requiring special action may be considered individually.

How are grants awarded?

The NIDCR Grants Management Official (GMO) is responsible for making awards. The GMO may request additional information prior to making an award. For example, the GMO may ask for clarification about the budget, the protection of human subjects and animals, and other support. The award is made via a Notice of Grant Award that is usually sent electronically to the Principal Investigator and the institution’s business official within six weeks of the Council meeting. You should contact your assigned Program Director to get an idea of whether or not your application is likely to be funded.

How long does the whole process take?

In general, applying for a grant is a lengthy process with several factors affecting the overall time. It typically takes about four months from submission until you get your score from the initial review, and then another three to five months before an award is made. This time frame can vary depending upon the Funding Opportunity Announcement. See NIH's Grants Process At-a-Glance Chart.

What should I do if my application is not funded?

It is strongly recommended that you contact your assigned Program Director to discuss how to proceed. He/she can help you assess the outcome of the review and advise you on how to address the issues. Revising and resubmitting are the next logical steps. NIH allows you to submit an application up to two times (this includes the initial submission and one revision).  In 2008, the success rate for new applications was 17.4%. 

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This page last updated: January 06, 2014