Give Input on NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Plans

The report of the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, includes recommendations that could have a broad impact on NIGMS training programs.

NIH has just issued a request for information (RFI) on implementing the working group’s recommendations. As summarized in a blog post by NIH’s Sally Rockey, the RFI seeks your input on these topics:

  • Developing individual development plans (IDPs) for those in graduate and postdoctoral training supported by NIH funds from any source,
  • The length of time NIH should provide support for graduate students,
  • Providing more uniform benefits packages for postdocs,
  • Gathering information about individuals receiving NIH support for their training,
  • Reporting by institutions of aggregate career outcomes of graduate students and postdocs on a public Web site,
  • Considering multiple career outcomes as indicators of success when reviewing training grants, and
  • Launching a dialogue with the extramural biomedical research community to assess how NIH supports the biomedical community, including faculty salaries.

I strongly encourage you and your colleagues to submit comments by the April 22 deadline, because your input is key to developing policies that serve the scientific community and improve the training experience of graduate students and postdocs.

How NIH Makes Grant Application Assignments

Here are answers to some of the questions we’re frequently asked about grant application assignments.

Who receives applications and makes assignments?

All applications are received by the Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The DRR gives each application two assignments, one for review and one for funding consideration.

How are review assignments made?

Referral officers in CSR assign an application to an integrated review group (IRG), a branch of CSR that manages the review of applications in a general scientific area. The chief of the IRG or his/her representative, in consultation with scientific review officers (SROs) in the IRG, makes the final assignment to a specific scientific review group (SRG), which can be a standing study section (SS) or a special emphasis panel (SEP). An SS reviews applications in a specific topic area within the purview of the IRG. A SEP reviews applications on special topics or when conflicts of interest exist. Find an IRG, SS or SEP.

Why isn’t the study section listed on my application?

Since the application is first assigned to an IRG, the IRG abbreviation initially appears as the review assignment. This abbreviation is replaced by the SRG label once that assignment has been made. A similar process occurs with applications assigned to an NIH institute or center (IC) for review. At NIGMS, the initial assignment is to our Office of Scientific Review, followed by assignment to a specific review group and SRO.

How are assignments for funding consideration made?

The DRR assigns the application to an IC for funding consideration. In some cases, the DRR may make a secondary assignment to another IC. The assignment is based on referral guidelines developed by each IC. These describe the IC’s focus and mission areas, interests shared with other ICs, and the funding opportunity announcements that the IC supports. Other considerations may include requests made by investigators or by ICs for secondary assignments.

Why wasn’t my application assigned to the person I thought was my program director?

It’s likely that your application received a “temporary” assignment. When an IC receives an application, it assigns a temporary program director. At NIGMS, this person is Ann Hagan, our associate director for extramural activities. Once the application has been matched with the most appropriate NIGMS division, branch and program director, it will receive a final assignment.

Why was my application assigned to an IC or SS that I didn’t request?

If you have traditionally been funded by one IC and request a change to another IC, reassignment will occur only if the application is deemed a better fit with the new IC. Another factor is the IC’s program interests, as described in its referral guidelines, program announcements (PAs) and requests for applications (RFAs). Many of these announcements are only supported by one or a subset of ICs. If an application is submitted in response to a funding opportunity announcement that is not supported by the requested IC, then it can’t be assigned to that IC.

Several factors influence the likelihood that a request for review assignment to a particular SS will be honored. The most important factor is whether the proposed research is a good fit for the scientific focus of the requested SS. Like science itself, the scientific focus of an SS evolves over time. Therefore, the SS that reviewed your application 4 years ago may no longer be suitable, and the IRG may make a different assignment. The funding opportunity announcement can also play a role in the review assignment. Applications for many RFAs and PAs with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations are reviewed by SEPs organized by CSR or by IC-specific scientific review offices. If the application is responding to one of these funding opportunity announcements, it can’t be assigned to a standing SS for review.

What should I do if I don’t get a requested study section or IC assignment?

You should contact the SRO or program director who was assigned the application. If, after discussion, a reassignment is warranted, that person will facilitate the change. If you still have concerns, you should contact the DRR.

For more details on this topic, read the CSR’s The Assignment Process.

Pain Research, Animal Stem Cell Funding Opportunities

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements:

Mechanisms, Models, Measurement, and Management in Pain Research (R01)
(PA-13-118)

Purpose: Conduct basic, clinical and translational studies on pain related to the missions of the participating NIH institutes and center
Application due dates: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Alison Cole, 301-594-3827

Improvement of Animal Models for Stem Cell-Based Regenerative Medicine (R01)
(PAR-13-114)

Purpose: Propose research aimed at characterizing animal stem cells as well as improving and/or creating animal models for human disease conditions (see announcement for information on NIGMS-specific interests)
Application due dates: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Susan Haynes, 301-594-0943

Give Input on ‘Big Data’ Training Needs

To maximize utilization of the vast amounts of biomedical data and information that are being amassed, NIH has started to develop a series of activities grouped under its Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. One of the efforts focuses on ways to train the workforce needed to manage, access, integrate and analyze large, complex datasets.

As a first step toward developing a set of recommendations, a BD2K working group has issued a request for information (RFI) on the short- and long-term training needs of individuals who work with biomedical data. The group is also seeking examples of programs or strategies to cross-train scientists at all career levels as well as comments on evaluating workforce skills and knowledge and developing a diverse research workforce. Your input, which should be submitted by March 15, 2013, will inform discussions during an upcoming BD2K planning workshop on training and education needs.

Aligning Training

As the new deputy director of the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, my main focus is on the Institute’s training activities. It is an exciting time to join the Institute and help implement its strategic plan for biomedical and behavioral research training.

One of my first tasks after coming to NIGMS was to work with Institute staff and leadership to address a key action item in the strategic plan to “examine and adjust the allocation of NIGMS training resources across and within scientific areas and institutions.” Since NIGMS supports about half of the predoctoral institutional training program (T32) positions funded by NIH, our policies have a broad impact.

The Institute has always looked at a number of issues in addition to priority scores to identify which training programs to support and works to allocate funds on a fair, equitable and well-justified basis. Following extensive analyses and discussions of the current distribution of training resources, which began well before my arrival, we intend to be more proactive in aligning our funding decisions with our priorities. Some of the additional factors we will consider are whether programs:

  • address training in new and emerging areas of science,
  • have been highly successful in enhancing diversity,
  • have effectively leveraged slots to impact the overall institutional program,
  • are at institutions that do not currently receive NIGMS T32 support, and/or
  • explore models for training that are fundamentally different from our existing programs.

The realignment process will take place over the next several years and, in some cases, may gradually impact the size of existing training grants. We anticipate that this more goal-driven approach to funding will make the overall impact of our training programs even stronger, and in this way, further enhance the quality of biomedical research training.

I welcome your comments on this blog or directly to me at alison.hall@nih.gov.

SBIR/STTR Program Changes

In late January, NIH issued the 2013 omnibus solicitations for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. As mandated and recently re-authorized by Congress, NIGMS and other NIH components have set aside funds for these programs focused on developing innovative technologies with commercial applications.

Starting with the April 5, 2013, receipt date, all applications must follow the instructions and guidelines in the 2013 solicitations. A few key changes are:

  1. The suggested guidelines for allowable budget requests are now $150,000 in total support for Phase I (R41/R43) and $1,000,000 in total support for Phase II (R42/R44). Note that total support includes the direct and indirect costs and fees for the entire length of the project. With appropriate justification, applicants may exceed the budget guidelines by up to 50 percent ($225,000 in total support for Phase I and $1,500,000 in total support for Phase II, a hard cap). NIH, including NIGMS, has received a limited waiver from the Small Business Administration to exceed the hard cap for specific topics.
  2. As in the past, NIH offers applicants for the SBIR and STTR programs access to various technical assistance programs to help move the funded projects toward commercialization. Alternatively, awardees may now directly request up to $5,000 to use for technical assistance of their own choosing.
  3. All applicant organizations must complete registration with the System for Award Management (SAM) Exit icon, Grants.gov Exit icon and eRA Commons. Soon, all small business concerns seeking SBIR or STTR funding will also need to register with the Small Business Administration Exit icon.

NIH plans to publish guidelines later this year to explain how small businesses with venture capital investors may use the SBIR and STTR funding mechanisms.

The NIH SBIR/STTR Web site has a wealth of information covering all aspects of the two programs, and additional updates will be posted there. I am happy to answer questions and discuss potential proposals with applicants. E-mail me at somerss@nigms.nih.gov or call 301-594-3827.

UPDATE: NIH has reissued the SBIR and STTR funding opportunity announcements. View comments section for details.

Post-Submission Application Materials

NIH has recently updated its policy on what materials can be accepted after an application has been submitted but before initial peer review. Here are the changes:

  1. News of a promotion or positive tenure decision will be accepted if received at least 30 calendar days prior to the review meeting and if confirmed by the authorized organization representative;
  2. Exceptions that previously applied only to requests for applications (RFAs) with a single submission date now apply to the last due date of RFAs with multiple submission deadlines; and
  3. Some specific types of personnel information associated with institutional training and training-related grants will now be accepted.

See NOT-OD-10-115 for all other requirements and exceptions.