NIH All About Grants Podcast: How To Find Help From the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, this is "All About Grants". [ Music Playing ] >> Kosub: Hello and welcome to another virtual edition of NIH's "All About Grants" podcast.I'm your host David Kosub with the NIH's Office of Extramural Research, and today we have a very important topic.A lot of people have questions and they needed answers and they don't know how to find those answers some time, and so that is kind of what we're here to discuss, is how to find help here at NIH and answer all of the questions that you possibly have out there. I'm glad to say that we have with us Ms. Sheri Cummins.She is a colleague of mine in the communications office and has decades upon decades upon decades of experience here doing these sorts of issues, grants, and with that, I welcome you, Sheri, to the show. >> Cummins:Thank you. >> Kosub: All right, Sheri, thank you very much.So can you just start by telling us how do you begin to find help here at NIH? >> Cummins: Sure.Well, first let me say that we have lots of information on our site.We have information on all of our processes and requirements.We have topic pages.Our how to apply application guide, the grants policy statement, hundreds of topic‑specific FAQs, so the answers to many of the questions you might have are out there for the finding. You also may have access to local resources, maybe an Office of Sponsored Research or similar administrative team or even experienced colleagues that you can reach out to. But even with all of those resources, at some point you're likely going to need to reach out and talk to a living and breathing person at NIH. So good place to start is at site, in the upper right corner, you'll find a link aptly named "help" that can point you in the right direction. >> Kosub: So these living, breathing people here at NIH ‑‑ (chuckles) ‑‑ can you tell us about their different roles? >> Cummins: Sure.Most folks know that NIH is made up of 27 individual institutes and centers, and we refer to them as ICs for short. 24 of those ICs are for funding opportunities and award grants.So most of the time you'll be talking directly with extramural staff from one of those ICs or an office within them. Our staff fall within three main roles:We have Program Officials or POs; Scientific Review Officers or SROs; and Grants Management Officers or Specialists and we refer to them as GMOs or GMSs. You know, David, we love our acronyms at NIH, don't we? >> Kosub: What I live for. [ Laughter ] >> Cummins: I should probably mention that right next to that help link on the grants site, you'll also find a link to our glossary which you might find useful if you aren't fluent in the NIH grants lingo.But in a nutshell, our Program Officials provide programmatic and scientific guidance.Our Scientific Review Officers ensure the fair, timely and confidential scientific review of our grant applications.And Grants Management Staff are responsible for the completion of business management requirements, so that's things like evaluating reviewed applications for administrative content, ensuring compliance with NIH policy.They negotiate and prepare awards, do post award oversight, that type of thing. >> Kosub: So kind of building on that, on these different staff roles, like if I have a question that's like during my ‑‑ when I'm writing my application, or, you know, while it's being in peer review or, you know, even after it's awarded, like am I hitting up those specific people? >> Cummins: Yes, so if you want to discuss whether your idea is a good fit within the admission of an IC, or maybe identify the right type of program or need scientific guidance of some sort, then it's going to be a program official you reach out to.If your application is submitted and you want to discuss the review assignment or maybe request permission to send post submission materials or even discuss review concern, then it's the scientific review officer that you'll want to reach out to. And if you want to discuss financial or grants administration issues or need help interpreting grants policy, who doesn't need help interpreting grants policy ‑‑ [ Laughter ] >> Kosub: Always crystal clear. >> Cummins: Exactly.Then you're going to talk to that grants management staff. >> Kosub: And we're both with OER, the Office of Extramural Research, and you didn't mention us in particular.When might someone want to talk to us? >> Cummins: Sure.The Office of Extramural Research, we provide the framework for NIH research administration, so we provide policies and guidance and system support for the research community and those institutes and centers within NIH. This includes our eRA service desk for technical support.So that is one reason you would reach out to OER.If at any point you have questions about our systems, eRA Commons, assist, or if you're a reviewer, then Internet assisted review, then you're going to reach out to our eRA service desk. Our general grants help page links to their dedicated technical support page and contact information, so that's how you can get ahold of them.We have options for opening tickets online and so forth, but that's the group you're going to want to reach out to. It's especially important to reach out to the eRA service desk if you experience an issue with a federal system, you know, eRA Commons,, that threatens your ability to submit an application on time. We do have a systems issue policy, and it requires that you open a ticket with the service desk to document your good faith effort to submit and your attempt to obtain technical support before the due date.Okay? An e‑mail to your program official or other extramural staff doesn't cut it in that situation, so it's really important for you to document with the service desk if you run into problems that might impact your ability to submit on time. Now, our service desk is staffed with talented troubleshooters, they're well versed in our systems.What they can't help you with, though, is policy and programmatic inquiries. So unless you need system support, working with the extramural IC staff should be your first choice.Most of our grants processes and policies apply across NIH, but there is some variability from what I see to the next, so it's important to be working with the people that are actually funding the science that you're proposing or have been awarded to do. And with that said, if you have general questions or have not been able to identify or reach someone in your target institute, we do have on our help page some central contacts within OER on topics like policy and compliance and review policy, human subjects, animal welfare, and a few others, that you can reach out to. So technical support goes to the eRA service desk.Specific application and award questions to extramural IC staff, and general questions can be directed to our OER central resources.And if you're just overwhelmed by all that, and you don't know where to turn, which is understandable ‑‑ >> Kosub: I'm overwhelmed already. >> Cummins: Right? (chuckles) we do have a small group in OER called grants information that can help point you in the right direction.They might not be able to answer your question directly, but they can point you to the folks that can, and they can be reached by e‑mailing >> Kosub: So definitely a lot of information and I'd like to say that, you know, anyone who has had any experience with NIH knows that we're quite large, there's a lot of people buzzing around this place.You know, how do we actually find one of these real live, living, breathing humans here at NIH? Actual ones? >> Cummins: We do exist, I promise you.Again, on that help page, we do have a area called understand staff roles that describes the staff ‑‑ the different roles that we've talked about, the types of questions they can answer and where to find that contact information.So for example, if you've identified a funding opportunity of interest, you'll find the contacts for each of those roles within the announcement itself, and for awarded grants, we provide specific contacts in the notice of award and within eRA Commons. Let's see, we have a chat box that can help you identify online resources and contacts.It's a continuing work in progress and getting better with every interaction, so give it a try.And if you do give it a try, which I certainly hope you do, please take a moment to give us some actual feedback so we can keep improving it.There's lots of technology out there that can make it easier to find the resources that we have, make it a little less overwhelming and we'd love the opportunity to keep improving that. And of course I have to mention match maker, it's a tool in our RePORT suite, and what this tool does is you feed it, you know, specific aims, an abstract or just a string of terms, and it will identify related funded grants with a bunch of filters to refine your results.Okay? So you take that information, you filter it down to something that kind of matches what you're looking for, and then once you've identified those related awards, you can pop over to the program officials tab for a listing of the staff that manage those awards including their contact information. So it's just a super tool, helps you pinpoint, you know, the scientific contacts right there in the right institute, and it's just really terrific.In fact, match maker and all of the RePORT tools are really worth exploring if you haven't done that yet. >> Kosub: There's also a podcast that we recorded about all these RePORT tools including match maker ‑‑ >> Cummins: Yes. >> Kosub: Look at that.Plug the podcast whenever you can. >> Cummins: That was a good one. [ Laughter ] >> Kosub: So a lot of folks out there, you know, if they've been like trainees or, you know, we may have like our PIs out there, people who specifically work on administering their grants at their institution, maybe like a sub‑awardee who is doing work on behalf of another grantee, you know, there's all these different people out there.Do you recommend they contact specific people based on their specific roles or something else? >> Cummins: Yeah, so due to the nature of the different staff roles we have, often researchers end up talking to program officials, and administrators to grants management staff.But there's no rule that says an administrator can't reach out to program official or a PI to grants management if they need clarification.So it naturally kind of falls within those areas, but you can certainly reach out to whoever you need to. Now, if you work under a sub‑award, contact with NIH must go through the organization awarded the grant, okay? Our staff will only discuss the details of an award with the actual recipient. And it would typically be the administrative officials or PI at that recipient organization that would reach out to us. >> Kosub: have you ever experienced someone not reaching out to us for a particular reason? >> Cummins: It's funny you should ask.I posed that very question to the audience at a presentation I gave.I asked:Have you ever wanted to reach out to NIH but decided not to and why? And I was floored to see how many people said fear.Fear of looking stupid or uninformed, feeling that their questions were somehow unworthy of NIH attention.David, it was like a gut punch.It's literally our job to help.We all want the same thing, you know, to advance our scientific understanding and ultimately improve the nation's health, and I think, you know, the pandemic has shown us all how truly vital that NIH mission is for everyone and we really just need to help each other to get there. >> Kosub: If it's one thing I learned, it's not to give Sheri a gut punch. [ Laughter ] I guess on a related note, though, was there ever a time when you would recommend someone not reach out to us, as opposed to being afraid to reach out to us? >> Cummins: You know, I wouldn't cold call.Do your homework first.Check the available resources.If you've done that and still have questions, reach out.You know, it's one of my mantras, when in doubt, reach out. >> Kosub: Thank you for that, Sheri.Before I go, I always like to give the opportunity for, you know, my guests to mention any final thoughts, any burning issues that still need to be addressed, you know, any final thoughts on how to find help here at NIH you would like to leave folks with. >> Cummins: Sure.We haven't really talked about how to reach out.E‑mail is the best way to reach us, even if it's just to set up a time to talk.If you are just starting with NIH and want to talk to a program official about your proposed research, provide a concise description of your concept.If you need to discuss an award information or something about your award, provide the award details in your questions. You know, just give us some information up front on what you're looking for.We want you to be prepared.But we also want the opportunity to be prepared ourselves.That way, when we do touch base, we can make the most of that interaction together. And finally, just don't wait until the last minute.You know, don't wait until right before an application due date or reporting deadline to reach out.Do allow us some time to get back to you.And if we don't respond within a week or, so give us the benefit of the doubt, you know, we may have just missed it.We're working hard just like you, you know, juggle workloads.We are human beings out here, but we are here to help and we do want to help. >> Kosub: Glad to know I'm still a human being. [ Laughter ] Well, Sheri, Thank you very much, Sheri, for this opportunity to learn more about how to find help here at NIH.You know, to reiterate a point she made earlier, do check out the help page on our site.You will find a lot of information on that issue on how to find help. This has been David Kosub with NIH's "All About Grants".Thank you very much. >> Cummins: Take care.