Grant Writing Resources
- Checklist of non-scientific preparations needed to apply for NIH research funding
Success in applying for federal research grants requires a good deal of thought and preparation that should occur months (or even years) before the application is submitted, much of which is in addition to the scientific work involved in developing the questions, hypotheses, preliminary data, and other scientific foundations of the research being proposed. This document provides a checklist of non-scientific questions and considerations that you should address before beginning the grant application process (targeted to NIH grants, but the practices are generally applicable to grant applications targeting other federal agencies such as NSF).
- What Institute should fund my grant? – Ultimately, whether your research gets funded depends on whether it focuses on a knowledge gap that has been prioritized by the Institute that provides the funding. Different Institutes of the NIH have different priorities. Before you apply, you should visit the websites of various Institutes to learn what those priorities are and find the best match. Part of this process is reading their Notices of Interest (NOIs), Program Announcements (PAs or PARs), Requests for Applications (RFAs), and other funding opportunity announcements (FOAs). It is a good idea to get on e-mail listservs that issue these announcements at regular intervals (typically weekly). In addition, it is good to know the application success rates and pay lines for each Institute and identify potential secondary Institutes to target on your application. If your application receives a good score but falls outside the pay line of the primary Institute, it could potentially be funded by the secondary Institute if they have sufficient funds. Finally, once you have identified Institutes and funding opportunities that appear to fit your research, you should contact a Program Officer (PO) at that Institute (generally listed on the NOI or FOA) to discuss your idea and determine how good of a fit it is. POs can be very helpful and will sometimes read your Specific Aims and offer feedback.
- What funding mechanism is most appropriate for my project? – It is important early on to determine what mechanism is most appropriate for your project: e.g., R01, R15, or R21? This will depend on the scope of the project and how well-developed it is, and the research environment (e.g., research institute or undergraduate college). In general, the 2-year R21 mechanism is for projects that are in the early, more exploratory stages of development that don’t have substantial preliminary data (note, however, that not all Institutes fund R21s, so you will need to confirm that the Institution you are targeting uses that mechanism before you begin), whereas R15s are generally for research at degree-granting academic institutions. Discussion with a PO as well as with your colleagues can help with this. You should also consider whether your grant is a better fit for NIH or NSF.
- What review panel (study section) will be most appropriate for reviewing my proposal? – The single biggest determinant of whether your application gets funded is its score, which is determined by who reviews your proposal. The importance of identifying who will review your grant early on so that you can write your proposal specifically to that audience cannot be overemphasized. Your research will probably not get funded with current funding rates unless it excites and inspires the initial reviewers enough to enthusiastically advocate for you when they present and defend your proposal to the other 20-30 reviewers on the panel. The ideal is to write something that engages the reader and excites them so much that from time to time, they will jump up and exclaim “yes!” when they read your Specific Aims and Research Strategy. Of course, that won’t happen unless you know what they are interested in, well enough to get inside their heads when you are writing. The rosters of NIH study sections (generally but not always administered by the Center for Scientific Review) are publicly available on the web. Additional factors that influence your chances of success include whether anyone on the study section knows you (or knows who you are), and whether the study section includes members familiar with and sympathetic to the model system you are proposing to use.
- What are the deadlines for submission? – Once you have identified a funding opportunity and mechanism, you should look up the submission deadlines for that opportunity/mechanism. If possible, it is best to begin preparing your application at least six months before the application due date to give yourself plenty of time to go through multiple rounds of pre-submission review with your colleagues and mentors.
- Dave Dawson Method – Grant Writing Workshop
- NIH Videos to assist with grant applications:
What Happens to Your NIH Grant Application
Top 10 Peer Review Q&As for NIH Applicants
- The Office of Extramural Research (OER), NIH, hosts a website that assists new and early stage investigators. The site describes current policies, data related to the influx of new investigators, resources that new investigators can use to understand and work with the NIH, and hints useful in constructing a first application for NIH support.
- HHMI/Burroughs Wellcome Fund: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty. See, particularly, the Chapter on Mentoring
- Genome Editing Training (offered by Delaware INBRE): 15CANC4 Precision in Practice Brochure
- Early Career Reviewer Program at NIH: NIH Early Career Reviewer; NIH web link