NIH All About Grants Podcast

Loan Repayment Program (Part 2) – The Application


>> From the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, this is "All About Grants".


[ Music Playing ]


>> Kosub: Hello, and welcome to another 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're going to be having a part 2 of a conversation we started on the NIH Loan Repayment Programs, and our first conversation we talked about kind of an overview of what they are, and in this conversation we're going to get into the nitty gritty of the application, the ins and outs, what you need to know.  And I'm pleased to say that Dr. Ericka Boone from NIH's Office of Extramural Research's division of loan repayment joins us again to provide her perspective on this as well as Dr. Roya Kalantari from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.  She's a program officer involved with Loan Repayment Programs there. Welcome, everyone, and looking forward to the discussion.  All right.  Let's start with Ericka, perhaps, can you tell us ‑‑ does anyone need to consider new types of research when thinking about doing an LRP?


z>> Boone: First, I would like to say thank you for having me back, David, and welcome Roya to the discussion.  So an applicant to the Extramural Loan Repayment Programs does not need to present ideas for new research within their applications.  There's a reason for that, however.  It's because we're not providing funding for research itself nor for salary.  We're only repaying student loan debt; therefore an individual is able to give us a synopsis or utilize research that's already paid for, so specific aims within research that is already funded in some sort of way, either through their own funding sources, departmental funds, start‑up funds, funds from their mentors, whatever it might be, in order to include in their application.


>> Kosub: Great.  Great.  In part of our podcast, we usually talk about reaching out to your program staff early and often, so I want to pitch this next question to Roya.  What other things would you recommend an applicant consider when they're kind of putting together their application? When they're thinking about putting it together, that is?


>> Kalantari: Yes, thanks for adding me in on this half of the conversation, David and Ericka.  So really when you're thinking about applying, the big things, number one, look over the LRP website.  It's amazing.  It's got so much information on it.


>> Boone: Ooh, thank you.


[ Laughter ].


>> Kalantari: I mean, it's just ‑‑ it's just a wealth of resources, and so really, you know, take the time just go through that, check out all the pages, the definitions, the resources, one, two, threes, you know, all that stuff. The other big thing is you can check the NIH matchmaker which is on NIH Reporter to kind of see if ‑‑ where your project aligns within NIH's institute.  So that's going to help you figure out which institute contact you want to reach out to  talk about your application with. And then number 3, as David mentioned, is you want to reach out to that program officer once you find the right institute and say, hey, is this in alignment? What do you think of this idea? And so those are really some of the big things at least on the NIH end that you want to think about pre‑application.


>> Boone: Roya, those are really good points.  I appreciate that.


>> Kosub: So moving to the application itself, can you tell us, what are the most important parts of the application? Do you have any tips that people can use to ‑‑ when they're kind of putting it together ‑‑


>> Boone: All parts are important, David.  Every single last part of the application is absolutely important.  So of course there's the research activity section which includes your personal statement, your mentoring and training plan, if you're applying as a mentor candidate or the career development plan if you're applying as an independent researcher.  There's also an area where you describe your proposed research aims, describing your research environment, and then loan information, but I think that this will be a real great opportunity for Roya to be able to dive into or give us more kind of an IC‑specific frame of mind for what institutes and centers are really looking for in a mentoring and training plan?


>> Kalantari: Yeah, I think I'll just go through a few of the main sections, like the personal statement, the training and mentoring plan, and give a few examples of things that we're kind of looking for.  So with the personal statement, what you really want to do is tie this into the spirit of the LRP.  So the LRP is more about you holistically as a researcher than it is about the research plan that you're proposing specifically.  So while the research plan does need, you know, clear aims, preliminary data, feasibility, all that kind of stuff that you want to see in a regular NIH Grant, you know, this is really more about you as a clinical researcher, as a pediatric researcher. So really make that clear that you're fitting into that ‑‑ that framework, and how that's helping you sort of develop your research career and become an independent and successful scientist.  The other thing, the training and mentoring plan, you want to make sure that this fits both to your current project and your overall career goals and what you did before your LRP application started, right? So you want to make sure that the training plan isn't redundant.  It's not things you've already done.  But also that it's not just out of left field for the project you're proposing, and really is helping you reach those milestones that you're setting out for yourself to become independent.  Mentors and advisors, you want to make sure their roles are clearly defined.  Those aren't redundant either, and that they have the right expertise needed to help you be successful. And I think those are probably the major ones.  I don't know, Ericka, if there's any other ones you can think of.


>> Boone: They've heard me wax on and on about what I think is important here.  I think it's really important that they hear you, what ‑‑ what an IC would be looking for within these different sections of the application.  So this is really golden.


>> Kosub: Moving to like the review side, once someone actually kind of considered all of these things and put it in their application, you know, how are the reviewers looking at it?


>> Kalantari: Oh, man, so look at that evaluation criteria, absolutely, those are listed on the LRP funding announcements, so ingrain those in your brain as you're writing this application and make sure you're directly addressing each of those concepts, and again, when you look at those, you're going to see, it is sort of this idea of you holistically as a researcher, it's not just your project.  It's how is this project going to help you achieve your research goals? What is the appropriateness of your previous training? Does it align with what you're proposing to do now? Keep that in mind as you're looking through this. But every IC is going to be different, just double check in with them, because some will have additional criteria or things that they kind of keep in mind when they're making their funding decisions for this. And also keep in mind that like if you're applying to NHLBI, we get a lot of applications.  You know, these reviewers are looking through a ton of applications when they're reviewing, and so their ability to really sit down and sift through and parse out the information is going to be maybe not so feasible for them as somebody in a smaller IC with fewer applications.  So make it obvious to them that you're answering these questions, that you're fitting this program, and that you're going to be successful.


>> Kosub: Very cool.  In our last conversation, part 1, Ericka gave some great tips and challenges and the stakes that applicants have had.  You, Roya, have some additional tips?


>> Kalantari: Ericka did a great job last time.  I really don't have a lot to add to that.


[ Laughter ]


But I guess I can think of a couple of things, maybe not so common, you know, she covered sloppy applications, that's definitely a big one, and strong recommendation letters is another big one.  Again, not tying in your career goals to the spirit of the LRP people, IC reviewers say, well, this person is doing pediatric research, but they don't really care about being a pediatric researcher, just seems to be happenstance, you know, so is this program really preparing them to be a successful pediatric researcher? No, because they're ‑‑ they're just doing this for the time being. If you have gaps in your career, be upfront about that.  Don't try to shuffle that under the table, under the rug, you know, they're going to figure that out and they're going to see that and think there's a lot of productivity and question that, so just be up front.  If you had family issues, say you had some family issues, you know, they'll understand life happens.  And the other thing is the LRP has the option to apply as mentored or independent.  A lot of people in the career stage of when they're thinking about an LRP tend to be right on the fence.  You know, you need a lot of the criteria for being independent, but maybe you're on a career development award, so I get questions about that a lot, which way should I go? You know, if you still have any sort of formal mentorship, you should probably go the safe route and apply as mentored, because really, then, you know, if you start talking about having a mentor in your application, you get the reviewers all kinds of confused and they don't ‑‑ they're going, well, where's the mentor bio sketch? Why do they have a mentor if they're independent? What's going on here? And that just sort of frustrates them and can reduce enthusiasm.


>> Kosub: Great.  Thanks for that.  I want to go back to Ericka for a second.  So for those who are able to go through this whole process, create a great application, review went well, everyone did good, they got ‑‑ actually got an award and now they're up for possibly even considering renewing it, what should they be thinking about as that time approaches?


>> Boone:  There's one thing I want to go back to before we get into that, and that is the quality of your letters of recommendations and who you are listing as your mentors, as Roya said, and who is writing letters of recommendation for you.  Those should be absolutely specific and on target with what your research and career goals are.  Why is this person present within your application? How are they supporting you, right? What is their role? So when you can tie these things into your application and that information is also included in that letter of recommendation, it just makes for a much more well‑rounded targeted strategic application submission.  If you just have someone in there because you think that they're important, how does this even matter to the trajectory of your research career, especially if they write you a three‑sentence letter of recommendation? That's almost worse than getting a bad one from somebody who might be lesser known, because that really important person that everybody knows gave you three sentences, so what did they really, really think about you? Now, with regards to after you've gotten that LRP, and you're thinking about your resubmission, I think that now you really need to be paying attention to the research progress statement, or the research progress section. I think that a lot of people, there's a missed opportunity there because I'm not really sure if ‑‑ as I said before, they really gave it the proper amount of respect.  They're just throwing a few bullets for it, oh, basically, I've made some progress and you should give me another award.  That's probably not going to get you very far. As I say in my presentations all the time, if we have 3,000 applicants or however many applicants, 90% of these people can walk on water, turn water to wine, and feed the multitudes with fish and a few loaves of bread.  So if you're not able to differentiate yourself from the water walkers, as I call them, then you have no chance of receiving a renewal award because you really do need to set yourself apart. How has this award been a game changer for you and your career? How has this protected research time been important for you? What are the goals that you set for yourself and what were you able to attain? And then what are you planning to do moving forward? Roya, would you like to add to this?


>> Kalantari: Yeah, I mean, that's honestly what we see most of the time in renewals that aren't successful is people just really don't take the time to highlight their successes, you know? Take that space in your renewal to apply to everything you've accomplished.  Be proud of yourself.  You know, and we recognize that the LRP is a quick turnaround.  It's only a couple of years, so you've got to apply again real soon. You know, you can pull out all of these sorts of professional accomplishments that you've made and ways that you've moved forward to become more independent and successful, and give yourself that space to be proud of who you are as a researcher.


>> Boone:  I would say it would be helpful to keep a list, right?  So sure that you have some sort of evaluative activities that you engage in within your institution every six months or at least once a year.  What are the types of things that you include so that you can demonstrate progress in your career, progress in the classroom, progress with whatever it might be? It would be good to keep that running list and apply that same concept to your research progress section within the application.


>> Kosub: Fantastic.  That's been very helpful.  Before we close, Roya, I would like to give you an opportunity for additional closing thoughts if we haven't hit on anything you still feel is exceptionally important to note.  Ericka provided some great ones last time, so want to see if you have some you would like to share?


>> Kalantari: Yeah.  I mean I was just going to really drive home that talk to your program officers concept.  I hope that you can tell I'm not a scary person.  Program officers aren't scary people.  We're here to help you, you know, so we really want to give you that advice.  You know, we listen to the reviews.  We hear what's going on.  So we kind of have this unbiased view of tips and tricks and things like that of how to make a successful application, and so, you know, take that opportunity.  It's free.


[ Laughter ]


All you got to do is send an e‑mail.  So, you know, and we're happy to talk to you about anything that you're thinking about.  Even if it doesn't line up with the LRP, maybe we can say, oh, well, there's these other opportunities that do align, so that, you know, there's ways that we can help you navigate your career in a multitude of ways.  So don't miss out on that.


>> Kosub: Fantastic.  Well, Roya, Ericka, thank you very much for this opportunity to hear more about the application for a loan repayment program.  I hope other folks have found it helpful, and we highly encourage everyone to reach out to your program staff like Roya mentioned and also feel free, send e‑mails to or follow us @NIH_LRP.  This has been David Kosub with NIH's "All About Grants".  Thank you.