Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
Megan Columbus: From the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health. I am Megan Columbus and welcome again to All About Grants. Today we will be talking about choosing the correct funding opportunity announcement. I have with me Dr. Harold Perl who has been a program director at NIH for now more than 20 years. He’s currently at the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the lead for behavioral research. Why don’t we start with what the purpose is of a funding opportunity announcement?
Harold Perl: As a program director at NIH, I work with my colleagues to figure out which areas of science might need additional work, and where NIH might want to put additional funds to stimulate that work. So a funding opportunity announcement is a way that our institutes can let the scientific community know what areas of science we think are important and what areas of science we would like to see additional applications come in.
Megan: There are various types of funding opportunity announcements. Can you tell me about each different type of funding opportunity announcement?
Harold: Well, probably the announcement that people know most about is what we call a request for applications or an RFA. And that is a very specific, very targeted funding announcement that sets aside a specific pool of money from a particular institute, or a group of institutes, to stimulate research in a very, very specific area. And they typically have a single receipt day where you only have one chance to send an application in, but the advantage is your application is only evaluated in comparison to the other applications that are sent in in response to that particular RFA.
Megan: So how is an RFA reviewed?
Harold: Well our applications that come into an RFA are typically reviewed by a special emphasis panel that’s created just to review the applications for that particular announcement.
Megan: And all of the applications that come in are going to that same panel?
Harold: That’s right. All the applications to the RFA they are coming to that same panel, and the members are selected by their particular expertise in the area that the RFA is seeking to fund.
Megan: So that’s a request for applications. Can you talk a little now about PAs, which are program announcements?
Harold: Program announcements actually are quite common at NIH, and that’s way that institutes identify an area of science that perhaps needs a little more attention. Program directors like myself work with our colleagues in reviewing the literature and the field and staying aware of the science and identifying particular areas that seem to be in need of more emphasis and more work. And so the institutes will then issue a program announcement that identifies an area of interest, typically broader than the RFA, but still targeted towards a particular area of science that we think needs to be stimulated.
Megan: But there is no money attached to a program announcement?
Harold: Not usually, although sometimes. The general program announcement does not have money attached to it. There is a specialized program announcement called a PAS, which has a set aside funding. There is also another particular program announcement called a PAR that has a special review group, so in other words applications that come in response to this program announcement are reviewed by one particular special emphasis panel.
Megan: Whereas for most program announcements those applications are not going to the same panel?
Harold: No, not necessarily. Program announcements will be distributed across the pool of reviewers, the pool of study sections, based on particular specific content of the application. Now program announcements are usually issued for three years. In other words, they are valid for three years from their date of issuance, and so applicants can send in an application to a particular program announcement at any of the three receipt dates that come annually for the three years of the life of the program announcement. Again, as opposed to the request for applications which are typically a single receipt date only.
Megan: Can you recommend a strategy for how somebody might affectively search for funding opportunity announcement like the ones you just mentioned.
Harold: Yes, well that’s very interesting question and actually there’s a number of ways that a person can do it. One way might be to speak with your colleagues or mentor whose working in the same area of science and find out what kind of funding announcements, or what kind of program announcements they typically respond to, or even what institutes they typically get funded by. Another is to identify various NIH institutes that typically fund the area of science that you work in or are interested in and check their websites. Each of the websites of the institutes will list the program announcements and RFAs that are issued from that particular institute, identifying the area of science they are interested in funding. Other ways are to search the NIH database, the RePORTER database, to see what institutes have been funding areas of science that you are more particularly interested in.
Megan: So one of the more obvious ways that you didn’t mention and maybe because it is more obvious to you is the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, is our consolidated source for publishing every funding opportunity announcement at NIH across all the institutes and centers. And the other thing that we probably haven’t mentioned yet that we should is Grants.gov. So you can also search for funding opportunity announcements in Grants.gov, the difference being that Grants.gov is a search across the federal government, and searching across the federal government you would be surprised at some of the agencies that fund by biomedical research. But Harold what happens if you can’t find something, a particular announcement that is specific to your area of science. Does that mean that NIH isn’t interested in it?
Harold: Actually not, NIH is very interested in all sorts of areas of science and a lot of investigator-initiated research. And if you can’t identify a particular program announcement that’s really focused on what you are interested in doing, then you could look at what we call parent announcements. And parent announcements are more generic program announcement that really identify various funding mechanisms through which you can ask for NIH funding. So, for example, there’s R01 parent announcements. There are parent announcements for small businesses or for small grants. These provide a mechanism for you to actually describe your science, describe your research questions you are interested in, and send an application in to NIH through our electronic application system.
Megan: And to make it easy to find those parent announcements NIH actually has a page of parent announcements that we’ve consolidated, and we’ll provide you that URL at the end of the segment. You said that RFAs have only a single receipt date and that program announcements have multiple receipt dates usually over a multiple years. So I can see that if I submit an application to a program announcement, and I’m not successful, that I could re-submit to that same announcement. With an RFA there’s only one receipt date. What do I do if I’m not successful when I submit to that RFA?
Harold: Well, you can submit another application if your RFA application was not successfully funded, and then it would be a new submission. You would look for either a program announcement from that institute or a similar institute that is close to what the RFA was focused on. And by-and-large that probably would be pretty easy to find because RFAs demonstrate an institute’s interest in a particular area, or if you can’t find a specific program announcement that fits your area, then you can use the parent announcement to send your application in again as a new submission.
Megan: Okay, so that’s using basically the same application that may have responded to the reviewer’s comments the first time around, so it’s a strengthen version of the same application.
Harold: You’d certainly want to take advantage of the reviewers’ expertise and the reviewers’ comments and critiques of your application and build a stronger application to submit to a program announcement.
Megan: Could you tell me if there is an advantage to submitting to an RFA verses a general program announcement?
Harold: Well it really depends. Obviously, if you’re responding to an RFA, that’s an area of science you are interested in, and I certainly would advise the applicants to do that. But when you’re responding to an RFA, your application is competing against all the other responses to that RFA. So, it really depends on how many other applications come in, and what the scientific merit is of each of those applications.
Megan: As opposed to when you submit to a program announcement, you are not getting funded within the applications to that program announcement. You’re getting funded within a whole pool of applications that are coming to that institute.
Harold: That’s right, when you send in a response to a program announcement your application is competing against all the other applications that are coming in to that particular institute.
Megan: So Harold, how would I know if an institute that I think might be interested in funding me is participating in a particular funding opportunity announcement?
Harold: That’s actually pretty simple to find out because at the top of every program announcement, and every RFA for that matter, is a list of the various NIH institutes that have signed on to it. And what’s even more helpful is that there will be a contact person named in the RFA or in the PA for each institute, so you’ll know what program director or what program officer at each institute is handling those applications. And this is probably as good of time as any to remind people that it’s really important to contact those NIH staff that are the scientific or the program contacts to find out a number of things. First of all, whether the institute has particular restrictions on applications to that program announcement, or interested in a specific type of area, or what kinds of applications that the institute is particularly interested in seeing, or just getting more general information about the NIH requirements, or the institute requirements. Because even though various institutes will sign onto an NIH announcement, they might have different requirements specific to that institute that the other institutes don’t share, and you wouldn’t know that unless you talk to the program director. It’s always very helpful to contact the program director early in the process and get to know him or her and get whatever expert advice that they can give you.
Megan: Seems to be a recurring theme in our podcast is to call your program official.
Harold: Yes, early and often.
Megan: That’s right. Thank you for joining us. Well that wraps up today’s addition to All About Grants. For NIH and OER I’m Megan Columbus.
Announcer: You can search all NIH funding opportunities in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts by clicking on the “Funding” tab of the OER website at grants.nih.gov. On the OER website, enter the keyword “parent announcement” in the search box to view a list of announcements for unsolicited or investigator-initiated applications. And to search the RePORTER database of funded NIH projects, go to projectreporter.nih.gov.