Give Input on NIGMS Undergraduate Student Development Programs to Enhance Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce

As part of our longstanding commitment to fostering a highly trained and diverse biomedical research workforce, we have launched a review process to ensure that our programs contribute most effectively to this goal. An important part of this effort is to seek your input.

To this end, we just issued a request for information for feedback and novel ideas that might bolster the effectiveness of our undergraduate student development programs. Some of the things we’re particularly interested in are:

  • The advantages (or disadvantages) of supporting a single program per institution that begins after matriculation and provides student development experiences through graduation.
  • Approaches to leveraging successful institutional models for preparing baccalaureates for subsequent Ph.D. completion.
  • Strategies to build institutional capabilities and effective institutional networks that promote undergraduate student training programs that lead to successful Ph.D. completion.
  • If applicable, your specific experiences with any of our student development programs and their outcomes in preparing participants for biomedical research careers.

More broadly, we welcome your suggestions regarding the most important issues we can address in this arena.

I encourage you to share your views on these and associated topics by the response deadline of April 15, 2015.

NIH Data Science Leader’s Vision of a Digital Enterprise for Biomedical Research

Phil BourneI recently had the opportunity to talk to Phil Bourne, NIH’s associate director for data science, about some of the current Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative activities. I asked him how they tie together his vision of a digital enterprise for biomedical research and how they might benefit NIGMS grantees.

Phil explained that the goal of his office, commonly referred to as ADDS, is to achieve efficiencies in biomedical research, such as by making it easier for researchers to locate and manipulate data and software. “If we could just achieve a 5 percent improvement in efficiency in research that would be, in NIH budget dollars, more than $150 million a year that could be spent on funding more people and doing more research,” he said.

An active area that we at NIGMS are engaged in with ADDS is sustaining biomedical data resources, of which we support a fair number. As someone who previously set up databases and who now oversees them, I’m very passionate about this topic. A key question is how to sustain support of data resources in the current research budget environment. Led by Phil’s team, NIH has issued a request for information on sustaining biomedical data repositories that seeks input on every aspect of maintaining these resources. I encourage you to share your ideas by the March 18 response date.

Training is important in Phil’s vision for a digital enterprise, too. He told me of a number of recent training activities at NIH, including a “software carpentry” workshop for experimental researchers to learn how to use a wide variety of analysis tools. In a blog post about this and another event, the ADDS office asks for suggestions on other types of data science courses to offer. They want to provide workshops that train more experimentally versed scientists to work with big data and take those skills back to their labs. In addition, the ADDS office is planning to stand up a workforce development center to catalog classroom and online courses in the data sciences.

Another effort that’s in the works is creating a virtual space called the Commons where researchers can share, locate, utilize and cite datasets, software, standards definitions and documentation. Phil anticipates that the first components of the Commons will be available in 2016.

I’m really excited about Phil’s efforts and believe that they will help drive the “data quantum leap” I described in my first Feedback Loop blog post.

Change in Receipt Dates for Noncompeting Continuation Institutional Training Grant (T32 and T34) Progress Reports

To increase the efficiency of issuing noncompeting grant awards, we’ve changed the submission date for noncompeting continuation institutional training grant (T32 and T34) progress reports. Beginning with applications for noncompeting awards that will be made in Fiscal Year 2016:

  • Progress reports for all T32 grants will be due on November 15 (rather than on December 1).
  • Progress reports for all T34 grants will be due on October 15 (rather than on November 1).

There is no change in the receipt dates for competing T32 or T34 applications.

Examining the First Competing Renewal Rates of New NIGMS Investigators

The successful entry and retention of new investigators into biomedical research is a priority for us, and the renewal rate of this group’s first R01 research grants is an important indicator for this goal. Here are the results of an analysis I did of the first competing renewal rates for new and established investigators.

Figure 1 shows that the first competing renewal rate of new investigators’ first NIGMS R01 or R29 grants has declined over the past 10 years. This trend is similar to the one for overall NIGMS R01 application success rates.

Percent Funded by End of Project Period (approximate) 53% 2002, 53% 2003, 52% 2004, 45% 2005, 44% 2006, 43% 2007, 43% 2008, 38% 2009, 39% 2010, 35% 2011, 32% 2012
Figure 1. Percentage of new investigators’ R01 and R29 grants that were successfully renewed. The horizontal axis is the fiscal year in which the first project period ended. The vertical axis is the percentage of these projects that were successfully renewed at least once (regardless of whether the new or amended competing renewal application was funded) by the end of Fiscal Year 2014.

Figure 2 gives a more complete picture of the renewal history of new investigators’ NIGMS R01 and R29 projects. In addition to the renewal rate (also shown in Figure 1), it shows the percentage of projects for which at least one renewal application was submitted but was not successfully renewed as well as the percentage of projects for which no renewal application was submitted.

Renewal history at the end date of first project based on paid, not paid, and no application submitted (approximate). 2002 53% paid, 20% not paid, 27% no application. 2003 53% paid, 23% not paid, 24% no application. 2004 52% paid, 27% not paid, 21% no application. 2005 45% paid, 32% not paid, 23% no application. 2006 43% paid, 34% not paid, 23% no application. 2007 43% paid, 30% not paid, 27% no application. 2008 43% paid, 33% not paid, 24% no application. 2009 38% paid, 33% not paid, 29% no application. 2010 39% paid, 36% not paid, 25% no application. 2011 35% paid, 38% not paid, 27% no application. 2012 32% paid, 35% not paid, 33% no application.
Figure 2. Renewal history of new investigators’ R01 and R29 grants between Fiscal Years 2002-2012. The bottom section (green) shows successful renewals (paid), which are also shown in Figure 1; the middle section (red) shows grants for which renewal was attempted but was not successful (not paid); and the top section (blue) shows grants for which no renewal application was submitted (no app).

Figure 3 shows that success in renewing an NIGMS-funded R01 grant correlates positively with how long the grant has been active.

Percentage of Projects funded by grant years (approximate) 31% 1st renewals for grant years 4-6, 49% 2nd renewals for grant years 7-12, 54% for 3rd and greater renewals for grant years 12 or greater
Figure 3. Competing renewal rates for the first, second and third or more renewals of NIGMS R01 grants awarded between Fiscal Years 2004-2007 to new and established investigators.

Since first renewals have lower success rates than subsequent renewals, Figure 4 addresses whether new investigators seeking to renew their first R01 grants are competitive with established investigators who are renewing long-term and/or new projects. The figure shows that the renewal rate for all projects from established investigators, including new as well as long-term projects, is higher than the renewal rate of projects from new investigators (46 percent in the left column versus 36 percent in the right column). However, when focusing only on the first renewals of new projects (in the middle and right columns), new investigators are renewing at a higher rate than are established investigators (36 percent versus 30 percent).

Renewal history by percentage of projects FY2004-FY2007 by type of investigator (approximate). All renewals by established investigators 46% paid, 24% not paid, 30% no application. Renewals of new projects by established investigators 30% paid, 25% not paid, 45% no application. Renewals of new projects by new investigators, 36% paid, 35% not paid, 29% no application.
Figure 4. Renewal history of NIGMS R01 projects from new and established investigators that were initially funded by NIGMS between Fiscal Years 2004-2007.

Figure 5 shows the relative success of new and established investigators in renewing new projects as a function of the percentile score obtained on the initial award. As the “Paid” sections of the bars indicate, for each of the percentile groups, the overall renewal rate for new investigators’ new R01s was higher than that for established investigators’ new R01s.

Percentage of new and established investigators' projects renewed in relation to the percentile ranking of the original award (approximate). Percentile 0-9, new investigators 41% paid, 28% not paid, 31% no application. Percentile 0-9 established investigators, 34% paid, 22% not paid, 44% no application. Percentile 10-19, new investigators, 32% paid, 41% not paid, 27% no application. Percentile 10-19, established investigators 28% paid, 29% not paid, 43% no application. 20th percentile and greater, new investigators 41% funded, 36% not paid, 23% no application. 20th percentile and greater, established investigators 26% paid, 29% not paid, 45% no application.
Figure 5. Renewal history of NIGMS R01 projects from new and established investigators that were initially funded between Fiscal Years 2004-2007 in relation to the percentile ranking (0-9th, 10-19th, and 20th and higher percentiles) of the original award. The number of projects in each of the six categories analyzed from left (new investigators, 0-9th percentile) to right (established investigators, ≥20th percentile) are: 239, 328, 299, 347, 172 and 102.

Recognizing the importance of new investigators in sustaining the vitality of biomedical research, we give special consideration to applications from them, and in some cases, we fund these applications at percentiles beyond those for most established investigators. The data in Figure 5 supports this practice by showing that the renewal rates of new investigators whose original applications scored at or above the 20th percentile are about the same as, or higher than, those for new and established investigators whose original applications scored in the 0-9th percentile range.

More About This Analysis

This analysis includes Recovery Act projects and excludes withdrawn applications and multi-principal investigator grants.

R01 projects: Research project grants.
R29 projects: First Independent Research Support and Transition (FIRST) awards, R01-type research project grants awarded to new investigators available from 1987 to 1998.
Renewal rate: Percentage of grants that were successfully renewed by the date of this analysis (end of Fiscal Year 2014), regardless of whether a new or amended competing renewal application was funded.
Grant year: Grant year in which the renewal R01 application was submitted.
New investigator: An individual who has not previously competed successfully as a program director/principal investigator for a substantial NIH independent research award (see

MIRA Webinar and Other Resources

NIGMS MIRA WebinarNIGMS Director Jon Lorsch and I will field your questions about the recently announced Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) (R35) during a webinar on Thursday, Feb. 19, from 2-3 p.m. EST. You’ll be able to access the webinar at During the event, you can submit questions by calling 301-451-4301 or e-mailing me. You also can send questions to me ahead of time.

Since announcing this new funding opportunity, we’ve received many inquiries. The most common questions have concerned eligibility, so we created a flowchart to help you determine this. Our MIRA Answers to Frequently Asked Questions offer additional details about eligibility, the submission and review processes, award administration and other aspects of the program. The earliest start date is April 2016, not December 2016 as originally indicated in the funding opportunity announcement.

As stated in earlier posts, this first MIRA competition is an experiment and is intentionally limited to a small group of eligible applicants. If this pilot is successful, we plan to issue future funding opportunity announcements covering additional groups of investigators.

UPDATE: The Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) (R35) Web page also includes links to the MIRA webinar and slides, MIRA-specific instructions for listing current and pending support, and a sample NIH biosketch.

Give Input on Proposed Center for Research Capacity Building

At our recent Advisory Council meeting, I announced that we are proposing the establishment of a new organizational unit in NIGMS: the Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB). As the name implies, it would serve as the hub for our capacity-building programs, which include the Institutional Development Award (IDeA), Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) and Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH). These programs are now housed in a branch of our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity.

Among the factors that contributed to this plan are the complexity of our capacity-building programs and the broad range of scientific areas and grant mechanisms they support. We believe that the new organizational structure would allow for more efficient planning, coordination and execution among these programs’ research, research training and research resource access activities.

The head of the new center would report directly to me and be part of the Institute’s senior leadership. Beyond that change, we do not plan to alter the missions, goals, staff or budgets of the IDeA, SCORE and NARCH programs as a result of the reorganization. Also remaining the same would be the review of applications and most grants management and review staff assignments.

We invite your input to inform our planning. Please post your comments by February 18, 2015.

Update: Thank you for your valuable input on this organizational change. A post announcing the establishment of the center is at

MIRA Program Launches with First FOA

We have just issued the first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in the pilot of our new Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program. The development of this program was greatly informed by responses to our request for information, which I summarized in a previous Feedback Loop post.

The goal of this FOA is to test the MIRA concept under well-controlled conditions with a small group of investigators. We’re initially targeting established investigators who have received two or more R01-equivalent awards or a single award of $400,000 or more in direct costs from NIGMS in Fiscal Year 2013 or 2014, and who have at least one grant expected to end in Fiscal Year 2016 or 2017. We think that this approach will help these investigators transition smoothly from their current grants to MIRA support. In the future, we plan to issue MIRA FOAs for additional groups of investigators, and if the pilot is successful we will open the program to any investigator working on research questions related to the mission of NIGMS.

If you’re eligible for this FOA and on the fence about applying, consider that MIRA awards:

  • Will be for 5 years instead of the current NIGMS average of 4 years,
  • Will continue support for other research currently funded by NIGMS without requiring a separate renewal application,
  • Will provide flexibility to pursue new ideas and opportunities as they arise,
  • Will increase funding stability, and
  • Will reduce time spent managing multiple grant awards and writing grant applications.

We’ll post additional information, including answers to frequently asked questions, on the NIGMS MIRA Web page.

NOTE: The FOA lists the earliest award date as December 2016. This is an error. The earliest award date is actually April 2016.

Report and Recommendations from the Future of Structural Biology Committees

NIGMS Advisory Council Meeting: Report of the NIGMS Future of Structural Biology Committees

Dr. Leemor Joshua-Tor’s presentation of the report begins at 00:36:22 on the archived videocast of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting.

I previously told you about the formation of two committees focused on Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) transition planning. These committees were charged with identifying high priorities for future NIGMS investments in structural biology and determining what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved to address the needs of the scientific community. Dr. Leemor Joshua-Tor, one of the committee co-chairs, presented the groups’ report at the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting on January 23.

The committees’ recommendations for preserving PSI resources that the committees felt will be important for the community in the future include:

  • Support for a modest number of protein expression resources to serve the needs of the community.
  • Continued support for a materials repository Exit icon similar to the one that has been supported through PSI.
  • Possible continued support for a structural biology knowledgebase Exit icon.

The committees identified these areas as high priorities for the future of structural biology:

  • Continued support for synchrotron beamlines for crystallography.
  • Support for modern cryo-EM resource centers.
  • Continued support for NMR resources for structural biology.
  • Support for the integration of structural biology methods.
  • Support for collaborative, multi-investigator efforts in membrane protein and large macromolecular assembly structure determination.

We’re now developing plans for implementing the report’s recommendations.

Judith Greenberg Named Deputy Director of NIGMS

Photo of Dr. Judith GreenbergI’m delighted to tell you that Judith Greenberg is NIGMS’ new deputy director.

Judith has been a vital member of the NIGMS leadership team for many years, including serving as acting director for two extended periods, as acting deputy director since shortly after I arrived and as director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology since 1988. Her many significant contributions have included leading the development of two strategic plans, spearheading the establishment of important new policies and streamlining a number of internal processes.

Judith has a long record of outstanding leadership and dedication to NIGMS and NIH, and we can all look forward to continuing to benefit from her wisdom, expertise and perspective.

NIGMS Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at NIH Opens for Applications

The NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) program is now accepting applications for its 50th class of fellows, and I encourage you to pass along this fellowship opportunity to graduate students and early postdoctoral scholars who may be interested in applying. The application deadline is March 17, 2015.

NIGMS PRAT fellows conduct research in scientific areas within the Institute’s mission while in an NIH intramural research program (IRP) laboratory. Before applying to the program, applicants must identify a potential preceptor in the NIH IRP and develop a research proposal.

Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have or will have a doctoral degree (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D.) and no more than 5 years of postdoctoral research experience by the time the 2015 program begins in the fall. Individuals currently in Ph.D. or other doctoral degree-granting programs may apply as long as they anticipate completing the degree requirements before starting the fellowship program.

NIGMS PRAT fellows receive 3 years of stipend support at levels determined by the NIH IRP guidelines and commensurate with experience. Additional benefits include health insurance, a travel allowance and professional development training activities, including a monthly seminar series designed specifically for the fellows. The professional development opportunities provide a rich forum for the exchange of ideas among this diverse group and are often cited by current fellows and alumni as one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

For more information about the NIGMS PRAT program, including details about applying and identifying potential preceptors, please e-mail me.

SAVE THE DATE – The NIGMS PRAT program will host a 50th anniversary scientific symposium highlighting the accomplishments of its alumni, many of whom have achieved senior leadership positions in academia, government and industry. This event will take place on November 6, 2015, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.