Five MIRA Myths

Our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program is still relatively new, so it’s not surprising that NIGMS staff frequently hear misconceptions about it. This post dispels five common MIRA myths.

Myth 1: Once an investigator is awarded a MIRA, the budget will never increase.

MIRA budgets may increase. At the time of the competing renewal application, a principal investigator (PI) may request an increase in funding. MIRAs with modest budgets that have been very productive and score very well could receive budget increases. Study sections will be asked to look at budget requests, and NIGMS staff will make determinations based on the reviewers’ recommendations and available funds.

Myth 2: Early stage investigators will receive more funding for their labs if they get an R01 than if they get a MIRA.

A MIRA PI who is an early stage investigator (ESI) has a higher probability of receiving more NIGMS funding than a non-MIRA ESI. Most ESI MIRA investigators receive $250,000 in direct costs per year. A recent analysis found that the vast majority of ESIs who have received an NIGMS R01 are initially awarded $200,000 or less, and most do not go on to receive a second NIGMS R01 during the first five years of their initial award. Thus, the total NIGMS funding for most relatively new investigators is higher with a MIRA.

Myth 3: MIRA discourages collaborative research.

NIGMS strongly endorses collaborative research, and this extends to the MIRA program. However, the MIRA concept is based on the idea that NIGMS will provide support to individual investigators’ research programs. Collaborators are expected to work together because of their mutual interest in a problem. The collaborator, in most cases, will support his or her efforts with independent funding, not through a subcontract from the MIRA. In cases where a collaborator’s efforts are well-justified, essential to the research program of the MIRA and cannot be supported by the collaborator, a consortium agreement can be included in the competing application.

NIGMS also encourages scientifically productive international collaborative research efforts. However, NIGMS will only provide funding for a foreign consortium arrangement when the collaboration is essential to the PI’s research program, represents a unique scientific opportunity and cannot be supported by the collaborator.

Myth 4: MIRA PIs cannot apply for administrative supplements.

MIRA PIs are eligible for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research and may be eligible for other types of administrative supplements, such as equipment supplements offered by NIGMS through notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. In rare situations, NIGMS may provide a supplement for a piece of equipment that could not have been anticipated at the time the application was submitted.

Myth 5: MIRA PIs cannot apply for NIGMS training grants or conference grants.

MIRA PIs are eligible to apply for grants that support research resources, training, workforce development or diversity building, clinical trials, selected cooperative agreements, SBIR/STTRs, conference grants and the portion of a center grant or a P01 that is strictly a core. In addition, a MIRA PI may receive grants from other NIH institutes or centers, although when making funding decisions NIGMS always considers an investigator’s other support, as described on our Funding Policies page.

More information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is on the MIRA page.

Webinar and Other Resources for New MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity

UPDATE: The slides from the MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity webinar have been posted.

NIGMS recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program for Early Stage Investigators. The first application due date is October 3, 2017. As in previous years, the purpose of this MIRA mechanism is to provide support for the program of research in the laboratory of an early stage investigator (ESI) that falls within the mission of NIGMS. Here are some important points to know if you’re considering applying to this FOA:

  • To be eligible, you must have completed your terminal research degree (or medical residency) less than 10 years ago and must not have served as the principal investigator (PI) of a substantial NIH research award, e.g., an R01, P01, U01, SC1 or DP2. If you’ve served as the PI of one or more smaller awards, such as an R00, R03, R15, R21, SC2 or SC3, you retain your ESI status and can still apply to the ESI MIRA program. A complete list of the smaller grants and awards that do not affect ESI status is available on the Office of Extramural Research webpage.
  • ESI status can be extended for qualifying reasons, including but not limited to family care responsibilities or active military service. Here’s a complete list of qualifying reasons.
  • If you submitted a MIRA application in previous years and are still eligible for this FOA (i.e., retain ESI status), you’re welcome to apply but must submit a new application rather than a resubmission. A new application may still cover the same topics you proposed previously, but must not include any specific section explicitly designated as a response to reviewers.
  • If offered a MIRA, you must devote at least 51% of your time available for research to the award; however, note that taking less than 51% salary for the PI is allowed and in no case should more than 51% be requested.
  • Unlike previous rounds, you may have an NIGMS R01 application and a MIRA application under review at the same time. Should both applications score well enough to be considered for funding, you will be required to withdraw one or the other.
  • Applications that don’t fall within NIGMS’ mission will be returned without review, so be sure to contact me or the program director whose scientific area is closest to yours to discuss your proposal while in the planning stages!

These and many other topics related to the MIRA ESI FOA are covered in detail in a newly-released set of frequently asked questions.

We’ll also be hosting a webinar to discuss the FOA (no longer available) and answer your specific questions about the program on Monday, July 10, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-888-989-5313 and enter passcode 8866047. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIH Staff Participating in July 10 Webinar

Jon Lorsch, Institute Director

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Brian Pike, Scientific Review Officer

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Early Career Scientist Shares Her Passion for Basic Research, Mentoring and More

I recently sat down with NIGMS-funded early career scientist Namandjé Bumpus to talk about her research and career path. Questions came from undergraduates across the country, including Thorne Varier in the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I invite you to watch the archived videocast and share it with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.

The Q&A was part of the Second Annual Early Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students. We launched the lecture series last year to highlight the achievements of our early career grantees and encourage students to pursue biomedical research careers.

Namandjé, an associate professor in the department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, started with a scientific presentation that walked us through her research investigating the mechanisms involved in HIV drug activation and metabolism. She also described an exciting new project that involves genotyping people to identify genetic variations that may also influence these processes. Then, during our conversation, she talked about when she knew she wanted to be a scientist (a professional society played a major role), how mentors have supported her along the way, what she would have done differently and why basic research is so important for medical advances. Some other highlights from the lecture are on Twitter (#ecilecture).

Much of what Namandjé shared relates to scientists at any career stage. I hope you and your trainees find the lecture as inspiring as I did.

Namandjé Bumpus on ECI 2017 lecture

During the 2017 NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture, Namandjé Bumpus discussed her research on drug metabolism (left), answered questions about her career path (middle) and met with undergraduate students (right).
Credit: Christa Reynolds and Emily Carlson, NIGMS.

A Historical Analysis of NIGMS Early Stage Investigators’ Awards and Funding

One question that has been asked about the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators is how awardees will be affected by the fact that they cannot have additional NIGMS research grants. In response to this question, we reviewed the research project grant (RPG) funding history of all 707 Principal Investigators (PIs) who received an NIGMS R01 as an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) between Fiscal Years 2009 and 2015. The PIs were grouped by Year of PI, which ranges from Year 1 to Year 5 (five years is the typical length of an ESI R01 award). Year 1 is the year in which the PI was awarded his or her initial R01, and Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. The awards and funding history of each PI were confined to Fiscal Years 2009-2015; thus, all PIs are included in the Year 1 group, while those who received their initial R01 in 2013, for example, would only appear in the Year 1-Year 3 groups.

The distribution of NIGMS awards (including subprojects) for these PIs is depicted below.

Figure 1. Percentage of Principal Investigators by Number of Active NIGMS Awards. Year 1 represents the year of the initial NIGMS R01; Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. Only Fiscal Years 2009-2015 are included. No PIs had more than three active NIGMS awards in a single year.

Adding up the percentages of PIs with two and three awards, Figure 1 shows that the percentage of PIs with more than one active NIGMS award ranges from 2.8% in Year 1 to 13.9% in Year 5. Continue reading

Second Annual Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

NIGMS' Early Career Investigator Lecture with speaker Namandjé N. Bumpus, Ph.D.

Last year, we launched the NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture series. Open to everyone in the scientific community, the lectures are directed at undergraduate students to introduce them to cutting-edge science while inspiring them to pursue biomedical research careers. The series also highlights the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

I’m excited to share that the 2017 lecture will be presented by Namandjé Bumpus, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine-division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Namandjé is an NIGMS-funded recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Her lecture, “Drug Metabolism, Pharmacogenetics and the Quest to Personalize HIV Treatment and Prevention,” will take place on the NIH campus on Wednesday, April 5, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. It will be videocast and archived on the NIH videocasting site.

Continue reading

Q&A with NIGMS-Funded PECASE Winners

Each year, NIH nominates outstanding young scientists for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists beginning their independent research careers. The scientists are selected for their innovative research record, potential to continue on this productive route and community service activities. Among this year’s PECASE recipients (nominated in 2014) are two NIGMS grantees, Tufts University’s Aimee Shen Exit icon (who started her career at the University of Vermont) and Montana State University’s Blake Wiedenheft Exit icon (who was the inaugural NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecturer). Both scientists launched their labs with support from our Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions in states with historically low levels of NIH funding.

Photo of Blake Wiedenheft (top) and Aimee Shen (bottom).

Below, they answer questions about their research and community service efforts, offer advice to other early career scientists, and share their experiences with the IDeA program.

What is the focus of your research?

Blake Wiedenheft: Viruses that infect bacteria (i.e., bacteriophages) are the most abundant biological entities on earth. The selective pressures imposed by these pervasive predators have a profound impact on the composition and the behavior of microbial communities in every ecological setting. In my lab, we rely on a combination of techniques from bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry and structural biology to understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection.

Aimee Shen: My lab studies Clostridium difficile, the leading cause of healthcare-associated infection in the United States. C. difficile forms metabolically dormant cells known as spores that allow the microbe to survive exit from the gastrointestinal tract of a mammalian host. My research is directed at understanding how C. difficile spores form in order to transmit infection and how they germinate and transform into disease-causing cells to initiate infection.

Continue reading

More Information About New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA Outcomes

There has been ongoing discussion—both here and in the general scientific community—related to the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators (NI/ESI). One question that arose was why applications were administratively withdrawn. Both the NIH Center for Scientific Review and multiple NIGMS staff members, including the program director with a portfolio of grants closest to the applicant’s area of science, screened the applications. Of the withdrawn applications, a majority (~80%) were returned prior to review because they proposed research that fell outside of the NIGMS mission. Others were withdrawn because the applicant was not eligible for the FOA. After review, some applications were withdrawn because the PI accepted another award that was mutually exclusive with the MIRA. As recommended on the MIRA website and elsewhere, we encourage anyone who intends to apply for the Early Stage Investigator MIRA to discuss their plans with the appropriate NIGMS program director to determine whether the proposed research area is within the mission of the Institute and if the applicant is eligible to apply.

A major NIGMS goal is to support a broad portfolio that is diverse in research topics, approaches, institutions and investigators. This means we are looking carefully at the outcomes of awards, including gender and race/ethnicity data. We are also trying to take proactive steps to prevent bias during the review, for instance by covering the topic as part of reviewer orientations that take place several weeks before the MIRA study sections meet.

In our recent summary of MIRA applicant and awardee demographics, we looked to see how applications from underrepresented groups compared to those from well-represented groups (White and Asian). The p-value for a difference between the distributions of funded and unfunded applications from these groups was 0.63, meaning that there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. We also compared the MIRA success rates to those of ESI applicants for NIGMS R01s in fiscal years (FY) 2011-2015 (Table 1).

Continue reading

Trending Young in New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA

Dr. Jon Lorsch

The MIRA presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 17:13.

Following up on the previous post regarding the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators, we issued awards to a total of 94 grantees. In addition to ensuring that we are funding the highest quality science across areas associated with NIGMS’ mission, a major goal is to support a broad and diverse portfolio of research topics and investigators. One step in this effort is to make sure that existing skews in the system are not exacerbated during the MIRA selection process. To assess this, we compared the gender, race/ethnicity and age of those MIRA applicants who received an award with those of the applicants who did not receive an award, as well as with New and Early Stage Investigators who received competitive R01 awards in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

We did not observe any significant differences in the gender or race/ethnicity distributions of the MIRA grantees as compared to the MIRA applicants who did not receive an award. Both groups were roughly 25% female and included ≤10% of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. These proportions were also not significantly different from those of the new and early stage R01 grantees. Thus although the MIRA selection process did not yet enhance these aspects of the diversity of the awardee pool relative to the other groups of grantees, it also did not exacerbate the existing skewed distribution.

We did observe significant differences among the mean ages of the MIRA grantees, MIRA applicants who did not receive an award and the R01-funded grantees. The MIRA grantees are 1.5 years younger on average than those MIRA applicants who did not receive an award (37.2 vs. 38.7 years, p<0.05), and about 2 years younger than the FY 2015 R01-funded Early Stage Investigators (37.2 vs. 39.1 years, p<0.001). The R01-funded New Investigators in FY 2015, a pool which includes a few individuals older than 60 years, average an age of 45.6 years. This selection for funding investigators earlier is a promising feature of the first round of MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators. As noted at the recent meeting of our Advisory Council, where Jon presented these data, 37 years is still relatively late for investigators to be getting their first major NIH grant. We will continue to monitor this issue with the goal of further decreasing that figure.

Moving Further Afield

In recent talks for iBiology Exit icon  and TEDx Exit icon, NIGMS grantee Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado proposes that because so much of biomedical research focuses on only a handful of model organisms we are limiting our knowledge of biology. He suggests that many important discoveries lie waiting in species that have not yet been the subjects of sufficient investigation. This is a topic of interest to us as well; in fact, Dorit Zuk, director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, is currently leading an internal working group that’s examining the varied landscape of organisms studied by NIGMS grantees and the new scientific questions that could be answered using a diversity of organisms. We’ll be discussing these topics in future posts.

In addition to the number of organisms we study, other aspects of the biomedical research system may be limiting the breadth of our knowledge. For example, does the expectation that junior faculty work on a problem closely related to their postdoctoral research constrain our explorations to “islands” of study, leaving vast areas under- or unexplored?

The forces keeping biomedical junior faculty within their postdoctoral research areas include the expectations of faculty search committees, grant review panels and funding agencies, as well as the promotion policies of academic institutions. Interestingly, in the chemical sciences, junior faculty are usually expected to develop projects that are distinct from their postdoctoral work, which often involves moving into completely new areas of study. Why the sociology of chemistry evolved so differently in this regard from other fields related to biomedical research is an interesting question.

Should the biomedical research enterprise change its expectations to empower junior researchers to move further away from their postdoctoral work when they start their independent research careers? Would this accelerate the pace of discovery? New programs such as the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators give us an opportunity to revise our expectations for researchers at the beginning of their independent careers. Would this be desirable? What might we look for in assessing outcomes? If we, as funders, successfully made such a change in expectations, would the rest of the research ecosystem make parallel changes to support efforts by junior scientists to leave their home “islands” and move into new territory?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these questions.

MIRA for Early Stage Investigators: FOA and Webinar

UPDATE: The September 27 webinar slides and video, and answers to frequently asked questions have been posted.

We have released the latest funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) pilot program. This FOA, while similar to last year’s announcement, is intended only for early stage investigators. This eligibility change and other modifications were made to further test the MIRA mechanism under carefully controlled conditions. MIRA supports investigators’ overall program of research within the NIGMS mission through a single, unified grant rather than individual project grants. Applications are due by November 4, 2016. The earliest start date is July 2017.

We’ll hold a webinar to discuss this FOA and answer questions about the program on Tuesday, September 27, from 3-4 p.m. EDT. Participants will be able to submit questions using the chat feature. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

We receive many questions about eligibility. NIH defines an early stage investigator as one who is within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree (e.g., Ph.D.) or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent). The investigator must also have not yet received a substantial independent NIH research award (e.g., R01, DP1 or DP2, SC1). Extension of the period of ESI eligibility can be requested for certain specified reasons.

NIGMS plans to issue additional FOAs for MIRA later this year with broadened eligibility for awards to be issued in Fiscal Year 2018.

For additional information, check the MIRA webpage, email me or call me at 301-594-0828.

Please help us get the word out by sharing this information with your colleagues and anyone else who might be interested in applying.