Encouraging the Use of Individual Development Plans

Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research TrainingMany of the themes in our strategic plan for research training have been echoed by the Biomedical Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH. Among these is the use of individual development plans (IDPs) to facilitate career development discussions and planning between mentees and mentors. I’m delighted to share some progress on this front.

A recent NIH Guide notice encourages institutions to:

  • Develop an institutional policy requiring an IDP for every graduate student and postdoctoral scientist supported by any NIH grant, and

For more details, read this blog post from NIH’s Sally Rockey.

The Blueprint for Implementation of our training strategic plan provides links to resources for developing IDPs, including AAAS’s myIDP Exit icon Web site. Another source of useful tips is a presentation on “Facilitating Career Development through Individual Development Plans” given by Philip Clifford of the Medical College of Wisconsin at our recent Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Program Directors’ meeting.

IDPs are a valuable tool to help graduate students and postdocs identify their career goals and what they need to accomplish to achieve those goals. They are one part of the changing conversations about preparing trainees for the broader landscape of exciting biomedical careers.

Progress Reports and the Public Access Policy

As NIH announced in February, it will delay the processing of noncompeting continuation awards with budget start dates of July 1, 2013, and beyond if publications arising from that award are not in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy.

Whether your award requires progress reporting in the new RPPR format (all SNAP-eligible and fellowship awards) or still uses the PHS 2590 progress report (you know who you are…), you must use My NCBI’s My Bibliography feature to identify and associate publications with the correct grant number(s). Changes to My Bibliography have improved the workflow and communication between PIs and non-PI authors, so it’s now easier for you to track compliance of all papers arising from your awards, even those for which you’re not an author. This YouTube video Exit icon provides a step-by-step demonstration of the whole process.

The RPPR module in the eRA Commons will automatically create the “C.1 Publications” list for your RPPR progress report, complete with NIH Public Access Compliance indicators, based on the grant affiliations in your My Bibliography account. For PHS 2590 progress reports, you will need to run the My Bibliography compliance report yourself, print the file and add it to your PHS 2590.

You can run the Public Access Compliance report in My Bibliography at any time, so there’s no need to wait ’til your progress report is due to check that all your publications are compliant and are affiliated with the correct grants.

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.

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.

JIT Information: How We Use “Other Support” Data

The study section gave your application a competitive score, and now you’ve been asked to submit Just-in-Time (JIT) information about your other sources of funding, including active and pending support for key personnel on the application. Why do we request this information?

First, for all applications that might be funded, we check the JIT information for scientific overlap with the investigators’ active grants from NIH and other funding sources, since we can’t provide support for a project that’s already being funded.

Second, as directed by the NIGMS Advisory Council, we give additional scrutiny to new and competing renewal applications from investigators whose total research support, including the pending award, exceeds $750,000 or more in annual direct costs. These applications require special analysis and documentation from NIGMS staff to justify why the project is highly meritorious, and they are discussed by the Advisory Council.

Finally, we may use the information about other research support to decide which grants to recommend for funding and to establish the budget level of the award. As you may know, NIGMS does not rely solely on a percentile cutoff or “payline” to make funding decisions. We also consider other factors, including career stage, perceived impact of the proposed work, summary statement comments and the other funding available to the investigator.

I hope this post helps provide some context for how we use JIT information and why it is important that your JIT information is complete, accurate and submitted promptly after the request so as not to delay the funding decision. Additional JIT information is available on the NIH and NIGMS Web sites and from your program director.

Compliance with NIH Public Access Reporting Requirements Will Affect Renewals

Since 2008, NIH has required as a condition of all grant awards and cooperative agreements that scientists make their findings publicly accessible through the widely used PubMed Central repository. To increase the number of papers available to the public, NIH has announced that it will delay the processing of noncompeting renewals whose publications are not in compliance with this public access policy. The change will take effect as early as spring 2013, and it will coincide with the required use of the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) for SNAP and fellowship awards.

For more discussion on this topic, including how to ensure you meet the policy requirements, read Improving Public Access to Research Results written by NIH’s Sally Rockey.

Guidance on Submitting JIT Information

Over the years, NIH has tried various approaches to make sure advisory council and institute or center (IC) staff members have all the information they need about applications being considered for funding. In March 2012, NIH announced the latest procedures for submission of this “just-in-time” (JIT) information:

  1. All JIT information must be submitted via the NIH Commons.
  2. The JIT function button will be activated for all scored applications, just in case it’s needed. This is neither an indication that you should submit JIT information nor an indication of your application’s likelihood of funding.
  3. If your application has an impact score between 1 and 40, you will receive an automated e-mail, which only tells you to follow the JIT guidelines of the application’s corresponding NIH IC. Receiving this message does not necessarily indicate that you will need to submit JIT information, as noted in the NIGMS guidelines below.

You can find guidelines for most NIGMS applications on the Summary Statement and JIT Actions for Applicants Web page and in the relevant section of the funding opportunity announcement you’re responding to. Our current guidance is:

If your application, with the exception of T32 or R25 applications, received a percentile ranking between 1 and 20, or if a percentile ranking is not specified and the priority score is between 10 and 30, please submit Other Support information within 2 weeks of the availability of the Summary Statement. In addition, if your research involves vertebrate animals or human subjects, you must submit information as described in the above referenced Actions on Applications after Initial Review sheet for instructions on completing this information.

Should there be changes to this guidance, they will be reflected on the Web page, so I encourage you to check it each time you receive a summary statement. We’ve also posted JIT details for Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity grants, fellowships and SCORE grants. If your application’s grant mechanism isn’t covered, please consult the program contact listed on your summary statement for instructions.

In the future, we plan to cover what goes in the “Other Support” document and why we ask for it.

How the Change of Fiscal Year Affects Your NIGMS Grant

It’s autumn: cool, crisp weather; bright-colored leaves; the beginning of another fiscal year for NIGMS.

The new fiscal year brings with it a special set of circumstances for funding applications, activating fellowships and making changes to existing grants. Some of these circumstances are related to the NIGMS budget, while others are related to NIH policies and regulations.

Here are answers to some questions that applicants and grantees often ask after the September Advisory Council meeting and during the beginning of the new fiscal year, which started on October 1. We hope that telling you what to expect will help you plan accordingly.

September Council’s over. My application did well in review. When is my grant going to get funded?

NIGMS funds a very limited number of R01s in September after the Council meets. Most pending applications are funded after January 1, depending on when NIH gets its budget appropriation from Congress. However, if your renewal application did exceptionally well in review and your current award expires on November 30, we may be able to start the renewal on, or close to, December 1.

Would my grant application be funded more quickly if it went to a different Council round?

Most likely, yes. Applications that go to the January or May Council meetings are typically selected for funding and processed sooner, relative to when Council meets, than applications that go to the September Council meeting. If you want to minimize the receipt-to-award time and you have a choice about when to submit your application, you may want to submit it for the June/July or October/November deadlines, so that it goes to the January or May Council meetings, respectively. Be aware, though, that there is a large volume of awards to be made after January and May Council meetings, which may impact award processing time.

Why can’t I activate my NRSA fellowship in October or early November?

Many NIH institutes and centers, including NIGMS, do not activate fellowships during the first 6 weeks of a new fiscal year so that future-year anniversary dates align with the NIH funding guidelines (i.e., continuation awards typically do not start before December 1).

I’m moving from one institution to another on October 1. Can my grant or fellowship be transferred when I move? I want it to start on the day that I arrive or, if that’s not possible, later in October.

For the same reason as above, a change of grantee institution action cannot be processed from October 1 through mid-November. However, if we receive your change of institution request at least 8 weeks before the desired start date, we may be able to make the transfer date retroactive. Contact your grants management specialist for details.

I’ve applied for a diversity supplement for an individual who’s arriving on October 25. Will the supplement be available on the day that she arrives?

No, since NIH generally begins issuing grant awards after mid-November. If the supplement application is received at least 10 weeks prior to the desired start date, then the supplement could be issued as early as mid-November. Your institution most likely has pre-award cost authority, so you may opt to start spending the supplemental funds on October 25, when the candidate arrives. If you’re considering this option, be sure to confirm with the director of the diversity supplement program that your supplement will be funded, since submission of a diversity supplement application does not guarantee funding. You’ll also want to know when the supplement is likely to start and whether the budget has been cut.

My grant’s anniversary date is December 1. Why are the awards late most years?

Two factors may contribute. One is that program and grants management staff must wait, often until mid-November, to start the process for issuing grant awards until funding guidance and financial systems are in place. Another factor is that NIH may be operating on a short-term continuing resolution (CR) at a reduced budget level in lieu of a full-year appropriation, which may affect the award process.

Why was my continuation budget reduced? Is the likelihood of a budget cut higher if my grant’s anniversary date is in the winter? Will the cut funds ever be restored?

If NIH is operating on a CR, it may have implemented temporary across-the-board budget cuts on noncompeting continuation awards (years 2, 3, etc. of a grant). This is because we must fund conservatively in case of a further CR or an appropriation that is at a lower level. The likelihood of a temporary budget cut is highest in December and January, since the probability that NIH will be on a CR is highest at the beginning of a fiscal year. It’s possible that some or all of the budget reductions will be restored after NIH gets an appropriation. However, it may take several weeks or longer after an appropriation bill is passed and signed for your award to be adjusted.