We’ve just released a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Through this FOA, we intend to encourage changes in integrated medical and graduate research training to keep pace with the rapid evolution of a research environment that is increasingly complex, interdisciplinary, quantitative, and collaborative.
Posts by Dr. Joe Gindhart
If you or your institution are considering applying for our Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States (STTR) funding opportunity—a new initiative designed to promote biomedical entrepreneurship—don’t miss our upcoming webinar:
Wednesday, November 15, from 3:00-4:30 p.m. ET.
During the webinar, NIGMS and Center for Scientific Review staff will explain the goals and objectives of the initiative and answer your questions. You are encouraged to submit questions by November 13 to Krishan Arora.
To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page (link no longer available) and enter the meeting number 620 731 655 and the password “nigms.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-650-479-3208 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the access code 628 562 389.
NIGMS Staff Participating in the November 15 Webinar:
Krishan K. Arora, Program Director, NIGMS
Joseph Gindhart, Program Director, NIGMS
Christy Leake, Grants Management Team Leader, NIGMS
Allen Richon, Scientific Review Officer, NIH Center for Scientific Review
Slides will be available on the IDeA website following the event.
We look forward to talking with you soon.
During the life of your application and grant, you’re likely to interact with a number of NIH staff members. Who’s the right person to contact—and when and for what? Here are some of the answers I shared during a presentation on communicating effectively with NIH at the American Crystallographic Association annual meeting. The audience was primarily grad students, postdocs and junior faculty interested in learning more about the NIH funding process.
The three main groups involved in the application and award processes—program officers (POs), scientific review officers (SROs) and grants management specialists (GMSs)—have largely non-overlapping responsibilities. POs advise investigators on applying for grants, help them understand their summary statements and provide guidance on managing their awards. They also play a leading role in making funding decisions. Once NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) assigns applications to the appropriate institute or center and study section, SROs identify, recruit and assign reviewers to applications; run study section meetings; and produce summary statements following the meetings. GMSs manage financial aspects of grant awards and ensure that administrative requirements are met before issuing a notice of award.
How do you identify the right institute or center, study section and program officer for a new application? Some of the more common ways include asking colleagues for advice and looking at the funding sources listed in the acknowledgements section of publications closely related to your project. NIH RePORTER is another good way to find the names of POs and study sections for funded applications. Finally, CSR has information on study sections, and individual institute and center websites, including ours, list contacts by research area. We list other types of contact information on our website, as well.
On November 5, we’ll host my favorite NIGMS science education event: Cell Day! As in previous years, we hope this free, interactive Web chat geared for middle and high school students will spark interest in cell biology, biochemistry and research careers. Please help us spread the word by letting people in your local schools and communities know about this special event and encouraging them to register. It runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST and is open to all.
As the moderator of these Cell Day chats, I’ve fielded a lot of great questions, including “Why are centrioles not found in plant cells?” and “If you cut a cell in half and then turn it upside down will the nucleus, ribosomes, and other parts of the cell fall out?” It’s always amazing to hear what science students are thinking or wondering about. I’m looking forward to seeing what fantastic questions we’ll get this year!
The annual Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) is how we assess progress toward your funded project’s goals and whether your project is in compliance with guidelines set forth in the NIH Grants Policy Statement. The designated grants management specialist and program official (PO, also known as program director) review each progress report. After these staff members approve the report, we can issue a notice of award for the noncompeting continuation of the grant.
Typically, this administrative review is a straightforward process, but sometimes issues arise that can delay the processing of the award and create additional work for everyone involved. Here are some of the most common issues we encounter:
- Public access compliance: Before initiating the RPPR, you should enter all appropriate citations into your NCBI My Bibliography, associate them with the appropriate grant number and select the citations to include in this year’s RPPR. The RPPR software will then complete Section C.1 automatically. When noncompliant publications are identified, you should immediately begin (or complete) the process of bringing those publications into compliance.
- Publication reporting in the RPPR: List publications in Section C of the progress report, not in Section B.2, “What was accomplished…,” or elsewhere in the text. For more details, see Janna Wehrle’s post on Progress Reports and the Public Access Policy.
- Change in scope: A request for a change in project scope is a prior approval request that must be submitted by your Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) and requires review by the grants management specialist and PO; this is done separately from the progress report review. Please remember that adding human subjects and/or vertebrate animals to a grant that previously did not have these activities is considered a change in scope.
- Discrepancies in answers to RPPR questions: Please double-check your responses to questions about the administrative aspects of your grant. Inconsistent answers to these questions often trigger a flurry of e-mails from us requesting clarification from the AOR and investigator. In my experience, the most common issues involve changes in other support, key personnel and vertebrate animal use, or they indicate a change when none exists.
- Description of collaborations: Please adequately describe how any collaborations contribute to the project. This is especially important for collaborations with foreign investigators and collaborations involving the sharing of samples from human subjects or vertebrate animals.
- Level of effort: Be sure to use whole numbers to report person-months of effort on a grant.
- New reporting requirements: Keep track of new reporting requirements, such as the new inclusion management system to report data on sex/gender, race and ethnicity in clinical research. Resources for staying up to date on such requirements are the NIH Guide and the Extramural Nexus blog.
Finally, your progress report should include a relatively brief description of the project’s scientific progress in the last funding period. We want to know what you think are your most impactful and exciting discoveries from the past year, as well as where the project is headed in the next funding period. Reading these descriptions is one of the most interesting parts of my job.
When in doubt on what to include in the progress report, contact your PO.
Broadening the definition of a “successful scientific career” is a key theme of the NIGMS training strategic plan as well as the NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group Report.
To help graduate students, postdocs and even faculty become more familiar with the range of opportunities available to those trained for research, I participated in a 2013 ASCB meeting panel discussion with ASCB Executive Director Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi about science careers outside academia. We had a lively Q&A session about our reasons for leaving bench science, how our previous experiences have helped us in our current positions, and what one needs to do to prepare for careers in science policy and research administration.
Not too long ago, some might have considered me a science “dropout” because I left academia for federal work as a program director. I may no longer have my own lab, but I think about science every day and help researchers obtain funding for their work. I’m happy that I made the transition.
If you’re considering a science administration career in the federal government, here are a few tips to help you find available opportunities.
Job vacancies for individuals at all career stages are posted on USAJOBS.gov. The Overview section of each announcement will tell you how many vacancies the job announcement intends to fill. Without going too far into the minutiae, the site has an advanced search feature that lets you find open positions by salary, location, keyword and more. One search field is Occupational Series. The series that may be of most interest to Feedback Loop readers are 0601 – General Health Science, which includes most scientific administration jobs at NIH, and 0401 – General Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences, which includes science administration jobs at NSF. Both the 0601 and 0401 job “families” include bench science positions, as well.
As of today, the 0601 and 0401 series offered more than 80 open positions. While not all of the jobs may be relevant to you, this gives you an idea of the scope of the federal science and health mission.
Last year, Mitzi Kosciulek of NIH’s Office of Human Resources wrote about applying for scientific administration jobs at NIGMS. Some of the general principles she outlined are applicable to any federal job search. For example, as part of an effort to speed the hiring process, many USAJOBS postings are open for only 5 days. For that reason, consider creating a profile, building a resume in the system and uploading your academic transcripts so you’re ready to roll when the right job opportunity presents itself. Once you have a profile, you can save your most pertinent search specifications and then ask the system to send you new “hits” by e-mail.
In recent weeks, a number of investigators have asked me, “Are you going to the ASCB meeting this year?” I will be there, along with our new director, Jon Lorsch, and a few other NIGMS staff members. The meeting takes place on December 14-18 in New Orleans. If you’re also attending, we hope to have a chance to chat with you there. It’s a great way for us to get to know you and your research better, as well as to answer your questions.
In addition, you may want to attend one of the sessions with NIGMS staff. Jon will discuss his vision and plans for NIGMS in the “Face-to-Face with NIH” session at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, December 16. Earlier that day, at 11 a.m., I will participate in a panel discussion on careers in science policy and research administration. NIGMS staff are also participating in the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee’s career discussion and mentoring roundtables taking place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, December 17.
ASCB is just one of the meetings that our scientific staff go to each year to learn about the latest findings and emerging areas, meet with investigators and participate in informational talks or mock study sections. I encourage you to find out if your program director or other NIGMS staff members will be attending your next science conference so you can plan to meet. If you’re a relative newcomer to the NIH system, you can find your program director listed in your eRA Commons account and on your summary statement and Notice of Award. And of course, you can always call or e-mail us to let us know about your work or ask us your questions.
One of my jobs as an NIGMS program director is helping investigators navigate the review process. This includes understanding where their applications will be reviewed and how they can make a recommendation about this assignment.
Applications can be grouped for review by research area or grant mechanism, or as a cohort submitted in response to a specific funding opportunity announcement (FOA). I would like to briefly walk through a few scenarios and share some advice along the way.
The “Review and Selection Process” (V.2) section of FOAs provides clues about where your application will be reviewed. An application can be reviewed at the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) or at an individual NIH institute or center (IC), depending upon the particular FOA. Information about who will review your application is posted in your eRA Commons account soon after it is determined, but you should contact your program director or CSR if you have questions or concerns.
The vast majority of applications received by NIH on topics relevant to NIGMS are in response to “parent” program announcements, such as PA-13-302, for unsolicited R01 applications. Section V.2 of PA-13-302 states, “Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by (an) appropriate Scientific Review Group(s) convened by CSR.” This means that the application will be reviewed by a regular NIH study section or a special emphasis panel (SEP) with expertise in the research area explored by the application. To identify a possible “review home” for your application, I suggest you peruse CSR’s list of study sections, find the ones that seem most suitable for your application and then use NIH RePORTER to search for funded applications that have been reviewed by those study sections. This will allow you to identify the group of scientists who have the appropriate research expertise to review your application.
Specific requests for applications (RFAs), such as RFA-GM-14-003 (Revisions for Macromolecular Interactions in Cells), are often reviewed together in the IC that issued the RFA. For example, section V.2 of GM-14-003 states, “Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by (an) appropriate Scientific Review Group(s) convened by the NIGMS.” This means that the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review will organize a review panel to review applications submitted in response to this RFA.
For applications that will be reviewed by groups convened by CSR, I encourage the investigators I speak with to write a brief cover letter for their applications that indicates which study section they think is appropriate and how they arrived at that conclusion. Sometimes, it is also helpful to indicate the type(s) of expertise you believe is needed to review your application, but you should not provide a list of reviewers, as that creates issues with potential conflicts of interest. The recommendations made in the cover letter are advisory, but the CSR Division of Receipt and Referral makes every effort to accommodate reasonable requests.
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.
Study sections review applications three times a year, about halfway between the submission date and the second level of review by an advisory council. We are currently in the midst of the review cycle for the January 2013 Council meeting, which means that applicants will be getting their summary statements soon.
A recent post described a new NIH resource to explain the next steps after the review of your application. One of them is to contact your program director to discuss the critique, and I highly encourage this. Program directors read hundreds of summary statements each year, so we have a good idea about the comments that might have influenced your score, the likelihood that your application will be funded, and the types of revisions that might make your application more competitive.
If you’d like this input from your program director, the best first step is to send an e-mail to him or her after the summary statement is released (typically a few weeks after the study section has met to review your application) to arrange a time to talk. Program directors usually gain access to the summary statement around the same time you do, but giving us a chance to read and think about your review can facilitate a useful and productive conversation.
In addition to helping you determine next steps for your application, the conversation offers an opportunity to foster a relationship with the program director who manages grants in your area of research.