Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
Megan Columbus: From the Office of Extramural Research here at the NIH, I’m Megan Columbus and welcome again to All About Grants. Today we’ll be talking about navigating a funding opportunity announcement. I have with me Dr. Chris Hatch who joined the National Cancer Institute in 1983 and is currently chief of the Program Coordination Referral Branch where he and his colleagues assist in the development and publication of all funding opportunity announcements issued by the National Cancer Institute. One of our last episodes addressed choosing a funding opportunity announcement. Today we’re going to touch on that a little bit and expand the discussion to talk about what an applicant should really focus on as they’re looking at funding opportunity announcements. So, I know that you have strong feelings about how an applicant should search for a funding opportunity announcement and find the right one for them. How about we start there?
Chris: Great. My favorite tool is to use the advanced search feature in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. It allows you to search by topic area, key words, institutes and centers at the NIH that might be funding, how long the opportunities are active, what types of grant or cooperative agreement mechanisms are being used. When you do those searches you bring up, not only specific opportunities, but other related opportunities that may work better for you. So I suggest strongly that you start there.
Megan: What I thought we’d do today is to actually walk through a funding opportunity announcement. For our listeners out there, it may be that you’d like to download a recently issued funding opportunity announcement, and we can follow along together. So Chris, as we’re looking at part one, which is just an overview, there are clearly some pieces of information here that are particularly important for our listeners, the first one being participating organizations. Can you talk about that?
Chris: Very important point because most applicants have the common denominator of knowing about the R01 research project grant opportunity. And that is one of the only opportunities on which all NIH institutes and centers participate. So because of that, many applicants assume that even for other parent announcements that all institutes and centers are participating and that’s not necessarily true.
Megan: For some of our more newly initiated listeners out there, a parent announcement is a very broad announcement that doesn’t focus on any particular area of science. The next one that seems kind of obvious is activity code. Do you want to talk a little about that?
Chris: Well that is a term that’s used by the NIH institutes and centers to refer to the actual grant or cooperative agreement mechanism that is used. So for grants, for single project grants, the primary activity codes would be the R01 research project grant, the R21 exploratory developmental grant, and the R03 small grant.
Megan: In fact, on the Office of Extramural Research homepage we have a link, which we can provide you at the end of this show, which will take you to the entire list of the activity codes and what they support.
Chris: So the thing that applicants have to be aware of that, beyond the R01 grant, which can work for most anyone out there. There are many other more specialized activity codes or grant mechanisms, cooperative agreement mechanisms. And so, you have to figure out what works for your research, for where you’re located, who you partner with, because if you have those extra aspects to your research and your infrastructure and your capabilities, you may be able to get in on something that’s more focused where there’s a special mission interest or scientific priority at one of the institutes or centers that would be to your advantage.
Megan: As I scan down the funding opportunity announcement the next important thing that I see is the application due date.
Chris: Well due dates are important because people, whether experienced or less experienced, still make mistakes there. There’s a lot of dynamism there. You need to see from looking at your funding opportunity that you’re most interest in, whether there’s, as for a typical RFA, only one receipt date of applications or whether there are multiple dates. And if there are multiple dates, at what point in the lifetime of that funding opportunity are you going to be submitting your application? Because there’s no guarantee that that opportunity will keep being renewed. You don’t want to wait until the very last receipt date on a particular opportunity and then possibly have it go away when you might need to come back in with a resubmission.
Megan: Although, that being said, if you need to come back in for a resubmission you can always submit as a new application to a parent announcement, should you need to. Moving down the funding opportunity announcement, we have the funding opportunity description.
Chris: Well it is important to be sure that your research project is going to fit well with what the NIH really wants. So often, typically, you’re going to be applying with a good match between your science and what they’re asking for. But maybe you’re working in an area that doesn’t really fit in any particular mailbox, so to speak. And so, if you’re thinking that you may be a little bit to the side of what they’re asking for, you need to make contact with the program people involved with that opportunity to see do they feel that it’s a fit. Because poor fits can sometimes mean that you go through a lot of work to prepare and submit your application and then find out that because it’s a poor fit it doesn’t do well all through the different steps, whether it’s review or programmatic decision making later.
Megan: Let’s move to section two, Award Information, and talk about the application types allowed. As an applicant, what should I be looking for in that section?
Chris: Well first and foremost, almost all funding opportunities allow new applications, so your first try. The thing to look for is does that opportunity allow for resubmission? So if you don’t succeed through peer review and award on your new application, will there be allowance for resubmission of an amended, corrected application in which you respond to the reviewer’s criticisms from the first review? Renewal application is the second most important thing. If you’ve had an existing grant award of that type and you need to come back in under that funding opportunity is that allowed? Then finally are revision applications allowed? That would be your opportunity to apply for a competitive supplement to augment and push into other research areas related to what you’ve already obtained funding for.
Megan: Moving to funds available, anticipated number of awards—I know certainly everybody is interested in how much money there is and what their chances are, how many awards they expect to make. Is there anything else special to say about this section?
Chris: It’s always important to know what the budget limits are. Requests for applications specify typically how many awards might be made, how much the applicant can ask for and receive in any of the years in the requested budget. Program announcements for most of the main types of grant applications they follow standard budgetary rules that are common across all funding opportunities and all of the participating institutes and centers. As you get into the more specialized activity codes or grant and cooperative agreement mechanisms, specific dollar limits can be set.
Megan: Moving to eligibility. NIH tries to keep eligibility as wide as possible. Do you have any specific advice about this section?
Chris: More often than not you’re going to find that your institute or organization is eligible to apply, but as you get out beyond the parent announcements and you’re looking at specific, targeted funding opportunities, you need to look because sometimes, based on the type of opportunity, there’s a natural need to restrict who can apply. Don’t assume that because it’s a government funding opportunity that it’s always open to everybody. Read through the list. Make sure your institution is eligible.
Megan: Moving to section four, Application and Submission Information. The stuff that really matters in terms of actually successfully getting your application in the door to NIH is in section four. Specifically, number six talks about the other submission requirements and information. That’s where you get information about where to put special information that’s requested for this funding opportunity announcement that may be different than what you might find in other funding opportunity announcements. Is there anything about this section that you’d like to add, Chris?
Chris: The important thing I would like to say here is that NIH has done a good job of reconciling the requirements in section four with the requirements that you’ll find in the grant applications. There is very much a good one-for-one correspondence. It carries through to what the peer reviewers look for. You need to see what’s required in the funding opportunity announcement, compare it to what’s in your application form package, and then think through for what you put in each of those sections to what the peer reviewer is going to look at and evaluate.
Megan: That leads us really well into section five, Application Review Information. I know there is the standard review criteria are in every funding opportunity announcement. Is there other information in this section, as well, that people should be considering?
Chris: Well the NIH review criteria have been standard for some time now. There are five main criteria: significance, investigators, innovation, approach and environment. That’s pretty much standard across the board no matter what type of activity code your application might fall under. You need to look at the additional review criteria because they can be specific, highly customized for either the different, more specialized grant and cooperative agreement mechanisms. Also for requests for applications where there’s a targeting of the science area, all of the criteria can be customized after the standard descriptions of what needs to be reviewed. You need to think about all of the other important federal and NIH requirements for human subjects, women, minorities and children, vertebrate animals, and so on. Some of them are factored into scoring.
Megan: Is that boilerplate in this section or does it change from funding opportunity announcement to funding opportunity announcement?
Chris: Most of it is boilerplate, but beyond the boilerplate there are descriptions of aspects of the application that the reviewers have to review very much customized for requests for applications, for example.
Megan: And I think that speaks to the overarching message of what we should be getting from this podcast episode, which is it’s critical that you actually read the funding opportunity announcement cover-to-cover. And although it’s tempting to think of it as government boilerplate, it’s really not. And what’s put in here is put in here for a very specific purpose. Section six is really award administration information and certainly people should read that. I think more important to talk about here would be section seven, Agency Contacts, which we’ve gotten to already some, but do we want to just put a final emphasis on the importance of these agency contacts?
Chris: Yes, for the parent announcements, the more generic funding opportunity announcements that the NIH puts out, there may be simply Web links to the participating institutes and centers; there may be some sort of generic contact without giving specific names. In many of the more specialized funding opportunity announcements there will be a listing of contact information for program, review and grants management people. And whenever you see those listings, and you have any question about what’s in the funding opportunity, you should get on the phone and contact those people or email them. They are always more than willing to help. Any problems getting those people, you contact others at the institutes. You can work your way through the system to get the best assessment of the fit of your science to a particular funding opportunity and what it requires.
Megan: And I think that’s another recurring theme that we’ve found throughout the podcast series. So use your contact points. If those don’t work, find new contact points. Thank you for joining us today Chris. For NIH and OER this is Megan Columbus.
Announcer: You can search for 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. To find a comprehensive list of NIH activity codes click on the “About Grants” tab of the OER website and select “Types of Grant Programs.”