>> Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
>> Columbus: Welcome back to All About Grants, I'm Megan Columbus from NIH's Office of Extramural Research.
In the second part of the series on who should I contact for help here at NIH, in this case we're talking about finding a funding opportunity and developing your application.
I have with me a representative, from our scientific program staff, Sue Brobst, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. I have a representative from Grants Management, Grace Olascoaga, from the National Institute on General Medical Sciences. And I have Dave Hunter, who is from the Office of Extramural Research and he's the head of customer support for Electronic Research Administration.
As the investigator or even as the administrator when I'm looking for funding opportunity announcements, is it advisable for me to call NIH? And if so, what's the best place for me to call? Sue?
>> Brobst: You can go about this in a number of ways. And one way is to start off by doing your homework and you might want to search the NIH Guide for grants and contracts on the NIH website because you can type in key words for your area of research. Another way to look at NIH institutes and Center's specific websites.
>>Columbus: So once they have exhausted all of these avenues, then, and maybe they've found the name of a Program Officer, either on an institute website or on a funding opportunity announcement then would it advisable for someone to call you?
>> Brobst: Well, actually, we prefer that you email us first. When you look at those funding opportunities, oftentimes they have a scientific contact listed. But that might just be a central point of contact, it might not be the ultimate person that you're going to be talking to. It might be best if you went and you gave us a brief idea on your research or maybe your draft‑specific aims and sent that in an email and that way if I'm not the person, I can just forward that email to the correct person. And in addition, we can then maybe set up a time to call where it works for the both of us.
>> Columbus: So what would they find out from you?
>> Brobst: Well, one thing that you will find out is whether your idea actually goes to me at my institute and how much of a priority it will be. You might have inquired about a specific funding opportunity, but I might be able to point you to one that has a better fit.
>> Columbus: And it probably is possible that if I didn't find a funding opportunity and I had looked you up on the website because the institute website it seemed like you are the right person for that area of interest, it may be that you'll find that other institutes may be a better fit for your research and a Program Official can tell you that.
>> Brobst: Yes. .Sometimes there's shared interest and while technically something could come to me, if approximate I know that it might be a higher priority for someone else, I can, you know, refer you to them.
>> Columbus: And so that's something really important to know; we really kind of expect you to talk to us before you apply. It's a smart thing to do.
>> Brobst: And I can add to that. I strongly encourage the investigators to contact us early on when they're developing the idea for an application. If you contact me one week before the application is due and I tell you it doesn't fit, you really didn't use your time wisely. In addition, if you talk to me ahead of time, if it doesn't belong to me, it gives me time to refer you to someone in the other institute and give them time to get back to you. This is good advice in general, whether you are a new investigator starting out, an established investigator, someone from a small business, someone in a foreign institution, post‑doc or whatever stage career you're in.
>> Columbus: What about understanding the Funding Opportunity Announcement itself? I think sometimes contacting the Program Official can actually help clarify the Funding Opportunity Announcement. And what we're really looking for or what we're not looking for or what should be coming in elsewhere.
>> Brobst: Well, to understand how to navigate a Funding Opportunity Announcement just in general, I advise you to listen to one of our NIH podcasts, I believe it's number 19.
To get advice on a particular funding opportunity, though, I would start with the scientific contact listed in the funding opportunity. We can help you to pay special attention to whether your institution and you, at your stage of your career, and your institution are eligible.
We can work with you on those special sections that you should be looking at to say whether the research idea is responsive or not responsive. If it's not responsive, we might have to withdraw it and it won't get reviewed. So it's really worth your time to talk to us ahead of time.
When there are multiple institutes listed, it's really important to ask early on and up front to see whether your idea is of interest to that particular institute.
So you can address their priorities when you are writing.
>> Columbus: So it is important for listeners to remember that NIH is a very large place and we have 24 different funding institutes. And so understanding how your research fits into the scientific portfolio of each of those institutes can be a little daunting. But doing your research can have a big payoff.
>> Brobst: Yeah, and especially when we have requests for applications or RFAs, they often by design have special requirements. And, don't guess about what we mean. If you have a question you don't understand, ask. Because we really do want your great idea to help, to go forward and, depending on, your experience and level of understanding, you might need some clarification.
>> Columbus: Well, and I know that, Dave, I know that the help desk certainly gets a lot of calls and some of those calls are really calls that they could find out the answers if they read that Funding Opportunity Announcement very carefully.
>> Hunter: Absolutely. We ask that people look for the resources that are available to them. Read first, do your homework, as mentioned.
>> Columbus: So, the message here is to call the help desk if it is a question about how to submit the application, call NIH program staff if the question is about the science you are including in the application or for clarification of what is actually requested in the funding opportunity announcement. You also might want to contact the NIH grants management staff with budget questions. . What kind of questions would you expect as somebody is trying to develop their budget? Grace?
>> Olascoaga: A lot of times we get questions about which form in fact to use, whether it's the modular or the non‑modular and some tips for determining that may be, again, what grant mechanism is being offered, what the annual direct costs are going to be that will be requested by the grantee and then whether you are applying from a domestic or foreign institution.
>> Columbus: Great. Thank you, Grace. There sometimes are prior approval requirements, right, for conference grants or for grants that are over $500,000 in direct costs a year? As an investigator, who am I going to contact at NIH for that prior approval?
>> Brobst: Well, generally, you're going to talk to the Program Officer first. And again, you know, we have, across NIH, if the grant is greater than $500,000 in direct costs in any year, you need prior approval, six weeks before the receipt date. I strongly encourage you to contact us well before that, just to kind of run your idea up the flag pole. First off, does it meet my institute's approval? Because if not, you're going to have to go to another person at another institute to see whether they're going to accept it or not.
Also, it might be greater than 500K, I might not be able to say yes because it will have to go through a certain number of layers of approval. But if it's definitely a no, I can tell you now, and that way you are not wasting your time.
>> Columbus: We talked a little bit about completing the application forms already.
Right? We talked about Grants Management certainly being able to help you with the budget pieces of that. Program I think sometimes knows these forms well and sometimes they don't. Some program officials have been with NIH for a long time and there were different forms and a different process, before you submit an application.
And so they may or may not understand the individual form elements quite as well as they could.
Dave, do you have any advice for folks who are trying to figure this out?
>> Hunter: So first and foremost, I'm going to say it again, read the instructions. Instructions are provided for your use for you to follow. Make sure you read them and follow them.
But something complementary to that is we're a very collaborative environment. Try to find out who you need to speak to because you'll make better use of your time. But if you don't get the right person, don't worry about it, we'll get you to the right person.
>> Columbus: And, of course, any advice you would give them is: read the Funding Opportunity Announcement very carefully; know that the instructions in the Funding Opportunity Announcement trump the instructions that are in the Application Guide, should there be any kind of conflict.
>> Hunter: Absolutely.
>> Columbus: What about if I'm having actually technical difficulties working with the forms themselves, they're just not working for me. Would they be calling NIH?
>> Hunter: If you're at the start of the process, you're trying to fill out the forms, the forms aren't working, you're probably going to call Grants.gov.
>> Columbus: Right, because these are fed‑wide forms. They're not NIH‑specific forms. So we don't have control over those.
What if I'm having technical difficulties with federal systems, as I'm trying to submit my application and the deadline is approaching? What do I do? Because, certainly I shouldn't be held accountable when my application is done, I'm just trying to hit submit and it's not working.
>> Hunter: If you can demonstrate that you've been diligent in getting your application to us, we're very interested in having that application. We want to review science. That's what we're here for. We want it in. If there's a technical problem that's outside of your control, critical words there, if it's outside of your scope of control, and on the federal side, we're not going to penalize you because one of our systems inhibited you getting your application in a timely manner. So if there's a problem and it's a system problem, us, it's a federal problem, not you, call the help desk. We'll help you document it. We're not going to penalize you for a problem on our side if indeed the problem is on side.
>> Columbus: Thank you all for joining us today, for NIH and OER, this is Megan Columbus.
>> Announcer: Do you have questions about the funding opportunity announcement? Or have a technical issue with grant submission? If so, please visit grants.nih.gov, and click on “Contact Us”, at the bottom of the page. Contact information for all program official s and grant specialists are in all NIH Funding Opportunity Announcements, in Section 7, titled Agency Contacts.