Applying for a Grant: Basics

Writing research grants and scoring funding from federal and non-federal resources remain a challenging task for many researchers. While established faculty may find this section helpful, the links included here are geared towards junior faculty, for whom the process is even more challenging, long and highly competitive.

Understanding the Peer-Review Process of NIH

To be able to write a successful grant, it is imperative that one understands the peer review process that NIH has implicated for reviewing grants. Below are links to two must see videos, where renowned scientists “review” a mock grant and take the viewer through the entire process of NIH grant review:

You can also download these videos (.mov format) to make CD or DVD for educational purposes. You will need Quicktime 7 player to view the downloaded videos:

Developing the Idea (Hypothesis)

The core of any successful grant is a powerful idea that is based on solid scientific facts and addresses an issue of clinical relevance. Remember, the primary mission of NIH is to fund research that will improve public health. Although, there are mechanisms to fund basic research, pursuing a problem of clinical relevance enhances chances of a favorable review of your grant.

As the core idea of your grant will play a significant role in the outcome of the review process, critically evaluate the reasoning behind your idea. Run it by your peers and ask for their uninhibited comments. An idea should relate to not only general public health issue, but should also be an extension of your training as a graduate student and/or as a postdoc and should reflect your strengths as a researcher. Learn about core research services that are offered by your institute, as that will help you assess the feasibility of your proposed studies. Find out about and seek advice of researchers at your institute who are working on similar research issues and can help you as advisors and/or collaborators. NIH strongly encourages intra-institutional collaborations and utilization of existing resources and such homework can help you develop your idea into a successful grant. Carefully read the funding announcement, as the information contained within usually carries useful information regarding the eligibility of a grant, important dates, and other information. Also, carefully review the page restriction and other requirements for submitting an NIH grant.

Presenting Concepts

Once you have a good idea of available institutional/departmental resources and have compiled a list of potential collaborators/advisors, you are now in a position to layout a framework of the proposed studies within the limitations of resources offered by institute.  Before you begin, you will require Letters of Collaborations from scientists (Key Personnel) within and outside your institute in support of your grant.  In addition, you need their NIH Biosketch for inclusion in your grant. Request these letters well in advance to accommodate any prior commitments of your advisors/collaborators.  If you are planning to propose use of Human or Animal subjects or human embryonic stem cell lines, then familiarize yourself with strict regulations that govern using of these reagents and first obtain necessary institutional approvals (for example IRB, IACUC, ESCRO approvals: UMASS compliance guidelines) before proceeding.

NIH has recently announced additional page limits for all activity codes, so be very succinct and precise in expressing goals of your grant, clearly describe rational behind each of the suggested specific aims, provide enough technical detail for your experimental approach so that a reviewer can easily follow your logic, and discuss shortcomings of your proposed studies and how you will approach the problem should one of them become an obstacle in achieving the stated goals of your grant. Be realistic in proposing experiments; ambitious grants may not do very well, as reviewers will consider your expertise and available resources to conduct the proposed experiments with the timeframe and budget constraints of the grant. Conduct your own “Peer-review” of the grant by requesting your colleagues to go over it and provide you with their critical assessment of the proposal. Seek advice of your mentors, as they are in better position to give you an idea regarding the feasibility of the grant and its potential for success in scoring the funding.

Submitting the Grant

Most funding agencies require that you submit your grant online. NIH requires all researchers to create an NIH Commons profile before they can submit a grant. Before you submit your grant, visit the Center for Scientific Research website and find out which NIH Study Section may be the most appropriate for your grant. You can request the Scientific Officer handling your grant that your proposal is assigned to a specific Study Section. Although the Officer is not required to assign your grant to the suggested Study Section, most of the time, s/he will honor your request.
 Below is a collection of forms and checklists as well as a suggested timeline for the paper work that department members and UVM researchers are required to fill/complete for a successful submission of grants.

Biochemistry Grant & Progress Report Submission Checklist

(example uses Agency deadline of February 15 and SPA deadline of February 3)

  • Notification of type of grant/agency (Yvonne) as well as request for administrative assistance to help prepare/upload grant pieces:
    • At least 6 weeks before agency deadline (ex. For an agency deadline of Feb 15th, we need notification by January 6)
  • New Proposal Questionnaire (word) (Yvonne):
    • 3 weeks before SPA deadline  (ex. For SPA deadline of Feb 3, we need the proposal by January 13)
  • Internal Budget/Routing Form & Direct Cost Spreadsheets. These are sent to the PI by Yvonne; if needed, meeting with Yvonne to take place:
    • 10 days before SPA deadline  (ex. For SPA deadline of Feb 3, we need to have the spreadsheets by January 20)
  • First round of uploading of Grant pieces into InfoEd:
    • 7 days before SPA deadline (ex. For SPA deadline of Feb 3, we need to have the spreadsheets by January 23)
  • InfoEd Routing to take place:
    • 14 days before agency deadline (ex. Agency deadline of Feb 15, the routing needs to take place by January 28)
  • Final round of uploading Grant pieces into InfoEd:
    • 2 days before agency deadline, to ensure that all pieces/submission process has no glitches (ex. Agency deadline of Feb 15th, final uploads is due February 13).