Cynthia Carr of the Office for Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) attended a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) Regional Seminar, held in Philadelphia in April 2010. She brought back a great deal of useful information on submitting proposals to the NIH.
Q: Wow, the NIH. They are legendary. Were you intimidated?
A: Not at all. The NIH staffers, and there were 10-15 of them in attendance, were incredibly friendly and helpful. Very approachable. From the Acting NIH Deputy for Extramural Research to program officers and folks who help run the website, there were people from all over the organization, and they were there to help.
They also emphasized that NIH staff is there to answer questions. In fact, when a PI is considering applying to the NIH, he or she should definitely call or email a grants management officer or grants management specialist in the institute or center of interest. They also admitted that they are pretty buried under email sometimes, so they said folks should be patient and try a few times.
Q: But, the NIH only funds big universities, right?
A: Not necessarily. The NIH has a wonderful funding mechanism designed for schools like LMU, called the R15. More than one presenter emphasized their interest in seeing more R15 applications. They want to reach out to small, up and coming schools, like LMU.
Q: If an LMU faculty member was going to apply to the NIH, what should they do?
A: Well, they should call the ORSP! (laughter) We’re here to help!
But, seriously, they should call us, and then go to the NIH website. It has tons of helpful information. In fact, there is so much there that it can be hard to track, so let me give you a few good places to start:
This is a list of all the institutes and centers – at the NIH they are called ICs. There are 27 in all, so first a faculty member should get to know them and which ones might be interested in the project.
The NIH also has a very complete proposal preparation area – it includes a great deal of information on grant writing in general, and for the NIH in particular. I remember that their main emphasis is on the science of the project. They want everything written up well, however their main concern is whether the PI is doing good science, and the broader impacts of the work.
They also suggested, and this is a really good idea, that PIs look at the new database of funded work, called RePORTER (which replaces CRISP). Using RePORTER, you can look up currently running projects funded by the various ICs. That’s a real head start on the literature, since journal articles generally take a year or so to produce and publish after the project is complete. RePORTER lists projects that are currently in the works, with contact info for the PI.
Another good use for RePORTER is if you had two ICs that might fund your work, you could use RePORTER to see which one is funding similar projects, and go with that one.
Q: I’ve seen the NIH website – it’s a lot to navigate. Is there an easy to get opportunities weekly?
A: Yes, there’s a weekly roundup of opportunities and announcements:
…and most of the ICs have newsletters. You just have to go to one of their websites and nose around a little.
Q: What about getting to one of these NIH conferences? Are they held regularly?
A: Yes, the NIH holds two regional seminars per year, one on the west coast, and one on the east coast. The next conference is in Portland, Oregon June 23-25. The 2011 seminars will be announced on their seminar page:
Also, the University of Pennsylvania posted the Powerpoints from the Philadelphia seminar on their website: