5.4. Grants

5.4.1. Funding streams for your lab

  • NIH: National Institutes of Health

    • Biomedical science

    • 27 institutes and centers with specific foci

    • Investigator and sponsor-driven programs

  • NSF: National Science Foundation

    • Basic science

    • Primarily investigator-driven programs

  • Other governmental agencies

    • DOD: Department of Defense

    • DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

    • DOE: Department of Energy

  • Non-profit organizations, e.g. Allen Foundation, Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

    • Catalyze initial research rather than provide sustained funding

    • Often more risk- tolerant

  • Your institution

    • Startup funds

    • Small seed grants

  • Institutional training grants for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars

    • Very simple applications

    • Don’t consume PI percent effort

  • Graduate, postdoctoral fellowships

    • Relatively easy to win

    • Don’t consume PI percent effort

  • Industry contracts

5.4.2. Taxonomy of funding opportunities

  • Scientific area

  • Project vs. program

    • Project grants (e.g. NIH R01, R21) provide funds for a specific project with specific goals and a specific approach

    • Program grants (e.g. NIGMS MIRA) provide funds for an area of research and don’t require specific goals or a specific approach. These grants provide more flexible funding to enable researchers to follow evolving scientific priorities.

  • Investigator-driven vs. sponsor-driven

    • Investigator-driven programs enable researchers to propose projects within a broad scientific area. Often, the programs have few priorities and few restrictions and the sponsor aims to support the most impactful and innovative proposals

    • Sponsor-driven programs provide funding for strategically important research as determined by the sponsor. Generally, sponsor-driven progams have specific priorities and numerous restrictions.

  • Scientific stage/risk

    • High-risk/high-reward (e.g. NIH Director’s program, NSF RAISE program): significant funding for early ideas with substantial potential impact. These programs require little preliminary data, but a strong PI track record of impact is essential. Although high-risk/high-reward grants provide significant funding, NSF and NIH award few of these grants.

    • Early-stage (e.g. NIH R21): funding modest funding for early ideas with minimal prior evidence

    • Hardening

  • Project size

    • New project (e.g. NIH R21): 1-2 people over 1-3 years

    • Established project (e.g. NIH R01): 2-3 people over 3-5 years

    • Collaborative project (e.g. NIH center): requires a larger number of people over 5+ years

  • Investigator stage

    • Postdoc (e.g. NIH F32, NIH K99/R00)

    • Early career (e.g. NSF CAREER, NIGMS MIRA, NIH EIA, NIH New Innovator)

    • Mid-late career (e.g. NIGMS MIRA)

5.4.3. Funding programs for early career investigators

Below is a list of some of the biggest funding opportunities specifically for early career investigators

  • NIGMS Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA, R35)

    • Funds research programs

    • $250,000 per year

    • 51% effort required

    • 6 page application that emphasizes the applicant, the major challenges in their field, and their proposed research program

  • Director’s Program New Innovator Award (DP2)

    • Funds high-risk, high-reward research

    • No preliminary data required

    • $300,000 per year

    • 25% effort required

    • 12 page application that emphasizes the applicant, significance, and innovation

    • Applicant must have NI and ESI status

  • NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program

  • DOE Early Career Research Program

  • DOD Young Faculty Award

  • Non-profit foundations

    • Beckman Young Investigators Program

    • Pew Scholars

    • Searle Scholars Program

    • Sloan Research Fellowships

See http://www.spo.berkeley.edu/fund/newfaculty.html for a list of additional smaller funding opportunities for new faculty.

In addition, many NIH institutes have lower funding thresholds for New Investigators (NI; applicants which have not yet received an R01 or equivalent) and Early Stage Invesigators (ESI; applicants within 10 years of the completion of their PhD or medical residency). Keep in mind that winning a grant as a Co-PI, would also terminate your NI status. For this reason, until you receive your first grant as the primary PI, it could be a good strategy not to submit proposals as a Co-PI and instead submit those proposals as a Co-Investigator.

5.4.4. Finding funding opportunities

Below are several resources for finding funding opportunities

5.4.5. Eligibility

Universities often only allow personnel with Principal Investigator (PI) status to submit proposals. This status is often only given to tenure track faculty. Some funding programs have additional requirements such as a minimum effort or a maximum time from start of the PI’s first tenure track faculty position.

5.4.6. Deadlines

  • NIH: generally, every 4 months

  • NSF: continous submission

  • Other: variable, see program announcements

5.4.7. Proposal process

  1. Contact program staff: This can often be accomplished via email. In some cases, a letter of intent or pre-proposal is required.

  2. Discuss idea with program staff: identify suitable funding programs and get feedback.

  3. Submit proposal

  4. Program staff assign proposal to panel

  5. Peers make recommendations to program staff

  6. Discuss and rebut concerns with program staff

  7. Program staff make funding decisions

  8. Resubmit proposal

    • NIH: Has formal system for resubmission, but you we will likely be assigned different reviewers

    • NSF: No formal resubmission system, but similar proposals can be submitted

5.4.8. Writing proposals

  • Summaries

    • Specific Aims: 1 page for reviewers

    • Summary: 30 lines for public

    • Narrative: 6 lines for public

  • Introduction to resubmission (NIH): 1 page

  • Project description: 12 (NIH) – 15 (NSF) pages, 0.5” margins, 11pt

    • Problem statement

    • Anticipated impact and innovation

    • Background

    • Your prior work

    • Results of prior support (NSF)

    • Research plan: 2-5 aims

    • Education and outreach plan (NIH centers and NSF)

    • Timeline

    • Management plan: who will do what

    • Evaluation plan: how you will assess progress and success

    • Future directions

  • Bibliography: unlimited

  • Resource sharing plans: 1 page

    • Outline the products and how they will be tested, documented (examples, tutorials, API docs), and disseminated

    • Outline the timeline for dissemination

    • Model organism sharing plan: N/A

    • Genomic data sharing plan: N/A

    • Data sharing plan

    • Software sharing plan

  • Mentoring plan (NSF): 1 page

  • Budget justification: 1-2 pages

    • Brief description of the requested funds and why they are needed

  • Biosketches of key personnel: 5 pages each

    • Personal statement

    • 3 major scientific contributions, each with 3 publications

  • Letters of support from collaborators

  • Major equipment: ~2 pages

    • Custom software

    • Computer cluster

  • Facilities and other resources: ~2 pages

    • Scientific environment at university and in department

    • Computers and software

    • Lab and office facilities

    • Junior faculty mentorship and professional development for junior faculty

    • Central university resources such as library

    • Administrative support

5.4.9. Typical costs for budgets

  • Personnel salary and fringe benefits (85-90% of total budget)

    • Student: $42,000/yr

    • Postdoc: $42-70,000/yr

    • Fringe benefits: 28.5%

  • Recruiting: $1,000-1,500/visit

  • Computer: $1,500

  • Publication: ~$2,500

  • Travel (~3% of total budget)

    • 1-2 conferences/person/yr

    • $2,500 per conference

  • Materials & supplies: ~$200/yr

  • Freelancers : $30/hr

    • Illustrators

    • Editors

    • Web designers

  • Computer services

    • CircleCI: $600/yr

    • CodeClimate: $0

    • Coveralls: $300/yr

    • DreamHost (Web hosting and IP registration): $200/yr

    • Docker Hub: $0

    • GitHub: $600/yr

    • Google Drive: $20/yr

    • Minerva: $0

    • Read the Docs: $0

  • Software

    • Adobe Creative Cloud: $240/yr

    • MATLAB: $100/yr

    • MS Office: free

  • Indirect costs: 35-70%

5.4.10. Submitting proposals

Proposals must be submitted through your institutions Grants and Contracts Office using their online proposal submission system. These online systems are straightforward. They simply require you to upload each component of your proposal as a .docx or .pdf document and enter your budget using a set of webforms. Typically, proposals must be submitted internally 1-2 weeks in advance of the external deadline.

5.4.11. Peer review

  1. Program officers assign each proposal to a panel with 10-20 scientists and up to ~50 proposals

  2. Each proposal is assigned to 3 scientists in general area

    • Reviewers often do not have immediate expertise in the topic of the proposal

    • Each reviewer has ~10 12-15 page proposals

    • Reviewers read and score each proposal according to mutliple criteria

    • Reviewers often ignore specific program goals

  3. Reviewers meet to align on a consensus score for each proposal which serves as a recommendation to the program staff

    • ~15 minutes of discussion per proposal

      1. First reviewer: Summarizes proposal and strengths and weaknesses

      2. Second reviewer: Summarizes additional strengths and weaknesses

      3. Scribe: Summarizes additional strengths and weaknesses

      4. Discussion about discrepant opinions

      5. Scribe: suggests score

      6. Reviewers agree to score

      7. Scribe writes summary of panel discussion

      8. Panel discussion is reviewed by program staff

      9. After all proposals are discussed,

        1. Broader discussion about important areas to support

        2. The panel identifies the very best proposals

    • Discussion led by panel chair (NIH) or program staff (NSF)

    • NSF: discuss all proposals

    • NIH: discuss only top-scoring proposals

  4. The reviewers and program staff produce a written summary of the discussion

    • NSF: third reviewer

    • NIH: program staff

  5. The program staff make the final funding decision informed by the recommendations from the reviewers. At this stage, the program staff review the written summaries. In addition, the program staff may ask for further information from applicants about concerns expressed by the reviewers.

5.4.12. Statistics (NIGMS)

  • Success rate: 28% (including resubmission)

  • Average R01: $237,000

5.4.13. Grant award process

  1. Funding agency sends official notification to you and your university

  2. Funding starts immediately

  3. University sets up fund for award (immediate)

  4. University adjusts effort based on proposed budget (immediate, retroactive to start date)

  5. Open positions (~1 month) and begin interviewing

  6. Hire staff (1-3 months, depending on visa needs)

5.4.14. Annual grant renewals

Annual progress reports

  • Scientific progress and products (e.g. publications, presentations, websites)

  • Dissemination efforts

  • Outreach and education efforts

  • List of participants and contributions

  • Impact of the above

  • Unanticipated challenges and revised plans

  • Plans for next year

Annual non-competing renewal applications

  • Budget

For many NIH program, competing renewal applications every ~5 years

  • Full application

5.4.15. Advice for winning grants

  • Focus on significant problems and propose innovative solutions

  • Generate compelling proof-of-concept

  • Publicize your proof-of-concept

  • Identify topical funding mechanisms

  • Thoroughly read the funding opportunity announcement

  • Discuss your ideas with the program officers, especially for DARPA, DOD, and DOE

  • Solicit examples of proposals that have been funded by the same program and solicit advice from previous winners. This is particularly helpful for the administrative sections of proposals.

  • Dedicate significant grant writing time and allow extra time for unfamiliar opportunities

  • Determine who your audience is and write for them

  • Follow all of the directions in funding opportunity announcements

  • Seek feedback for your colleagues and your lab

5.4.16. Advice for resubmissions

Below is our advice for submitting revised proposals

  • Carefully read all of the reviewers concerns

  • Keep in mind that blaming the reviewers is not productive. You can’t change the reviewers or program officers, but you can change your proposal and how you present it.

  • Keep in mind that reviewer concerns are often rooted in poor explanations rather than bad ideas. For this reason, reviewer concerns can often be addressed simply by clarifying the proposal.

  • Synthesize and rank the reviewers’ concerns

  • Develop a revised plan that addresses all of the reviewers’ concerns.

  • Discuss your plans with the program officers

  • Revise your proposal. This could require re-writing your entire proposal.

In addition to all of the content of the first submission, NIH resubmissions must include a 1-page “Introduction to resubmission”. These documents should (a) summarize the reviewer’s major concerns, (b) summarize your major revisions, and (c) provide a point-by-point summary of each of the reviewers’ major concerns and describe how you have addressed them or why you believe they are unfounded.

To help reviewers identify the major changes to your proposal, you should mark these sections with vertical bars in the margins.