>> Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
>> Columbus: We're here for another edition of All About Grants. My name is Megan Columbus from NIH's Office of Extramural Research. Today we're doing our third in a series on who do I contact for help at NIH.
And we're talking about the part of the process that's application submission through review.
I have three panelists with me. I have Nick Gaiano, who is a Scientific Review Officer with NIH's Center for Scientific Review. I have Cathie Cooper, also with the Center for Scientific Review, who's the head of the Division of Receipt and Referral there. The ones who receive your applications and assign those applications to institutes and study sections. And I have Dave Hunter, from the Office of Extramural Research, and he heads up customer support for Electronic Research Administration systems. Welcome to you all.
>> Columbus: Let's talk about the application submission process. You know, in the last of this series we talked about finding a funding opportunity announcement and developing the application and we kind of stopped right at the submission process.
When we're looking at application submission and we're having a problem with a submission process, what should we do? Dave? Advice?
>>Hunter: So what's going to happen next if there's a system problem, you call the help desk of the system that's causing the problem. If you need to submit your application with a cover letter that documents that you had a problem and the Division of Receipt and Referral is going to see if that submission is supported by the facts, if indeed there was a submission problem. So they're going to contact the eRA help desk to see if those records are available. They're going to look to see what happened. So, again, this documentation is really important, the Division of Receipt and Referral will look at our documentation and make a decision as to whether that request is supportable. And if it is then generally they'll go ahead and accept that late application and move it forward if things are done in that timely manner. You have to remain diligent, you have to keep trying, and if you do all that and it's outside your scope of control, perhaps we can help.
>> Columbus: Sometimes applicants come in late and we have a late policy in place that says when it's okay to be late and when it's not. I know a lot of applicants tend to ‑‑ want to call the Center of Scientific Review, Division of Receipt and Referral. Cathie, what do you tell them what that happens?
>> Cooper: We tell them to call the help desk.
>> Columbus: I see. I hear a recurring theme here.
>> Cooper: Absolutely, every time. We can be sympathetic, but we are not the people to help. It's the help desk they need to call.
>> Columbus: And sometimes it's not a technical problem that makes them late. But they still call you. What's the late policy say about that?
>> Cooper: Well, people frequently do contact us asking for an extension of the due dates. And no one at NIH is authorized to give an extension of the due dates. So we have an NIH Guide notice that outlines very clearly when an application might be accepted late. And generally our advice is to go ahead, keep trying to submit your application, include a cover letter with the application explaining why it's late, and then we will look at that cover letter when the application finally does arrive and on a case‑by‑case basis make a determination whether the reason for the delay warrants acceptance late during the window of consideration.
>> Columbus: What happens when they actually, they get their application in the door and the application gets assigned to an institute and it gets assigned to a review group, but I don't agree with where my application has been assigned.
Cathie, do I talk to you? Nick, do I talk to the scientific review official?
>> Cooper: So frequently we do get requests, phone calls and faxes from people saying, I requested an assignment to a specific study section and I didn't get that study section, what's up? And we can certainly forward that request to the Scientific Review Officer or the IRG chief, but I would recommend first talking with the Scientific Review Officer and asking the question why is your study section the right study section for my application? They may be able to answer the question on the scientific basis.
And so I would suggest going to them first.
>> Columbus: Because in receipt and referral, you have a staff of Ph.D.s who are looking at the application carefully, considering their request and they have a thorough understanding of how the study sections are put together.
>> Cooper: Right.
>> Columbus: And are making the recommendations based on their expertise.
>> Cooper: Right. And then sometimes errors happen. We have a very high through‑put division and, you know, when you are looking at thousands of applications coming through the door, sometimes mistakes are made and we want to fix those if we can.
>> Columbus: So, Nick, what would you do when somebody calls you and said, "You're just wrong for me."
>> Gaiano: Well, the issue I think really is: are they concerned about the study section they've been assigned to or the institute they've been assigned to. The study section issue is something that the SRO and potentially their chief could help them with. I do not believe the SRO would be involved in the institute assignment. I think that would have to be looked at again by the Division of Receipt and Referral.
>> Cooper: Right. So we basically are constrained in making institute assignments based on two things: One is, is the institute that they requested in their cover letter actually participating in the Funding Opportunity Announcement? So, frequently we can't make the assignment because they're not on the Funding Opportunity Announcement. The other constraint that we have is based on the institute's own stated interests, which are the referral guidelines that we use. And if the science in the application doesn't match up with what the institute is interested in supporting, then we send it to a different institute for the assignment.
>> Gaiano: I just wanted to add with respect to the study section assignment, really the critical issue there would be for me to understand why the person does not think their application belongs with my panel and that there is actually some flexibility in the system. I think it's important that applicants understand that there are a lot of panels that have overlapping expertise. And if they can make a reasonable case as to why their application perhaps is better suited for another study section, that is certainly something that CSR will look at and will consider.
>> Columbus: Nick, what happens if I'm calling you because I submitted my application but I forgot a particular piece of information that I think is critical for it to get a fair review?
>> Gaiano: Well, that's an unfortunate circumstance that, of course, no one wants to see happen. However, there are fairly rigid rules regarding what happens post the submission deadline. Generally speaking, there is a limited amount of information you can supply after the deadline. But it usually relates to changes that are a function of some sizable unforeseen ‑‑ somebody that's become very ill and cannot participate anymore or you are changing institutions. There are a few other very limited circumstances, but generally you are probably out of luck if you just left some critical piece of data out.
One option I do give people, if they're concerned that their application will not fare well because they left this piece of data out or some other component that they feel is critical is they can withdraw the application and consider coming back in a subsequent round. But they can't modify the current application in those ways.
>> Columbus: Great, thank you. And there actually is an NIH Guide notice on post‑submission materials and a policy associated with that.
So, if I did decide I wanted to withdraw my application, who would I then be talking to? Would I be talking to the Scientific Review Officer, would I be talking to the Division of Receipt and Referral? How do I get that application withdrawn?
>> Cooper: Well, you can talk to either. But since the Scientific Review Officer, is only going to forward that information to the Division of Receipt and Referral, I would suggest going straight to the Division of Receipt and Referral. But there's two important things that people need to know about withdrawing an application.
One is we can't accept an email. We need a signature. And it is not the Principal Investigator's signature that we need, but rather we need the signature of the Authorized Organizational Representative in order to withdraw the application.
So if your Authorized Organizational Representative will simply fax us a letter, to the Division of Receipt and Referral, then we will withdraw the application. No explanation is required.
>> Columbus: A good reminder that NIH gives grants to institutions, primarily, rather than investigators. So as an investigator, if I'm unhappy with the outcome of a review and it's not just because I thought people didn't like my science, but I thought something might be technically wrong with the review and I wanted to appeal the review, who would I get in touch with first? Would I start with a Scientific Review Officer?
>> Gaiano: No. You should first contact the Program Officer, who the application is assigned to and certainly it's worth talking carefully about exactly what the issues are and getting input from the Program Officer. They have a lot of experience in this regard, regarding what would make a reasonable appeal and what is likely to be an unreasonable appeal.
The Program Officer would then contact the SRO if you do choose to appeal and the process would go on from there.
>> Columbus: Applicants are tracking their information through the eRA Commons, which is our portal for providing electronic information exchange with them. What happens, Dave, if an applicant doesn't see their assignments or their application image or whatever they are expecting to see in the eRA Commons?
>> Hunter: So first and foremost, don't panic. Pick up the phone, give us a call and we'll take a look and see if we can find out what the problem is. We'll help you out and try to find out where your application is. Maybe there's something we need you to do on your side, maybe there's an action you need to take. It may be as simple as you just have to wait a couple of minutes and the application will come through after it's done processing.
>> Columbus: Thank you all for joining us. Next up in our list of podcasts will be who do I ask for help post‑review. For National Institutes of Health 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.