We Thought You’d Never Ask: Our Take on Questions we get from Grantees on How to Navigate the NIH Grants Process

August 2023:  The NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP)—Highlighting NIAMS 2024 REACH Priorities

The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program is designed to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. Support is provided in the following extramural areas: Clinical Research, Pediatric Research, Health Disparities Research, Contraception and Infertility Research, Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds, and the newest one Research in Emerging Areas Critical to Human Health (REACH). Each award provides for the repayment of up to $100,000 for up to a two-year period of a researcher’s qualified educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.

Last year we posted a blog on the LRP program that contains lots of information as well as tips and tricks on navigating the program. In case you missed it, you can find it here: 

Let’s now take a deeper dive into the REACH program and the 2024 NIAMS REACH priorities:  
In 2021, the NIH Director established a new subcategory area under the Extramural Loan Repayment Program based on workforce and scientific priorities. The purpose of the REACH subcategory is to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into research careers where (1) there are major gaps in biomedical and biobehavioral research; and/or (2) to expand research in emerging areas critical to human health.

Emerging areas are considered new areas of biomedical and biobehavioral research that are ripe for targeted investments that can have a transformative relevance and impact for years to come. Each year NIH Institutes and Centers will determine which emerging areas of research fit with their research priorities.

NIAMS 2024 REACH Priorities
New eligibility in 2024--NIAMS will accept applications from LRP-eligible current or past recipients of the following awards:

  • NIAMS Diversity Supplement Award (the diversity scholar)
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31-Diversity) - (past recipient who now has a doctoral degree)
  • MOSIAC Postdoctoral Career Transition Award to Promote Diversity (K99/R00), doing research in NIAMS mission areas

In addition, NIAMS will accept applications from all applicants in:

  • Basic research in the etiology of acute and chronic pain in musculoskeletal and autoimmune and skin disorders
  • Dissemination and Implementation research
  • Data Science research

Tips and Tricks 

May 2022: The NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP): An Undiscovered Treasure

The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program is designed to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. Support is provided in the following extramural areas: Clinical Research, Pediatric Research, Health Disparities Research, Contraception and Infertility Research, Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds, and (new last year!) Research in Emerging Areas Critical to Human Health (REACH). Each award provides for the repayment of up to $50,000 annually of a researcher’s qualified educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.

The first tip is to contact the Institute LRP Liaison.

The Liaison is an official who manages the LRP program at each Institute and often speaks to prospective applicants as well as to those who have not been successful. Feel free to reach out before you apply, or if you applied but didn’t get funded, reach out for feedback about the review afterwards.

Here are a few other tips and tricks that might be helpful:

Reviewers are looking at your potential to become an independent, funded researcher.

  • Everything you include in the application is reviewed in this context. 
  • Take your time in writing the application and have your mentor as well as others review it.
  • Use the Matchmaker tool on the NIH website to determine which Institute’s mission best fits your project and reach out to the IC’s liaison. reporter.nih.gov/matchmaker
  • Be sure your commitment to research is clearly reflected in your application and your letters of recommendation.
  • Your Personal Statement is critically important and should include not only your plan for your career trajectory, but also what you have done to date that has helped along the way and what you have learned from those experiences. Talk about your plans and your steps for achieving them.
  • Present an innovative, succinct, funded research project that matches your career plans; remember, the reviewers are looking at the project in the context of how it is helping you reach your potential; they are not reviewing the research project on its own merits.
  • A publication record is important; be sure to include explanations for any gaps. Include a plan for enhancing your publication record within your application.
  • Mentors are extremely important. Your application should explain precisely how your mentor fits within your research and career development plans. Also, if you have a mentoring team, be sure to explain their role in your career development and how they function as a team.
  • Make sure to request recommendation letters in a timely manner, and don’t forget to provide the reference links – once you ask, it is a step that is out of your control, so start early!
  • Be very specific about all your resources and space.

Keep in mind, the NIH LRP Website is a wonderful resource and has lots of valuable information; here are some useful links:  

In summary, we are here to help you write a good application, and there are a lot of resources at hand. You may reach out with any questions to the LRP Information Center and remember the importance of reaching out to your Institute LRP Liaison.

All contact information is here:   www.lrp.nih.gov/contact-engage.

January 2022: What Happens to a Grant Application when you submit it to NIH? 

This frequently asked question often goes on to ask how an application is assigned to an NIH Institute and a study section, also known as a Scientific Review Group (SRG). There is a considerable amount of information about this on the NIH website, but we would like to break it down a bit for you. For assistance with the acronym conundrum that is NIH, the Glossary and Acronym List is invaluable!

Lots of work happens before you submit an application, so the first step is to learn the basics and work with your organization to plan the application.

Once submitted to the NIH by your institution’s authorized official, your grant application makes its first stop at the Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) within the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). After receiving the application, the DRR performs the following steps:

  • Checks the application for completeness.
  • Determines the area of research and which specific NIH Institute or Center (IC) is the best fit for possible funding.
  • Assigns an application identification number.
  • Assigns the application to a specific SRG or review committee that has the expertise to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of the application.

For more detailed information on the Receipt and Referral process, see CSR: Submission and Assignment Process

If you want to be proactive in making sure your application reaches the appropriate IC/study section, you should consider:

  • Seeking guidance from the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) and/or an IC Program Officer (PO); often listed within the Funding Opportunity Announcement. 
  • Exploring the RePORT Expenditures and Results (RePORTER) tool, which allows users to search a repository of NIH-funded research projects and access publications and patents resulting from NIH funding.  Within RePORTER you will find the Matchmaker widget.  Simply enter your own abstract or specific aims into Matchmaker and it will find potential POs, ICs, and SRGs for your project based on a list of previous project assignments. 
  • Use the Assisted Referral Tool (ART) to help determine a potentially appropriate study section for your application. Just be aware that the final decision for the IC and the SRG assignment rests with the NIH. 

Once you have identified your preferred IC/study section, you may choose to use the Assignment Request Form to communicate those requests to the DRR and to SROs.  The PI can also let CSR know of potential reviewers who may have a conflict with the application. 

Once an application has been referred to a specific IC, that IC will examine the application to decide which Scientific Program is appropriate and will assign the corresponding PO.  If the application appears to be in a research area better suited to another IC, it will be referred there. Take a look at the NIAMS Organization Chart on our website to see which Scientific Program might be the best fit for your research.   

Another topic of great interest when submitting a grant application is how it will be scored. NIH has a lot of information on Peer Review, including Scoring and Summary Statements.  

And finally, if your application receives a score that indicates a high likelihood for funding, be sure to review our NIAMS blog called When Am I Going to Get Funded? for the next important steps in this process.  

As always, if something is confusing, we encourage you to reach out to your NIAMS Scientific Review Officer, Program Officer or Grants Management Specialist.

June 2021: When am I going to get funded?

Your grant application has been reviewed, the score looks pretty good, and now you wait. All you want to know is, “Where the heck is my award?” This is a complicated question that is informed by the NIH federal fiscal year, NIH grant deadlines, and the NIAMS process for making funding decisions.  We hope this description of what is involved will help make things easier to understand.  

First, let’s examine the fiscal year.  The federal fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30.  For example, as this FAQ is published, we are in fiscal year 2021, which runs from October 2020 through September 30, 2021.  This period defines the US government’s budget operating year.  Funds are appropriated annually by Congress for each fiscal year, and grant funds must be spent in that fiscal year. 

It is difficult to figure out how many grants we can fund if we don’t know what our budget will be, so it certainly facilitates things when we receive our appropriation by October 1!  There are times when this doesn’t happen however, so for grants scheduled to start in the first quarter of a fiscal year (October through December), funding decisions can often be delayed. You may have heard the terms “government shutdown” and “continuing resolution,” which are examples of the types of delays that can occur at the beginning of a given fiscal year.  To check the status of negotiations on the NIH appropriation for a specific fiscal year you can Google “status of NIH appropriation for FY__.” 

Next, let’s take a look at the basics.  It generally takes about nine months from a grant application coming in the door to an award being made, and that is if we don’t run into a snag.  This timeline includes a submission stage, a scientific review stage, a second-level review stage by the Institute Advisory Council, and a funding decision stage.  The schedule for NIH timelines and due dates, which applies to most investigator initiated grant programs, can be found here: Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications.  What you will notice from this chart is that there are three separate grant cycles within a given fiscal year, with the earliest funding date for Cycle 1 in December, Cycle II in April, and Cycle III in July.  Based on this cycle dates you can estimate your earliest project start date. Remember that there are many factors that can impact actual award dates, and these are only estimates.

With regard to the NIAMS funding decision process, work begins in late summer to develop the funding plan and paylines for the next fiscal year. The payline is the score through which the applications will be paid in that fiscal year. Most investigator-initiated applications are funded according to a payline. The funding plan will specify the paylines for each relevant funding category, such as research project grants (R01s), research careers (K awards), and research training (F and T awards). Many factors go into these determinations including estimates for noncompeting continuation awards, special initiatives for a specific fiscal year, and of course, the amount of the appropriation received from Congress.  It is our goal to post a Funding Plan as close to the beginning of the fiscal year as possible, however, because initial paylines are usually set before all budgetary impacts can be known, such as the number and cost of competing applications in forthcoming grant cycles, the established paylines are reevaluated throughout the fiscal year and may be adjusted as funds allow.  New or updated paylines are published on our website as soon as they are approved.  While most investigator-initiated applications are funded according to the percentile payline and NIAMS funds most applications in order by their percentiles. Other types of applications, such as those in response to RFAs, undergo a separate decision-making process involving discussion among program staff and NIAMS leadership.

Towards the end of the fiscal year, after most funding decisions have been made, the Institute may often hold a Select Pay meeting to pay some applications that missed the paylines, depending on availability of extra funds at the end of the fiscal year.  This meeting provides an opportunity for program staff to nominate applications for funding that have particular relevance to the Institute’s scientific and health priorities but that fall just beyond our established payline. Based on availability of funds, a small number of those applications may be paid. 

It is suggested that you keep track of the NIAMS paylines, become familiar with funding cycles, and know how your grant application fits in.  If something is confusing, we encourage you to reach out to your Program Officer or Grants Management Specialist.

March 2021: What is a NOSI?

When you look through the weekly Table of Contents email for the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, have you ever wondered about Notices of Special Interest (NOSIs) ?  We hope this will help explain it! 

A NOSI is a quick way to advertise to the research community specific areas of science that NIH is interested in pursuing. NOSIs have replaced  NIH  Program Announcements (PAs), and like PAs, NOSIs do not have set-aside funding or special review or receipt dates.  It is important to note that a NOSI is not a funding opportunity and is listed as a Notice in the NIH Guide. NOSIs point to one or more published funding opportunities that you will need to use to submit an application. A recent example of a NOSI issued by NIAMS is NOT-AR-21-012, “Promoting Research on COVID-19 and Rheumatic, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.”  As you can see, this NOSI highlights the areas of science we are interested in, and it specifically indicates which funding opportunities to use for submitting applications.  As an investigator, you will be submitting an application to an active funding opportunity (often a parent announcement), but will be referencing the specific topics of interest or areas of research supported by the NOSI.

In addition to describing the scientific areas of interest, a NOSI will also indicate the time period for which it is active, which may differ from the parent funding opportunity; the participating NIH institutes (check that NIAMS is listed); any NOSI-specific instructions; and contact information if you have questions. 

For your assistance, NIAMS has a Funding Opportunity Tool on our website which allows users to search for all NOSIs in which NIAMS participates.

Here are a few other important take-home messages about NOSIs:

  • Read the NOSI carefully and follow all instructions!  There may be some very specific instructions in the NOSI that differ from those in the associated funding opportunity. The NOSI instructions always supersede instructions found in the funding opportunity.
  • Unless otherwise noted, the information in the associated funding opportunity would apply with regard to application due dates, review locus, and any associated policies (e.g., continuous submission).
  • Be sure to include the NOSI number in the agency routing identifier field (box 4B on the SF424 R&R form) at the time of application submission. Normally you don’t put anything in that box, but for a NOSI fill it in! This is how NIH understands that your application is being submitted in response to a particular NOSI.
  • While a NOSI also has its own expiration date, it can remain active through multiple submission cycles of the associated funding opportunities, so check those dates carefully. 
  • Please reach out to us if you have any questions; don’t wait until the last minute.  All NOSIs have information about where to direct inquires. Contact us and contact us early. We are here to help you!

For more general NIH information on NOSIs, please consult NOT-OD-19-017.

Last Updated: August 2023