New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

We’ve just released a new training funding opportunity announcement (FOA) specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic biomedical sciences. Through this FOA, we intend to encourage changes in biomedical graduate training that allow it to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the research enterprise, which is increasingly complex, quantitative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative.

The overarching objective of this new predoctoral T32 training program is to develop a diverse pool of well-trained scientists who have the following:

  • A broad understanding across biomedical disciplines, and the skills to independently acquire the knowledge needed to advance their chosen field.
  • The ability to think critically, independently, and to identify important biomedical research questions and approaches that push forward the boundaries of their areas of study.
  • A strong foundation in scientific reasoning, rigorous research design, experimental methods, quantitative and computational approaches, as well as data analysis and interpretation.
  • A commitment to approaching and conducting biomedical research responsibly and with integrity.
  • Experience initiating, conducting, interpreting, and presenting rigorous and reproducible biomedical research with increasing self-direction.
  • The ability to work effectively in teams with colleagues from a variety of cultural and scientific backgrounds, and to promote inclusive and supportive scientific research environments.
  • The skills to teach and communicate scientific research methodologies and findings to a wide variety of audiences (e.g., discipline-specific, across disciplines, and the public).
  • The knowledge, professional skills, and experiences required to identify and transition into careers in the biomedical research workforce (i.e., the breadth of careers that sustain biomedical research in areas that are relevant to the NIH mission).

Because diversity at all levels is integral to research and training excellence, this FOA is also intended to fund outstanding research training environments that support trainees from all backgrounds, and to enhance diversity in the biomedical enterprise by paying particular attention to the inclusion of individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.

The goal is of this FOA is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to training and mentoring that will effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical scientists. This funding announcement is designed to allow biomedical graduate education to preserve the best elements of the current system, while enhancing the focus on the trainee development of the technical, operational, and professional skills needed to transition into successful and productive careers in the biomedical research workforce.

The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants submitted for receipt dates beginning May 25, 2018, except the Medical Scientist Training Program, which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. Because this is a new funding announcement, all applications (including those from previously established programs) must be submitted as new (-01), however applicants may describe up to 15 years of outcomes in the narrative.

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can email your questions and comments or post them here.

Four NIGMS Grantees Recognized With 2017 Nobel Prizes

I’m delighted to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who became Nobel laureates this week. Early this morning, the Nobel Academy announced Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University as one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. On Monday, the Academy recognized current and former NIGMS grantees Jeffrey C. Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Maine; Michael Rosbash, Ph.D., of Brandeis University; and Michael W. Young, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.

Our Institute has a strong track record of funding scientists who receive Nobel Prizes. Since its creation in 1962, NIGMS has supported the work of 87 Nobel laureates—43 in physiology or medicine and 44 in chemistry. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research in many different organisms and experimental systems that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease.

The importance of investigator-initiated basic biomedical research, the NIGMS bedrock, was summed up brilliantly during this morning’s Nobel Prize announcement Exit icon. In response to a reporter asking why most of this week’s Nobel laureates are from the United States, Professor Göran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, stated:

The United States has … allowed scientists to perform fundamental research to focus on important questions in science; not forcing them to immediate applications, not controlling them in a political way; and that freedom combined with very good resources have been very helpful to the United States.

Dr. Hansson noted that the United States is not alone in its philosophy, also recognizing the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for providing resources for basic, foundational science “that have turned out to pay off in practical applications later on. …”

To learn more about NIGMS Nobel laureates, see our fact sheet; also see our resources on circadian rhythms and cryo-EM.

Once again, congratulations to Drs. Frank, Hall, Rosbash, and Young on their exceptional recognition. These are also great wins for basic, foundational biomedical research.

Wanted: Center for Research Capacity Building Director

CRCB Search Committee Members:

Marie Bernard, National Institute on Aging

William Gern, University of Wyoming

Laura Gibson, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center

Patricia Hand, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Jill Heemskerk, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

Laura Stanek, Office of Human Resources, NIH

Brent Stanfield, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

David Wilson, Tribal Health Research Office, NIH

Doug Wright, University of Kansas Medical Center

Dorit Zuk, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Chair

Fred Taylor, distinguished leader of our Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB), is planning to retire, and we’re embarking on a search for an outstanding individual to serve as the new CRCB director. CRCB supports research, research training, faculty development, and research infrastructure improvements in states that historically have not received substantial levels of research funding from NIH. It also supports faculty research development at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups, research and research capacity building directed by Native American and Alaska Native tribal organizations, and conducts a science education program designed to improve life-science literacy. CRCB is composed of four programs: Institutional Development Awards, Native American Research Centers for Health, Science Education Partnership Awards, and Support of Competitive Research.

The CRCB director will have the opportunity to set priorities, lead change, and strengthen the biomedical research enterprise across the United States. The center director reports to the NIGMS director and is a member of the NIGMS senior leadership team, which helps set policies and priorities for the Institute. There are also opportunities to participate in and advise on NIH-wide activities and collaborations with other federal agencies.

Candidates must possess an M.D., Ph.D., or equivalent degree in a field relevant to the position. The ideal candidate will have considerable research experience in basic, clinical, or translational biomedical science; a demonstrated understanding of the conditions that disproportionately affect underserved populations; and knowledge related to the NIGMS mission. In addition, candidates should possess recognized research management and leadership abilities.

For additional information and application instructions, please see the vacancy announcement. NIGMS will accept applications for at least 45 days from October 2, 2017, but it will not close the application process until a candidate has been selected.

As chair of the search committee, I ask for your help in identifying candidates for this crucial position and in sharing this information with others who might be interested.

Take Charge of Your Scientific Journey With a New iBiology Course

UPDATE: Enrollment for the course is open until October 15.

The path to a successful career as a biomedical scientist is rarely direct: There can be stops along the way, and each person has different motivations, opportunities, and challenges. The path also depends, in part, on the institution, program, or department where the student is training, and finding the right scientist, mentor, or coach to help guide that journey isn’t the same for everyone. A new online training program supported through an Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT) grant to iBiology can help participants navigate this process.

Planning Your Scientific Journey Exit icon,” provides training for undergraduate and graduate students on successfully navigating the path to a research career. The interactive lessons may be useful for postdocs and early career scientists, too. Topics include:

  • Developing a good scientific question
  • Establishing a plan of action
  • Asking for advice and developing collaborations

The free 6-week course will take place October 2 to November 13. The course can accommodate nearly 20,000 participants. New course content will be released on a weekly basis to allow students time to focus on each week’s lessons. The course is expected to be offered again in either the spring or fall of 2018. Ultimately, iBiology plans to make this course available in a self-paced format—further enhancing students’ ability to benefit from the course offering, and to revisit the course content at any time.

iBiology is just one of the awardees in our IPERT program. IPERT R25 grants support creative and innovative research educational activities that are designed to complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical research needs. Each IPERT grant must also address the NIGMS goal of creating a highly skilled and diverse biomedical workforce, and integrate three required elements: short courses/workshops for skill development, mentoring, and outreach. To learn more, visit the IPERT webpage. The next receipt date for applications is January 23, 2018.

Notice: Concept Clearance for MIDAS Coordination Center

Watch the MIDAS presentation at the September Advisory Council meeting.

At its September 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center.

MIDAS, or the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study program, is a collaborative network of research groups that focus on developing bioinformatics tools and computational models to understand the interactions between infectious agents and their hosts, disease spread, prediction systems, and response strategies.

Initially the MIDAS network consisted of research centers (U54s), research projects (U01s), and an information service group (U24). These activities will expire in 2019, and NIGMS is shifting the focus of this program to an investigator-initiated research portfolio consisting of R01s, R35 MIRA grants, and fellowships and mentored career development awards (Fs, Ks).

However, modeling of infectious disease agents continues to be an active area where a coordinated effort is needed. NIGMS Council members supported the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center. We envision the MIDAS Coordination Center to serve as a focal point for collaboration and training as well as testing and dissemination of MIDAS research products. The center will also act as the point of contact between the MIDAS network and public health organizations.

We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2018, and we encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting to learn more about this program. We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Multiple Principal Investigator (MPI) Application – When Is it the Right Choice?

For some time now, NIH has offered the Multiple Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) Award, also known as the MPI award, as an option for investigators seeking support for research projects. At NIGMS, we’ve been thinking about collaborative research, and we want to share some of our observations so you can choose the grant mechanism that best fits your research goals.

An MPI application is a commitment by two or more investigators. Both/all have the authority to direct the research project, should agree on how they are going to accomplish this, and will describe their project leadership plan in the grant application. If awarded, both/all have the shared responsibility to direct the research and ensure that it remains on track both intellectually and logistically. Some examples of these shared tasks include experimental design, resource allocation, supervision of staff, financial management, data sharing, and submission of publications. The responsibilities can be rotated over time. If both/all investigators are not full and equal partners in the award, it isn’t really an MPI project.

The MPI award was developed to share credit among equals on research teams. In contrast, some applicants want to use MPI awards to accomplish unintended goals, for example, to elevate a junior scientist, to entice a luminary colleague who might not otherwise get involved, to add a new technical approach to the research, or to support a collaborator at another institution. However, there can be costs associated with such strategies:

  • A young scientist PD/PI will lose her/his early stage investigator (ESI) status, which offers the advantage of having an application grouped with other ESIs at the initial review group meeting, a higher priority funding consideration, and sometimes a fifth year of an award.
  • All PD/PIs will be considered under NIGMS’ policy for Support of Research in Well-Funded Laboratories, so that if any investigator has greater than $750,000 in direct costs awarded annually, then the entire application will receive extra scrutiny by our National Advisory Council.
  • Furthermore, any PDs/PIs who fall under NIGMS’ policy for funding Investigators with Substantial, Unrestricted Research Support may hold no more than one NIGMS research grant.

Other types of awards, including a single PD/PI regular research grant (R01), may be better alternatives to an MPI award for supporting collaborative research. Here are a few points that investigators should consider:

  • Collaborators often play an important role in a project and may commit specific effort and receive funds from an award. If at another institution, funds essential to accomplish the research can be delivered through a subcontract.
  • Another viable way to enable an individual to participate in a research project is to name a consultant in the necessary area of expertise. Consultants can receive a fee for their work, if appropriate.
  • Almost any relationship can be well-documented in a letter of support, so that the initial review group recognizes an established and committed scientific relationship.

The MPI award fills an important niche. But the mechanism can be misunderstood and may even be misused to the detriment of one or more of the PD/PIs. Always look carefully at the continuum of opportunities to support multidisciplinary research programs and collaborative research.

Starting this fall, NIGMS anticipates offering a new award called the Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1), which is designed to support highly integrated teams of researchers working to achieve a shared objective. Watch the Feedback Loop posts and talk to your NIGMS program director to learn more.

Heads-up: New Application Forms for Human Subjects Research

Does your research involve human specimens or data? If so, there are new questions you’ll need to address next time you apply for an NIH grant. Here’s what you need to know about that and other changes to NIH grant application procedures.

Effective for application due dates on or after January 25, 2018, all applicants will have to use the new FORMS-E application package. A major goal of the FORMS-E application package is to consolidate information about human subjects research and clinical trials into one place—the new PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form. This form will use a variety of form fields to collect information on eligibility criteria, age limits, study timeline and design, and many other aspects of the proposed human subjects research/clinical trial. Comprehensive information is available at Clinical Trial Requirements for NIH Grants and Contracts.

Even if you indicate on the Research & Related Other Project Information form that human subjects are not involved in your project, you will need to address an additional question on the new PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form:

If No to Human Subjects, Does the proposed research involve human specimens and/or data?
If the applicant answers YES to this question, an additional attachment describing why the proposed human specimens and/or data are not considered human subjects research must be included in the grant application.

Another change beginning with the January 25 application due date is that all applications involving one or more clinical trials must be submitted through a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) specifically designed for clinical trials. Accordingly, all new FOAs and all parent announcements will specify the allowability of clinical trials in the FOA title. Please see Clinical Trial-Specific Funding Opportunities for more information about the changes to FOAs.

It is a good idea to discuss the new Human Subjects and Clinical Trial form with your grants administrators and institutional business officials and to allow extra preparation time for your first FORMS-E grant submission. Your NIGMS program director will be able to help you identify the correct FOA for your proposed research. If you have any questions about human subjects policy or NIGMS’ support of clinical trials, please contact me.

Attention NI/ESI MIRA Recipients: This Webinar Is for You.

UPDATE: The video and slides from the from the NI/ESI MIRA webinar have been posted.

If you are a new investigator (NI) or an early stage investigator (ESI) who received a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) in 2016 or 2017, you may be wondering how having a MIRA affects your ability to initiate collaborations or apply for other grants. Or, you may be curious how much flexibility you really have to deviate from your original research plans. You may also be thinking a few years ahead about a competing renewal application. Because MIRA is a new grant mechanism, NIGMS will host a webinar designed specifically to address these and other topics of interest to NI/ESI MIRA principal investigators (PIs). NIGMS program, grants management and review staff will be on hand to provide information and answer your questions. We invite NI/ESI MIRA PIs and their business officials to participate.

The webinar (link no longer available) will be held on Tuesday, September 26, from 2:00 to 3:45 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. Participants will be able to submit questions through the chat function. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-866-815-0443 and enter passcode 3268089. We will post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIGMS Staff Participating in the September 26 Webinar

Vernon Anderson, Program Director

Oleg Barski, Program Director

Lisa Dunbar, Scientific Review Officer

Judith Greenberg, Deputy Director

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Peter Preusch, Acting Director, Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Avoiding Hype and Enhancing Awareness in Science Communication

When I joined NIGMS about four years ago, I was struck by the number of press releases from journals and grantee institutions that came across my desk each day. Many of them focused on a recently published paper and failed to explain how the work fit into the broader field. Others overstated the research results to make them sound more exciting and closer to clinical application.

I moderated one of the panel discussions.

Around the same time, science communicators started writing articles and conducting studies about the effects of hyped research findings (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2012; Yavchitz et al., 2012 Exit icon, Sumner et al., 2014 Exit icon; Vox, 2017 Exit icon). While these discussions focused on clinically oriented research, we at NIGMS began thinking deeply about how the issue relates to basic biomedical science. On the heels of our work with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) on enhancing rigor and reproducibility in biomedical research, we started talking to them about this topic as well. Two years later, we were pleased to host their Workshop on Responsible Communication of Basic Biomedical Research: Enhancing Awareness and Avoiding Hype Exit icon.

The June 22 meeting brought together a diverse group of science communicators Exit icon [PDF, 22KB] who included early and established investigators, researchers who study science communication, academic and corporate communication officers, policy advisors and journalists. Each panelist represented a stakeholder group with a role in what panelists later called the “hype cycle” and shared his or her perspectives on the problems of hype, the incentives that cause it and recommendations for avoiding it. The meeting focused on basic biomedical research, but the discussions were also relevant to other areas of science.

In her keynote address Exit icon, veteran science journalist Erika Check Hayden defined hype as “exaggerating the outcomes of research, for whatever motives people have, leading to potential negative effects due to inaccurate portrayal of research.” She credited this definition to Judith Greenberg, our deputy director.

The keynote address by Erika Check Hayden focused on new directions in science communication.

The subsequent discussions Exit icon highlighted the shared responsibility among all the stakeholder groups for improving science communication and changing the incentives for it. Panelists acknowledged that scientists sometimes oversell the conclusions of studies hoping to get their work published in “better” journals or to improve their chances for obtaining funding; journals may decide on manuscripts to publish based on which ones they think will be cited the most or get press attention; communication officers and journalists are often judged by how many hits their stories get; and universities and research institutes may consider the fundraising potential of scientific news stories.

Here are some of the topics discussed during the workshop that really resonated with me. Continue reading

Give Input on the Organization and Administration of NIGMS Undergraduate and Predoctoral Diversity Programs

NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to training the next generation of biomedical scientists and supports training of students from underrepresented (UR) groups through a variety of institutional training and student development programs including Bridges to the Baccalaureate, Bridges to the Doctorate, Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement, Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research, Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, and the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program. The goal of these programs is to increase the number of students from UR groups who matriculate in and complete Ph.D. degree programs in the biomedical sciences and become leaders in the U.S. research enterprise.

We are seeking input from the biomedical research community, including students, undergraduate faculty, graduate faculty, scientific societies, and academic institutions, as well as from the public, through a Request for Information (RFI) on the organization and administration of NIGMS undergraduate and predoctoral diversity programs.

Specific topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • The potential challenges and opportunities created by changing NIGMS R25 programs to NRSA training (T) grant activity codes, and strategies for overcoming any potential challenges
  • The potential advantages or disadvantages of having a single, unified NIGMS-funded undergraduate or predoctoral diversity program vs. multiple NIGMS-funded diversity programs at a given institution
  • Strategies for building effective intra- and inter-institutional networks that minimize unnecessary duplication, leverage existing resources and create synergies to more efficiently and effectively promote the development of a well-trained and diverse biomedical research workforce
  • Any other comments or recommendations regarding NIGMS programs that support the training of students from UR groups

Responses can be submitted via an online form Exit icon and can be anonymous. The due date for providing input is October 31, 2017.