Fellowships: Navigating NIH Peer Review

– Good afternoon, my
name is Dr Vonda Smith and I’m the Scientific Review Officer here at the Centre for Scientific Review, and this afternoon I’m going
to be presenting to you navigating the NIH peer review
to get a fellowship grant. First off, we’re going to
talk about the top eight ways to successfully navigate NIH peer review. We’re going to talk about knowing what a fellowship
application can do for you, knowing the path of a
successful application, avoiding the nine common
applicant pitfalls, helping to direct your application to the best place for review and funding, understanding who your reviewers are, knowing what reviewers are looking for, I know that’s what a lot of
you are most interested in, considering advice from NIH staff and asking the right NIH person for help. First off, know what a training
or fellowship application can do for you. We have the Ruth L. Kirschtein National Research Service Awards, NRSA, which are fellowships, which will be abbreviated with an F, that support research
training for doctoral students and new postdoctoral researchers in basic and/or clinical research in any scientific area within
the NIH scientific mission at domestic or foreign institutions. And for more help on that
you can go to the F-Kiosk at
https://researchtraining.nih.gov/programs/fellowships It should also be noted that this program also provides training
grants, known as Ts, and these are awards for mentors
with multiple trainee slots to support pre-doc and or post-doc research training activities. These are broken down into two areas, predoctoral awards and
postdoctoral awards. The predoctoral awards are F30s
and F31s and Diversity F31s. The F30 supports up to six years of combined MD/PhD training, the F31 supports up to five years of PhD or equivalent training during
your dissertation research. And the Diversity F31 awards supports underrepresented,
disadvantaged individuals and those with a disability. For postdoc fellowships there is the F32. This supports up to three years of postdoctoral research training. Awardees incur one year of payback and can repay the first year by staying in the research a second year. The benefits and stipends for 2016. The benefits, tuition and fees for predoc, 60% of the requested tuition
but it’s capped at $16,000 or $21,000 for MD/PhD programs. For postdoc it’s also 60%
of the requested tuition capped at $4,500 and $16,000 if you’re seeking another doctoral degree. For training related expenses for predocs it’ll pay $4,200, for postdocs $8,850 and it also includes health insurance. And your stipend for predoc is $23,376 and for postdoc it goes by
your years of experience. In your first year or
your zero year, $43,692 all the way up to the seven
plus years of $57,504. Second, know the path of
a successful application. Applications that are coming into the NIH go to the Center for Scientific Review which is where the
applications get assigned to the institute for possible funding and the peer review group. From there it goes to the study section and that’s where the actual review happens and then once the review is finished those applications go
back to the institute considering funding where
they evaluate for relevance to the research priorities
of that particular institute, and then the advisory
council of that institute who recommends action, and then to the institute director who takes the final action
on that application. Now, moving on to avoid the
nine common applicant pitfalls, going from smallest pitfall
to a more bigger pitfall. Number nine, using a small font. That’s very self explanatory,
reviewers can’t see. Number eight, submitting a new application but referring to previous
review outcomes or criticisms. Number seven, overstuffing
your application. Depending on how egregious
the overstuffing is your application may be returned to you before review consideration. Number six, producing an
incomplete application, again, self explanatory. Number five, not giving the
instructions enough attention. Please pay attention. Number four, not using the
right application form, self-explanatory. Number three, submitting your application at the last minute. It cannot be stressed
enough to give yourself enough time to submit in
case there are any problems with your submission because
it may make you miss a deadline and if you miss a deadline
then you’re out of luck. Number two, failing to
appreciate submission is a multi-step process, again, needing to give
yourself enough time. Number one, missing
letters and attachments and we’ll be getting more
on that in the next slide. What we mean by missing
letters and attachments. For missing letters, maybe
one of your references failed to submit their letter on time or maybe you thought you
could count your letter from a sponsor or collaborator
as a reference letter, that’s not true. So, please make sure you follow up and get the proper missing
letters in on time. Letters from collaborators
are also required to show their commitment, so make sure those letters
have that information in it. And regarding missing attachments, this refers to Diversity
F31s where they require a letter from the institution saying the applicant is qualified
as a diversity applicant. Next, directing your
application to the best place for review and funding. I think a lot of times
this gives applicants a few little heart flutters, we’re gonna help you work through that. To find the institute center
who might fund your research we recommend you go to the NIH reporter which can be found at projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm And you can do two things, you can click the matchmaker tab which will let you search
funded applications by abstract to identify institute centers who might have an
interest in your research, or you can use the text
box and enter keywords and this should pull up which institutes have previously supported
applications in that area. Next, how to find a study section to review your application. We’re showing two ways
how to do that here. At the top of the page we have
circled the study section tab and this takes you to a page by headers and the study sections
are broken down by type for maybe a standing study
section which you’re used to or small business as another example. Or you can click the find a study section and enter text words either
if you happen to know a study section by name or its acronym or simply typing keywords and again it’ll take you to a page
where you may be able to find a study section that is
interested in your application. In general, our applicant resources page is a great place for
first time applicants, for applicants who are just
seeking more information to find anything you could possibly need to know about review. Next, telling CSR your
application preferences. And we have a new assignment request form that’s available to you. The things we want to point out are the request institute assignments, the requests review group assignment, identify conflicts of interest and suggest expertise. Essentially gone over the first two points in the previous two slides but here’s where you can
physically enter those in for the institute that you want to request that may have interest in your research and also the review group
that you have identified. This is also where you can
identify conflicts of interest by name and then for followup
the SRO will contact you to get more information
to clearly identify if it is a conflict of interest or not, keeping in mind that just
because someone is in your area of study does
not necessarily mean they are a conflict. Here you can also suggest expertise but it is never a good idea
to suggest specific reviewers. However, if you do request
a scientific review group that is inappropriate do not panic, you will not be penalized, we will again place your application in the most appropriate study
section and let you know. Number five, understanding
who your reviewers are. Reviewers are senior scientists with a broad range of scientific
expertise and background. They are chosen by your SROs to help review your application. Number six, knowing what
reviewers are looking for. And I know you’ve been sitting on the edges of your seat for this slide. They’re looking for
impact of your research, they’re looking for exciting ideas, and if you can translate your excitement about the project to
the page, even better. They’re looking for
clarity of the research and training plans in
context of your career goals. They’re looking for
realistic aims and timelines, don’t be overly ambitious because reviewers will know
when you can’t do it all and they will ding you for it. Make sure that you have brevity with things that everybody knows and explain things that aren’t
in the general knowledge. Please make sure you note
the limitations of the study. Again, reviewers will know
if you try to gloss over these limitations. Acknowledge them, present plans A, B, or C of how you’re gonna deal
with those limitations, and also write a clean,
well-written application. Now we get to the review criteria that the reviewers use to
look at your applications. And when looking at them
for fellowship training the first one is the overall impact, and this is where the
reviewers are asked to assess the likelihood that the proposed training will enhance the candidate’s potential for a productive and
independent scientific career. And then there’s five core review criteria that they also are asked to judge. First is the fellowship applicant. They’re looking at your
scholastic performance, your productivity commensurate
with career stage, your aptitude and enthusiasm, there’s that word, enthusiasm, excitement, clarity of your stated career goals, and your letters of reference. Number two, your sponsors,
collaborators and consultants. Here they’re looking at the documented mentoring successes of them, their expertise in the field, their present productivity, the funds they have available
to cover research expenses, their ability to co-mentor
to cover weaknesses, and clearly defined roles for
mentors and collaborators. Number three, research training plan. They’re looking for the
significance and impact of the proposed research, a logical hypothesis or approach, clarity, that word again, feasibility and alternative strategies. They’re looking for statistics, your comments and your process for using vertebrate animals and human subjects if they’re going to put
a part of your project, sophisticated technologies and approaches, likelihood that the training will lead to publications and a degree, and if they are appropriate
for the applicant fellow’s stage of research development. Number four, the training potential. Is there individualized
training that addresses weakness and career development needs? Will the participants
learn new technical skills or new design approaches? Do training activities match career goals? Will training confer an
advantage to be competitive? Will the applicant fellow receive requisite individualized
and supervised experiences? And number five, they’re looking at the
institutional environment and commitment to training. Again, the scientific environment, the resources available and
opportunities for collaborations either within and or outside
the institution if needed. Another important and key
component of these fellowships is training in the responsible
conduct of research. Reviewers are asked to state
whether the proposed training is acceptable or not acceptable, meaning is there formal
and face-to-face training? Are all ethical topics clearly depicted? Are faculty participating in the training? Will the total hours of training be at least eight contact hours? Are future opportunities slash refreshers for continued training listed? Does retraining occur every four years or at every career stage? Number seven of eight, consider advice from the NIH staff. Your sponsor needs to be an
active and dynamic participant in your training. Your grant should not just be a way of funding your sponsor’s research and your efforts should
show some uniqueness or individualized component to them. But your research should still be related to your sponsor’s research and it is very important for your sponsor to write a customized career
measuring plan for you. Additional advice. Don’t just say what you’ve done, say how it fits into the bigger picture. Emphasize how you’re going to fill gaps in your expertise, add to your tool set, and explore different approaches
or different problems. Again, be upfront about any flaws and how you’re going to address them. And here are some key NIH
review and grant websites Like the NIH Center for Scientific Review which is at www.csr.nih.gov and the NIH Office of Extramural Research where you will find a ton
of information on grants, that’s grants.nih.gov And number eight, asking the
right NIH person for help. Before you submit your application a program officer at an
NIH institute or center or the scientific review officer or SRO, a person such as myself,
is who you should contact. After you submit your application your SRO is your prime contact and after the review your
assigned Program Officer is your point of contact. And finally, we want your applications. Good luck and thank you. – OK, welcome to the Q and
A portion of our briefing. I’m Don Luckett, the
communications director here at CSR and I’m excited to say we’ve
got some great people here to answer your questions. At the far end of the
table here is Vonda Smith who you hopefully already know. Next to her is Renee Etcheberrigaray, he is the deputy director here at CSR and then next to him
is Henry Khachaturian, he is the NIH training
program policy officer. And finally we have Mike Eisenstadt, he is the point person for
fellowship reviews at CSR. So, we’ve got the best people possible to answer your questions. OK, without any more to do
let’s go to our first question. I have heard that some
proposals get criticised for being too ambitious but my adviser is adamant that I make sure my application is innovative. How do you strike the balance
between being realistic and being innovative? – I can take that. So, you need it to be innovative, you need it to be a little different than what has been going on before. With respect to overly ambitious, it should be something
that you’re able to do within the timeframe of your fellowship and it really needs to
be sufficiently justified that you’re going to be able to accomplish what you propose. So, that’s what they’re referring
to in terms of ambitious, you don’t want it to be something that you won’t be able to do. – Let me add that being creative
does not mean that you need to propose an inordinate
number of experiments. You can propose modest within
a timeframe type of study that could be very innovative but doesn’t have to be overly ambitious or have too many aims or too
many experimental procedures et cetera. – OK, great, thank you. I was wondering, when submitting an F32 do we have to identify a study section to submit our fellowship to or does it go directly to an institute and get reviewed with other R32s being submitted to that institute? – I can take that. Ideally, what you want to do before you submit an application is to talk to a program officer
at one of the institutes, one or more institutes that you think your application would fit best and ask them about programmatic
interest in that institute, either just that institute or maybe that institute and another institute. And then I would recommend
doing the cover letter which actually then requests
a particular institute as an assignment and a
particular study section if you can get help from NIH
identifying those entities. This is best and the CSR referral officers usually will grant your request unless they think it is
not the right study section or institute. But contacting us ahead of time and requesting it in a cover
letter would be helpful. – Should also mention that if you can’t really figure out which
study section is appropriate we will do that for you within CSR, we will attempt to assign it
to the best study section. – So, all sorts of
information is CSR’s webpage, we have a list of all
our fellowship committees that vary by research topic, so we have neuroscience type of panels, mental health and so on. But also keep in mind that CSR reviews there are many types of
fellowship but not all, some institutes do their
own reviews for fellowships such as deafness and
communications disorders. – OK, and just for a
point of clarification, I think that, as Vonda said
earlier in her presentation, that the NIH now has a new assignment form part of the application
to request assignment. OK, next question. Is a preliminary data section needed for NIH fellowship applications? As a student, how should you handle not having investigator generated preliminary data in a
fellowship application? – Preliminary data is helpful but it’s not really
required in fellowships. The preliminary data
that is going to be there is likely going to be from your
sponsor’s previous research and you’re going to be
creating some new data and taking it in new directions, but you do not have to have generated the preliminary data yourself. It’s always helpful if you have some but it’s really not required. – OK, let’s see. Is it beneficial for F31 applicants to have more than one mentor? – I can take that one. It’s not necessary to
have more than one mentor but sometimes because of
the interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary nature of research you may be doing you may need to have two or sometimes even
three different mentors. You want to be careful in terms of who you designate as a mentor. They are very substantially involved with every step of your
application process and the research that
you’re proposing to do. Sometimes individuals, fellows, will identify collaborators
or even consultants that don’t rise to the level of the mentor if they need specific expertise. But you can have multiple mentors but each one of them needs to have a very specific role in how
they’re going to help you with the project and how
they’re going to help you get to the next stage. – It’s also helpful if
they’re working together in their mentoring plan, so they’re coordinating
a mentoring plan for you. If they’re acting really
independently that can be a problem in terms of the review. – OK, thank you. Would collaborations with others strengthen your application? – Yes, definitely. Again, it depends on the research that you are proposing to do. If one of the specific
aims of your mentors RO1 grant or whatever funded
grant that they may have that person may be the
expert that you need. However, we do want students, postdocs, to show that they are
utilizing all the resources, faculty, and other
resources at the department. So, yes, if there are collaborations that can strengthen the application I would suggest that you include that in the application as well. It does strengthen the application. – Thank you. I’m about to get my score for the F32 I submitted this summer. I think this award will fall
under next year’s budget, that’s fiscal year 2017. Could you give some guidance
on how to interpret my score and whether or not I
should revise and resubmit for the December deadline
given that next year’s budget has not been approved by congress yet, so we may not know the pay line? – I wouldn’t necessarily worry about that. What you want to do is make sure you get the summary statement, you take a careful look at it and then call your program
officer to see how you have done. If the application is going to be funded while we’re in fiscal year ’17 obviously, if it’s going to be funded this year they will let you know
what your chances are of getting funded. You may have to wait a while because, as you mentioned, we
don’t have a budget yet. But most of us know approximately
how much we can spend each cycle of the fiscal year, so we can give you some
indication of where you might be. If it’s clearly outside the funding range, yes, by all means, revise and resubmit, but if you’re in let’s say a
grey area you may want to wait, and this is again based on the advice that your program officer gives you, then you need to consult with
your mentor and collaborators to see whether you need to
revise and resubmit right away or wait a month or two. – OK, thanks. I am a GS2 medical scientist
training program student and I will be applying
for an F31 in the spring. I am specifically working
towards my PhD in biostatistics. I was wondering if you could
highlight any resources for students doing
non-traditional programs like mine as most of the resources I have found really focus on bench
science related programs. – OK, see, if I understand correctly you’re an MD/PhD student
but not in an MSTP program. You are eligible for the F31,
that’s one of the resources, so the F30 provides
training for individuals that are in a formal MSTP
program, which you’re not, but the F31 is available to you. Other mechanisms that are
available are much broader, for example your mentor’s RO1 Grant. So, F31 is a good mechanism
for MD/PhD students that are just pursuing the PhD component. – OK. On the biosketch scholastic performance takes up a lot of real estate. It may be necessary to save space. The instructions say, “List
by institution and year “all undergraduate courses
and graduate scientific “and or professional courses
germane to the training sought “under this award.” Does germane to this
award apply to all courses or just graduate professional courses? If the latter for F32, is it better to leave
out undergraduate courses not relevant to the application or list everything and
abbreviate elsewhere, for example in the contributions
to science section? – So, the reviewers are going to, one of the criteria they
evaluate a fellowship applicant, one of the aspects of that
evaluation are the grades, and so for predoctoral
F31s almost certainly you should include all grades. For F32s you might be
able to get away with only including the key
scientific related grades, but the contributions to science section probably is going to be fairly brief because you’re early in your careers and so there generally should
be enough room for the grades. If you skip including some grades I would advise putting down
your GPA as an undergrad and that might be
sufficient for the reviewers to assess how strong a student you are. – OK. Can a clinical residency be
interspersed with research during an F32 fellowship award? For example, alternating six
months on clinical residency followed by six months of research. The clinical residency would be related to the research project. – So the answer to the first
part is definitely yes. The answer to the second
part is probably no unless you have a conversation
with the program officer and make some special arrangement. Generally speaking,
yes, a lot of residents do apply for F32 but the training for NRSA needs to be at least nine months. So, ordinarily it’s a one
year, twelve month training, but nine months is the minimum training that’s required under the NRSA, and we actually encourage individuals to apply for two years if
they’re doing residency if the residency will allow them, and training obviously
has to be committed 100%. So, yes to nine months,
probably no to six months but you can definitely take advantage of the F32 during residency. – OK, great. Is there a benefit to
submitting a proposal to a special funding call? – So, most of our fellowship announcements are what we call parent announcements, these are the program announcements that many institutes participate in. In fact, most of the NIH
institutes participating are fellowship programs
including the F30, F31 and F32. Occasionally institutes,
specific institutes or centers, put out a specific announcement
in the form of an RFA for an F31 or an F32. If you think that your research fits in that particular institute, yes, by all means you should
think about applying. The advantage of an RFA would be that there would be set aside
funds so you’re competing with a smaller pool of applicants perhaps. Otherwise, the parent announcement, you’re competing with a larger pool of applications that come in to NIH. – OK, let’s see. Do you have tips on getting
resubmissions funded when the study section members change? – Well, when you submit… Fellowship panels are not
standing study sections and the members do change, but you’re not really resubmitting to the specific reviewers. Even if the reviewers were the same they wouldn’t necessarily be
assigned your application. You really should look at the comments and try and address them to
the best of your ability. The next study section is
going to look at how well you address those concerns
of the previous study section even if the members have changed. – So, it’s important to keep in mind that SRO scientific review officers will assign the best reviewers for an application, the best fit, the best scientific fit, and it’s not necessarily
who reviewed before. So, let me reemphasize, you
have to address the concerns of the reviewers regardless if the same will review your application again or not. – OK, thank you. What is the best way to
approach a new application after a failed resubmission? – That’s pretty similar to the last one. You really should look at what
the previous comments were and address those, you should
talk to your program officer and decide whether you should resubmit a new application or not. A failed resubmission
does not preclude you from submitting a new application, you just can’t refer back
to the previous critiques or the previous application when you’re submitting a new application. – And I’d like to reemphasize
that you should really have a discussion with the program officer to critically evaluate what you should do with respect to the
critique that you received, like Mike said, to decide
whether to resubmit a new application. Talking to your program officer is key. – Always good advice. OK, thank you. I frequently hear from
applicants at our institution that their mentors were deemed
inadequately experienced to guide their training. How do reviewers evaluate
experience of mentors? Is there a certain number
of successful trainees they want to see? – I’d like to see a mentoring history and if a mentoring history is not there, if it’s a young professor
that hasn’t established the mentoring history then
we’re going to look at the mentoring plan and
see really how thoughtful the mentoring plan the professor
is going to have for you. And also, again, if you have a relatively inexperienced professor it may be appropriate
to bring in a co-sponsor who has more mentoring experience and can help you with any deficiencies that your professor might have with respect to mentoring. – I will add to Mike’s comments that junior investigators,
assistant professors, often are the experts in a particular area and often make great mentors because they have a lot
of time to spend with you. So, by no means you
should just look elsewhere to find a more experienced mentor. As Mike mentioned, you may
want to augment that mentoring by asking a more senior investigator with mentoring experience to serve along with your primary mentor, so that will complete both
the scientific expertise and the mentoring expertise. – As part of the plan, the mentoring plan, it has to be clear that
the junior investigator, for instance, is committed to developing this student individual. I think that has to be
transparent and clear to the study section that
the individual is committed to be a good mentor regardless of career stage and experience. – OK, great, thank you. Would you clarify how to determine if an individual should be considered a mentor versus a consultant
versus a collaborator? – So, this issue came up
in a previous question and I hopefully partially answered it. A mentor or a mentoring team, let’s say two mentors or three mentors, each one of them has to
have a significant role in both the research design and conduct and also helping you
advance to the next stage. And keep in mind also that each mentor needs to provide his or her own separate mentoring statement. So, it becomes a little
bit more complicated for you when you put
the application together to make sure that those mentors
are talking to each other, that the two mentoring
plans that are written actually agree with each other
and agree with your own plan for your training and career development. So, it becomes a little bit more difficult for you to make sure that
everything is in place. Other than that, a
collaborator or consultant obviously does not rise to that level, they’re there to either collaborate on some experiments
with you or just consult on some technology with you. So, speak with your mentor
or mentors initially to see who should have what role and make it clear in the
application what these roles are so the reviewers know exactly
what each mentor is doing, what each collaborator
or consultant is doing. – OK. How will labor rules on overtime affect stipend levels? – I can take that one too. Right now NIH is working for plan to supplement stipend
levels for Level 0, Level 1, and Level 2 of the postdoc stipend because those are the ones
that currently fall short of the labor department standards. I believe it’s $43,000 and some change. So, that will go into effect December one, we are making some plans
to provide supplements to training programs and fellowships but we have not ironed
out all the details. So, keep an eye on the NIH
guide for grants and contracts for a policy notice in
the next week or two that will tell you exactly how we intend to address this issue. – OK. I would like to hear a sample of a successful application awarded and an application that was very close to being successful but not awarded. Sounds like a hard question. (light laughter) – We don’t generally provide applications to applicants, or prospective applicants, because the information
obviously is proprietary. We, in the past, if you go to one of the
scientific societies some institutes do still take some mock applications and
mock summary statements for prospective applicants
to take a look at, but we can’t do the actual ones. What you can do, ask your
mentor or other colleagues in the department, fellow
students, fellow postdocs who have gone through the process or people who you might
know at other institutions. And generally they’ll be very
happy to share that with you, so you can see the application, you can see the summary statement, and in particular, if they
had to revise and resubmit, see how they’ve responded to the critique in the summary statement. So, these are available
but you can look for them from other mentors or other colleagues. – Thank you, Henry, I
think you nailed that one. OK. What percentage of
postdoctoral applications are reviewed by special emphasis panels versus standing study sections? First of all, probably someone might want
to explain the difference. – At CSR I think the
fellowship applications are not reviewed by
standing study sections, which are congressionally mandated, and that’s where we
review RO1 applications and the more standard funding applications rather than the training
type applications. So, we have separate study sections that exclusively review fellowships. – Yeah, a SEP, the initial stands for Special Emphasis Projects and all fellowships are reviewed in SEPs as well as small business
and other type of mechanisms outside of the standard RO1s,
like Mike said, R21, RO3s. – But let me be clear that all fellowships are reviewed with other
fellowship applications. – Correct.
– They’re not mixed with RO1s or small business or anything else. Fellowship panels only
review fellowships in CSR. – OK. Does sending a letter of intent ahead of time impact how
your application is reviewed? – I don’t think a letter
of intent is required. Sometimes for RO1 or program projects or large center grants a letter
of intent may be required, but fellowships do not require it. If you look at a fellowship
program announcement or a funding opportunity announcement you will see that there’s no requirement for prior notification of NIH. However, it is always a good idea to, when you read the program announcement, to make sure you also look
at the contact section and then make contact
with the program officer to make sure that your
application is appropriate for that particular institute and also ask them what
study section may be best to review your application. That way you’ll potentially
prevent the headache later on when potentially your
application may not be acceptable to any institute, so please do that, contact us and talk to us
about what you’re trying to do and where it might fit best. – Will there be funding programs for FO5 international
research fellowships soon? – This is something that the
Fogarty International Center and some of the other institutes, like neurology, where I used
to work, occasionally have. We have not had an FO5
for a number of years and I have not heard anyone at the training advisory committee talking about reviving the FO5 program for the time being. But that said, you can
always keep an eye out on the NIH guide for grants and contracts and talk to program
officers at the institute you might think you may want to submit an application like that
to see if they intend to develop an FO5. You can always contact the
Fogarty International Center as well because they have a number of international training programs. – Now, that raises another question. So, if I’m not a US citizen
can I apply for a fellowship? – Our National Research Service
Award, NRSA fellowships, are restricted to US citizens
and permanent residents. You have to be a permanent resident by the time a reward is activated, so you don’t have to
be a permanent resident at the time of application. So, many people apply for their green card and at the same time can
also apply for a fellowship knowing that a green card
will take several months, and certainly a fellowship
from submission to award may take nine months, but you need to be qualified. Some of the other non-NRSA
fellowships and training programs are open to foreign nationals. Of the career development awards, this is something you may be interested in a little bit later on, those are also restricted to US citizens and permanent residents
with the exception of the K99 R00 which is open to
foreign nationals as well. – OK, thank you. Regarding multiple mentors, what advice would you give
to students of new professors who may not have NIH funding? I think we kind of
answered that one, but… – With respect of funding, there needs to be funding available for the research that’s going to be done since these fellowships don’t cover that, but if it’s from a source
other than NIH that’s OK. And it just has to be funding that will allow you to do the
research you’re proposing. – OK. Ooh, the next
question’s one I can answer. Will you be making the slides
available online for viewing? Yes, actually they’re up there now. If you go to the webpage
and there’s that big image of the sign in picture, right underneath there
there’s a link for the slides. In general, how many
publications do successful F31 and F32 applicants have? – Well, it’s very different
between F31 and F32. So, it’s not really expected that an F31 would have many or perhaps
even any publications, they’re just starting their doctoral work. If they do it’s a plus, if they got an undergraduate
publication it’s a plus. But F32 applicants, it would be expected that they would have publications
from their graduate work and the more publications, the higher impact publications
you have, the better it is. If there is a reason that
you do not have publications you should explain what that is, if there are some that
are being written now, you should tell the reviewers
why if there’s a reason. They’re trying to
evaluate your productivity and the most common basis for evaluating productivity in sciences is publications, so if they don’t see them
they want to know why. – OK. Is it advantageous to pick
an institute or center with a larger budget for fellowships? – No.
(light laughter) That’s something that you really don’t want to dwell on too much, what you really need to think
about is assess yourself, where you are in your training whether you’re a student or a postdoc, especially if you’re a postdoc. What other training do you need? Do you need additional training? What are your strengths and how can you take advantage of those strengths? What are your weaknesses? How can you, in the next few years, address those weaknesses? Select the best mentor and then the institute that’s best suited to you, so you don’t want to shoehorn yourself into an institute that has more money. That doesn’t actually help you at all because institutes have their
own specific training budgets and, depending on what their policies are, they may or may not have a
larger or smaller training budget regardless of the size of the institute as a percentage of their overall budget. So, no, it’s not helpful at all to think about which institute you have a better chance of being funded. I think you need to talk
to a program officer and make sure it’s the correct institute and then write the best
applications you can so that reviewers can assess where you are and where you want to
go with the fellowship. Always remember the added value, what is this fellowship
going to help you accomplish? That’s what the reviewers want to see and that’s what program staff want to see. – OK, thank you. Is it more favorable to apply for an F31 that is associated with a larger
RO1 project of your mentor or can the F31 project stand alone? – Mike can jump in in a second. It can stand alone, however, remember that NRSA provides a stipend, some funds for tuition, and
an institutional allowance, it does not provide a lot
of funding for research. So, the research funding comes primarily from your mentor or mentors. They do not have to have an NIH grant but they need to be well funded otherwise, and reviewers are going to want to know if there’s funding to accomplish the research that is proposed. Obviously if there’s no
funds available to the mentor then you cannot do the research. But reviewers’ interest is the funding that is going to support the research that you’re trying to do. – One thing that that brings up is that you really should
make something a bit different or a little distinct
from the existing RO1. Reviewers really don’t like to see essentially a paragraph
out of an RO1 application appear in a fellowship application, they want to see that you’re
contributing your own input and your own ideas to the problem. – Great. Do you recommend including all
publications on the biosketch or only those relevant to the application? And can you mention
manuscripts in preparation or only those that are
accepted and published? – There are specific
rules on the biosketch, you should look at the
guidelines for the biosketch. You have a limit on how many
publications you can include and you can include a hyperlink
to additional publications, but for most fellowship applications you’re going to fall
within the guidelines, and I would include all publications. They want to see your overall productivity not just the productivity that’s specific to this application. – OK, thank you. What do you do if the program officer does not provide any guidance
about the summary statements other than repeating
the reviewer comments? Who else can you speak to to get insight into the review of your
fellowship application? – So, the program officer
is your primary contact, so, as I mentioned before, as
we’ve all mentioned before, establishing contact with
us early on is important before you send the application
in and have a rapport. Program officers often
do attend study sections and sometimes if they
don’t they ask a colleague to take notes for them. If their notes doesn’t
show anything different than what the summary statement has, if they don’t have any particular insight, they will just rely on
the summary statement and guide you the best they can. If they do have something additional, if one of the reviewers
made a particular comment about the stage of your
career if you’re a postdoc, the mentoring plan, that may not end up in
the summary statement they’ll be happy to share that with you, but sometimes there is not much other than what the summary
statement says to help you with. But program officers are there to help you interpret the summary statement and decide whether it is worth your while to revise and resubmit or
go for a new application. And I guess if they’re
not being very helpful you could always find out
who their branch chief is, for example, I’m not
necessarily recommending that. (light laughter) But potentially you can ask to speak with another program officer, but generally program
officers are very helpful, they’ll find a way to
help you if you need help. – OK, thank you. Sometimes individuals with disabilities do not like to actually
register them with a university, especially when they’re able to successfully navigate academic life. Is someone with a disability
more likely to get a fellowship if they apply under the
diversity disability F31 versus the general F31? – Success rates are not very different for the F31 for diversity and the F31, the generic F31 parent announcement. But it is there for
individuals to apply to if they feel like they would like to apply to that particular
program announcement. They are reviewed all in
the same study section, they are reviewed separately, the diversity fellowships
are reviewed separately than the other fellowships. But we have analyzed the success rates, they are not significantly different. – OK, thank you. I’m wondering what listserv email list I need to sign up for
and how I sign up for it to receive the notices sent
out regarding fellowships, for example the experts
stated there will be a notice coming out about the stipend
levels, postdoc stipends, and I want to make sure
that I am aware of it right when it comes out. – If I heard correctly, you’re thinking about the
labor department ruling on salary levels. We will be issuing a
notice in the coming weeks, maybe a week or at most two weeks, because these rules go
into effect December one, so we will let the institutions know how to ask NIH for supplementing either the fellowship or
their training program that has NRSA fellows or trainees on. – OK. Do you have any advice
for purely computational research proposals? It seems very different from
an experimental proposal as carrying out experiments would not be what takes up the bulk
of the research time. – We receive some applications
that are purely computational and we recruit computational
reviewers to review them, so it’s not required that they
be experimental in nature. I think that typically the
reviewers are going to look for some validation of the
computational results with experiment, and so the combination of
computation with experiment is usually a plus. – OK, thank you. The F31 is a training grant. Will most of the scoring be based on that or on the research design methods? – For any of the fellowship
applications, not just F31, there’s a very important
component of training. It’s not just a research grant, there really is a strong emphasis on training appropriate
to your career goals. So, training potential is
one of the five criteria, it’s one that’s very important and it should be clear that a
mentor’s training plan for you and your activities under the award will lead you to an
independent research career. So, it’s not just the research aspects but you might need
training in grant writing, you might need additional
teaching experience, you might need additional coursework. All of that should be
covered in your application so that we can see that
this is going to be a very strong training experience for you. – So, when you look at a particular funding opportunity announcement be sure not only to look at
the programmatic parts of it, which is what is required
in the application, but go all the way down and
look at the review criteria. There are five specific review criteria, each element needs to be strong, and in particular look at
the specific questions. There are five or six or
seven or eight questions under each criteria that
will give you a good clue in terms of what exactly
reviewers are looking for, cos they have to address
those particular questions. So, do yourself a favor, make
sure you familiarize yourself with the actual review
questions and address those within your application. – OK, great, thank you. How many times can you
resubmit a proposal? – You have one resubmission and then if the resubmission is unsuccessful you would need to submit
as a new application, but you can do that unlimited times. (poor audio quality
obscures a short aside) – OK. Can you suggest what to do
if a letter of reference is accidentally admitted
during a resubmission when it was there in
the original submission? – You need to have three
letters of reference for each application, so it doesn’t matter whether
it was there in the original, you need to have three
letters in the resubmission. You’re allowed up to five letters, so if you are concerned that you might not get a letter in on time you can always ask for more than three. And I should mention, with
respect to the letters, you want to use people
who are familiar with your research capabilities, past mentors, things of that nature, rather
than personal references. It’s not really a personal reference, it’s a professional reference that knows of your research capabilities. – One additional comment
on letters of reference. When you revise and resubmit, or certainly when you
write a new application, make sure you ask your referees
to provide a fresh letter because, even if you’re
revising and resubmitting, several months have gone by
from the original application, and reviewers would really like to know how has your career progressed, if you’ve done certain experiments. So, seeing the same letter from months ago is not as impressive as a fresh
new letter from your referee so make sure you consider that
when you revise and resubmit. – Great, thank you. Can someone who is on the sponsor’s team write a reference letter? – Sponsor and co-sponsor
cannot, so they’re not allowed. But if it was a
collaborator of the sponsor and they’re familiar with your research then yes, they could write a letter. They should, you know, you want people who are most familiar with your research capabilities because sponsor and co-sponsor have another role and they can write their support
within the application, they wouldn’t be separate
reference letters. – OK. Can you tell me what NIH does to help new investigators survive after they’ve passed through
the fellowship stage? – So, one of the mechanisms
that you all know we have is our career development award. So, if you’re no longer in need
of hands-on mentor training, which is usually an F32 mechanism, and you’re trying to then move on to become more and more independent or need a mechanism to
actually become independent, get a faculty position, a career development award
might suit your needs. Again, just like fellowships
you want to assess your career needs, where you
are, where you want to go, and how the mechanism is going to help you achieve your goals. So, not all career development
awards are the same, obviously there are a number of different career development awards. There are some that last
five years like the KO1, KO8, there are some that are
transition awards like the K99 R00 that really last only two years and then you have to transition
to a faculty position to get the R00 component. And, frankly, some
individuals get to a point where they have enough preliminary data and can really then
move on to an RO1 state, so it is not absolutely necessary that you have a fellowship
and then a K award and then an RO1. It depends on where your career
is and how advanced you are. Some people go from a
fellowship directly to an RO1. So, again, assessing your career stage, what do you want to accomplish, what would be the added value and talking to us about
what’s in your best interest and how this is an added value. So, K awards are one option. – OK. Here’s another question about
letters of recommendation. The individual that knows my research best are mentors or collaborators. Can letters of
recommendation speak broadly about the individual, such as colleagues that
will demonstrate potential as a future researcher
or should the letters specifically comment about
the applicant’s research? – Ideally, they’re going
to specifically comment about your research as
well as your potential, and the most effective letters compare you to the best people that
they’ve worked with before. You’re competing with the best of the best and so reviewers want
to hear how you compare to the best people they’ve
worked with before. – OK, it looks like we
have run out of time. I know that we haven’t
gotten to all the questions, so what I will do is I will go through all the questions that we didn’t answer and I will send out an email to everyone who’s registered for the webinar to share those questions and answers, unless there’s something
personal that’s raised. But anyway, I just want to thank you all for being with us today and we hope you’ve found
this webinar really useful. But before we sign off,
I wanna just say that virtually all the scientists at NIH that you’ll interact with
were once people like you applying for a fellowship that gave them the start that launched their careers. So, the big news is
there’s a lot of empathy here in NIH for you and your situation, and there’s also a lot of excitement that folks here get when
they see your application and there’s a lot of excitement when someone can help you
move along in your career. So, if there’s a question that comes up that you can’t find an answer
to online or with your mentor, I mean, please, ask somebody at NIH because it’s our job to help you. So, again, thank you for
joining this webinar today and we wish you all the best as you get back to work in your lab. Thank you.

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