Wanted: Genetics and Developmental Biology Program Director

We’re recruiting for a program director (also known as a health scientist administrator or program officer) to manage research grant, fellowship, training and other types of awards focused on the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying inheritance, gene expression and development. The position is in our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, and it involves working collaboratively with other program directors in the division to support outstanding science in these fields.

Candidates should have expertise in the use of state-of-the-art molecular genetics and/or genomics-based approaches to gain a mechanistic understanding of one or more of these, or related, areas: cell growth and differentiation, signaling pathway dynamics, DNA and RNA replication, DNA recombination and repair, transcription, the function of coding and noncoding RNA, RNA processing and protein synthesis. Familiarity with NIH extramural funding as an applicant, reviewer or NIH scientific administrator is a plus, and outstanding written and oral communication skills are essential.

There are two vacancy announcements: one for candidates with current or former federal employment status Exit icon and one for candidates without such status Exit icon. Both announcements close on May 5, 2016. Please see the NIH HSA website for position requirements and application procedures. The Applying for Scientific Administration Jobs at NIGMS blog post offers additional background and tips. For more information about the position, contact David Wittenberg at 301-451-1828.

Not looking for a position right now? Please help us out by forwarding this information to others who might be interested in this opportunity.

Get Posts When They’re Published

GD SignupEver since the NIGMS Feedback Loop launched in 2005, we’ve sent periodic digests of its content to our grantees, applicants and others. To help our readers receive time-sensitive information sooner, we’re now offering a way to get individual posts as they’re published on the blog.

If you’d like to receive new posts by email, go to our email updates page, enter your email address, click the Submit button and then check the box next to NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog on the Quick Subscribe page. Each time we add a post to the blog, you’ll get an email message with the first part of the post and a link to the full version. We average about 4 posts per month.

For the time being, we’ll continue emailing the digests of recent posts. If you subscribe to receive individual posts and no longer want to get the periodic digests, you can cancel your digest subscription. You can also follow the blog via its RSS feed.

Give Input on Needs and Opportunities in Team-Based Science

We’ve been examining the benefits and challenges of team science and considering approaches to support this mode of research.

We use a variety of mechanisms to fund collaborative and team-based science, including program project grants (P01s) and different types of center grants (e.g., P50s and U54s). At our recent Advisory Council meeting, we heard a report on P01 outcomes compared to those of other mechanisms. We also heard a report from an external review panel on the National Centers for Systems Biology program.

To explore team science approaches, we have set up an internal NIGMS committee that includes representatives from across the Institute. Our goal is to develop better ways to identify and support research teams that will produce scientific advances not attainable by single individuals or by standard collaborative efforts.

One of the committee’s first efforts was issuing a request for information (RFI) on approaches for supporting team science in the biomedical research community. We’re soliciting input on a number of topics, including:

  • Interest in team science.
  • Management and advisory structures in team science.
  • Team composition.
  • Resources and infrastructure.
  • Assessment of team science.
  • Past or current NIGMS team-based programs and funding mechanisms.

RFI responses should be sent to TeamScience@mail.nih.gov by June 17, 2016. We also welcome comments here.

P01 Outcomes Analysis

As part of our program assessment process, we have analyzed NIGMS program project (P01) grants to improve our understanding of how their outcomes compare with those of other mechanisms.

The most recent NIGMS funding opportunity announcement for P01s states that individual projects “must be clearly interrelated and synergistic so that the research ideas, efforts, and outcomes of the program as a whole will offer a distinct advantage over pursuing the individual projects separately.” From this perspective, we sought to address three major questions:

  • Do P01s achieve synergies above and beyond a collection of separate grants?
  • How do the results from P01s compare with those from R01s?
  • Do certain fields of science need P01s more than others?

To address these questions, we analyzed the outcomes of P01 grants using several different metrics and compared these outcomes to those of two comparator groups: single-principal investigator (PI) R01s and multiple-PI R01s. Since P01s could be considered as a collection of single-PI R01s and one or more cores, we chose single-PI R01s as a comparator group. Because a major facet of P01s is their focus on using collaborative approaches to science, we also wanted to compare their outcomes to another collaboration-focused research grant: multiple-PI R01s. While structurally different from P01s, multiple-PI R01s allow for a comparison between two competing models of funding team science within the NIGMS portfolio.

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First Awards Issued in MIRA Pilot Program

We have begun making grant awards resulting from responses to RFA-GM-16-002 (R35), the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) pilot program. Out of the 179 applications we received, we have so far authorized 123 awards. The median yearly direct costs for these grants is $399,842, and the mean is $405,884. For comparison, the median yearly direct costs for an NIGMS R01 in Fiscal Year 2015 was $210,000, and the mean was $237,254.  On average, the budgets of these MIRAs to established investigators were reduced by 12% relative to the investigators’ recent NIGMS funding history. As described in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), the budget reductions were in exchange for the benefits of the program: a 5-year award instead of the standard 4-year one, increased flexibility to follow new research directions, increased funding stability and decreased administrative burden. We will use the funds freed up through this trade-off to support other investigators and improve the distribution of NIGMS funding. It will take time for the full benefits of the program to individual investigators and the research community to become clear.

You can find more information about these awards on NIH RePORTER by entering RFA-GM-16-002 in the FOA field; however, the record of funded grants will not be complete until the end of Fiscal Year 2016. Because merging an investigator’s previous funding into a single award presents a variety of complications, in some cases the first-year budget of the MIRA is lower than the eventual funding level will be. This is frequently the case when the principal investigator (PI) was part of multi-PI grants that will be allowed to end before all NIGMS funding for the investigator is put on the MIRA or when the PI had already received funds from NIGMS in the current fiscal year.

We will begin making awards for the new and early stage investigators MIRA (RFA-GM-16-003) after the May 19-20 meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council.

You can find additional information about the program on our MIRA web page.

Give Input on the Support of Biomedical Research Resources

NIGMS is considering how best to support two important activities: the development of biomedical technologies and access to those technologies as they become research resources. These topics are closely related, but there are aspects of each that should be explored independently.

Last summer, the Institute issued a request for information (RFI) on the support of biomedical technology development. The responses we received contributed significantly to initiatives for exploratory and focused technology development to be launched later this year. We now request your input in response to a new RFI on the need for and support of research resources (NOT-GM-16-103).

We’d like to know your thoughts on a number of topics, including:

  • The appropriateness and usefulness of existing research resources to the biomedical research community.
  • Examples of unmet needs for research resources.
  • The relative value of resources that serve many investigators versus specialized resources used by fewer investigators. 
  • The value and manner of coupling technology development to research resources.
  • The review of research resource applications and the evaluation of funded projects. 
  • The role of academia, other biomedical institutions and industry in developing and providing access to research resources. 
  • The role of investigators and user fees in supporting institutional, regional and national resources.
  • The role of NIGMS in supporting research resources and technology development at various levels.

We also welcome any other comments that you feel are relevant to supporting research resources.

To respond to this RFI, send an email to nigmsresource@mail.nih.gov by June 3, 2016.

If you have any questions about the RFI, please let us know.

Wanted: Program Directors for Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Training, Capacity-Building Programs

We’re looking for multiple program directors (also known as program officers or health scientist administrators) to manage research grants, undergraduate and/or graduate student research and postdoctoral career development programs, and capacity-building programs.

Several of the positions are in the Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch of our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD). These individuals will manage undergraduate and/or graduate student development programs along with research and training grants. Another position is in TWD’s Postdoctoral Training Branch. This individual will manage one or more of the programs in this branch along with research and training grants. We’re particularly interested in candidates who have broad expertise in areas relevant to the NIGMS mission and professional experience in the training of research scientists as well as in programs aimed at increasing the diversity of the scientific workforce.

The other position is in our Center for Research Capacity Building. This individual will manage programs that support research and provide resources for research infrastructure enhancement and capacity building in the basic, translational and clinical biomedical sciences. These programs seek to enhance the competitiveness and diversity of the biomedical research workforce.

Please see the vacancy announcement Exit icon for position descriptions and requirements and detailed application procedures. The positions close on April 13.

New Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

Blake WiedenheftI’m very pleased to announce a new annual lecture to highlight the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

The first NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture will be given by Blake Wiedenheft, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University who does research on the CRISPR gene-editing system. His talk, “Bacteria, Their Viruses, and How They Taught Us to Perform Genome Surgery,” will take place on Wednesday, April 13 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT on the NIH campus. The lecture will be videocast and archived on the NIH Videocasting site.

Although open to everyone in the scientific community, this and future talks in the series will be geared toward undergraduate students. After describing their research, speakers will discuss their career paths during a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

We’re hopeful that these lectures will help inform participants about cutting-edge areas of science and inspire them to pursue biomedical research careers. I encourage you to tell your students about this opportunity to ask Blake career-related questions. They can send their questions by email to Jilliene Drayton before Monday, April 11, or tweet them with the hashtag #ecilecture.

Editor’s Note: An archived video of the lecture, including the question-and-answer session, is on the NIH Videocasting and Podcasting site.

Five Reasons to Submit a Cover Letter with Your Grant Application

I recently attended a scientific meeting where I had the opportunity to talk with investigators at all stages of their scientific careers. I was surprised to learn that many didn’t know that they could submit a cover letter with their electronic grant application. Here I briefly explain some reasons to provide a cover letter, including situations that require one.

1. Suggest a particular review group for your application.

The NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) assigns applications to scientific review groups (SRGs), but sometimes an application could be a scientific match for more than one study section. In a cover letter, you can request assignment to a particular study section and explain why you think that study section would be the best fit. Appropriate assignment requests are honored in the majority of cases. Study section descriptions, recent study section rosters and the NIH RePORTER database of funded grants can help you identify an SRG suitable for your application.

2. Suggest a particular institute or center (IC) for funding your research.

Your research might be relevant to the mission of more than one NIH IC. You can use a cover letter to suggest that your application be assigned to a specific IC. The NIH RePORTER database is a good place to investigate the types of research supported by different ICs. Before making a request in a cover letter, you should also consult with program officers at the IC to determine whether your application would be an appropriate scientific match.

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Application and Funding Trends

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 Exit icon, provides funding for the Federal Government through September 30. NIGMS has a Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation of $2.512 billion, which is $140 million, or 5.9%, higher than it was in Fiscal Year 2015. With this opportunity to expand NIGMS support for fundamental biomedical research comes a responsibility to make carefully considered investments with taxpayer funds.

Application Trends

One of the most commonly cited metrics when discussing grants is success rate, calculated as the number of applications funded divided by the number of applications received. As shown in Figure 1, the success rate for NIGMS research project grants (RPGs) increased from 24.8% in Fiscal Year 2014 to 29.6% in Fiscal Year 2015. This was due to an increase in the number of funded competing RPGs as well as a decline in the number of competing RPG applications. In contrast, in Fiscal Year 2013, applications increased while awards decreased, leading to a notable decrease in success rate. Overall, we have seen a decrease in RPG applications over the last 2 years, a trend warranting additional investigation.

Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2004-2015. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) decreased from Fiscal Years 2014 to 2015 to a 5-year low. Meanwhile, NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) increased in Fiscal Year 2015 to a level not seen since Fiscal Year 2007. As a result, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) was the second highest it has been in the past decade.
Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2004-2015. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) decreased from Fiscal Years 2014 to 2015 to a 5-year low. Meanwhile, NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) increased in Fiscal Year 2015 to a level not seen since Fiscal Year 2007. As a result, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) was the second highest it has been in the past decade.

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