Early Notice: New Microbial-Host Interactions Grants

Microorganisms are everywhere–in and on our body, and in our environment. We know that these microbial communities affect our health and the health of plants and animals that we depend on. Yet, we know very little about the physiology and ecology of these communities and their interactions with their hosts.

Today, the NIGMS Council approved a new grant program that will focus on studying the basic principles that govern microbial community structure and function within a host. Research under this program will advance our understanding of the basic biology of microbial communities. It also has the potential to provide clues for developing new strategies to promote human health and treat or prevent diseases.

Once the funding opportunity has been published in the NIH Guide in early August, we will post it on the Feedback Loop site. In the meantime, I encourage you to send me comments and start thinking about applying.

Comment Notification

We’ve been posting lots of comments and replies to Feedback Loop entries, particularly ones about Recovery Act funding opportunities. So that you can automatically receive alerts when comments have been added, we’ve set up a special “Comments” RSS feed. To sign up or learn more about it, go to https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/index.php/comments/
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Feedback Loop Blog Sidebar - Comments (RSS)

If you have questions about administrative supplement requests, be sure to skim the comments to “Tips for Requesting Recovery Act Administrative Supplements” and “Clearing Up Confusion about Supplement Length and Budget Limits” for information that may apply to you.

Explaining Recovery Act Faculty Recruitment

Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationWe’ve received a lot of questions about the Recovery Act faculty recruitment funding announcement. In addition to posting the questions and answers in our Recovery Act FAQs, I thought I’d share them here on the Feedback Loop.

What is the intent?

The intent is to contribute to startup packages for junior faculty so that they have a good foundation for becoming independent, tenure-track faculty members who are competitive for NIH awards.

Why does this use the P30 mechanism?

For technical reasons, this funding opportunity uses a research core. Despite the use of this mechanism, NIGMS does not intend our awards to be anything like a conventional resource or service core.

How will applications be reviewed?

Applications will be reviewed by standard NIH review procedures, in this case a special emphasis panel. Reviewers will consider the institutional selection process and environment, including how candidates will be identified and selected, the departmental and institutional track record for attracting junior faculty and programs available for their professional development.

Please note that we do not intend to make awards based on area of science or specific faculty candidates (more on this later).

How do I format the application?

It is difficult to address application requirements using the standard format of Aims, Background, Preliminary Data and Design and Methods sections. My suggestion is to play it straight! For example, include the history of the search in the Background section and describe the recruitment process in the Design and Methods section. Using subheads also helps.

Should I include a description of the general resources for the whole department, or a general description of what the resources might be for a new faculty member?

My best advice is to frame it in terms of what would be relevant to the area of research–computational clusters, 2P microscopes, MALDI-TOF spectroscope, etc.  Departmental resources are undoubtedly sufficiently multi-purpose that you can make access to them a positive feature of your application.

Can we use the award to support more than one recruitment effort?

Yes, but bear in mind that our intent is to produce competitive startup packages in cases of demonstrable need.

Can we use the award to support collaborators and/or co-investigators?

No, funds should be for the support of the new faculty member.

Would a junior faculty recruit who has recently (within the last month) received and accepted an offer be eligible for funding under the P30 mechanism?

No, the funding opportunity announcement specifically precludes this.

Is it appropriate and/or expected to identify potential specific new faculty candidates by name and with a brief description of credentials?

Specific identities are not appropriate, but you should describe the characteristics of the desired applicant pool—high-impact publications, prestigious awards, etc.

The funding opportunity announcement states “describe plans for how their research ideas will be selected, developed and conducted as pilot research projects.” Does this mean we should include funds for supporting pilot research projects in the P30 application budget?

Pilot research projects per se should not be proposed.  Rather, you should discuss the general research context and how the interests of a candidate will align with and expand your strategic vision.  You should discuss drivers of your funding timeline—when you anticipate the recruit to start, anticipated salary, equipment needs, etc.

Scientific Workforce Development, Diversity and the Power of Basic Research

Strategic PlanAs part of our strategic plan, Investing in Discovery, we pledged to “expand and extend the NIGMS commitment to facilitating the development of a diverse and inclusive biomedical research workforce” and “adopt a comprehensive, systems-based approach to address future workforce development issues.” In keeping with these goals, we convened a workshop to examine the benefits and feasibility of developing computational models of the biomedical workforce that would aid in program development and evaluation. Based on the discussions, we issued a new request for applications last week to develop computational models of U.S. scientific workforce dynamics. I encourage individuals or groups who are interested in this challenging area to consider applying, and I and others at NIGMS are looking forward to interacting with these researchers once awards are made.

The scientific workforce was also a focus of last week’s address by President Obama to the National Academy of Sciences. He made many important points about the ways that science impacts society, as well. I have included several excerpts below.

The President spoke of the potential impact of basic research, the need to support it and its benefits, saying:

No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals, or new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and to drought.

History also teaches us the greatest advances in medicine have come from scientific breakthroughs, whether the discovery of antibiotics, or improved public health practices, vaccines for smallpox and polio and many other infectious diseases, antiretroviral drugs that can return AIDS patients to productive lives, pills that can control certain types of blood cancers, so many others.

Because of recent progress — not just in biology, genetics and medicine, but also in physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering — we have the potential to make enormous progress against diseases in the coming decades.

As you know, scientific discovery takes far more than the occasional flash of brilliance — as important as that can be. Usually, it takes time and hard work and patience; it takes training; it requires the support of a nation. But it holds a promise like no other area of human endeavor.

The President challenged scientists to “use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation,” adding:

So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. I want to encourage you to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in science fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

He also spoke of the need to “create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields, but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet.

I recommend taking the time to watch Exit icon, listen to Exit icon or read Exit icon his entire presentation.

Justifying the NIGMS Budget

Every year, we develop a Congressional budget justification that supports our appropriation request for the upcoming fiscal year. We just posted our FY 2010 budget justification. It contains both retrospective and prospective information that might interest you, including:

Clearing Up Confusion about Supplement Length and Budget Limits

Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationI’d like to address several questions about supplement length and budget limits that were submitted after my last post on requesting Recovery Act administrative supplements.

Supplement Length

You can request a Recovery Act administrative supplement for the remaining active period of a current award. The supplement should not exceed two years if you have more than two years remaining on your award.

Please note that after July 15, 2009, NIGMS will only consider requests for one-year supplements. Also note that you can invoke a no-cost extension (NCE) of your grant through the Commons when your grant is within 90 days of its end date. This applies only to the first request; subsequent ones must be reviewed by NIGMS.

Let’s look at two scenarios:

Situation Approaches
Your award is within 90 days of its end date in Fiscal Year 2009 You may invoke a one-year NCE through the Commons and then submit an administrative supplement request with the same end date as the NCE
Your award end date is in FY 2010 If your grant is already in an extension, you should request support not to exceed the current end date. If you think you need additional time as you approach the 2010 end date, you can request another extension and another administrative supplement.If your grant is active but not in an extension, you can in your supplement request state your intent to invoke an extension and request support through the projected end date.

NOTE: Your institution is responsible for processing the NCE at the appropriate time.

Budget Limits

Formally, you may request any amount for an administrative supplement that fits within the scope of the parent grant and can be justified accordingly. In practice, this means that supplement awards are almost always much less than annual budgets.

As for equipment, $100,000 is a longstanding threshold. But in today’s world, there are many examples of equipment used by a single lab that cost north of that amount, and we will carefully consider such requests. We look at the total amount requested, whether it’s for one piece of equipment or several.