Four dice sit on the green felt surface of a gaming table.

Seminar recap offers advice to increase odds for NIH funding

Roulette wheel.

On Wednesday, January 13, Urban Venture Group Ltd. (UVG) consultant Burr Zimmerman offered advice to Miami faculty, staff, and students about understanding the mission and culture of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to increase the odds of obtaining NIH funding. The seminar was sponsored by the Scripps Gerontology Center and OARS.

First and foremost, Zimmerman says, is to understand that the NIH is a social organization. Therefore, it is imperative that applicants be in communication with an NIH program officer well before submitting a grant application.

Applicants should begin by exploring NIH’s various institutes, centers, funding mechanisms, programs, and study sections prior to submission. Zimmerman suggested the NIH RePORTER for researching the types of projects recently funded by the NIH. After this step, Zimmerman suggested applicants:

  • Assemble a research team comprised of partners skilled to meet project objectives;
  • Generate a “Specific Aims” document that outlines the significance of the project, introduces the team of experts, states a hypothesis, includes project aims, and details the impact that the project will have on the field;
  • Contact an NIH program officer to share the “Specific Aims” document and to ask questions to ensure the aims fit with the program’s objectives;
  • Revise aims based on program officer feedback;
  • Write the body of the proposal

Zimmerman emphasized that as with any proposal,  NIH proposals should be written to the review criteria. The NIH review criteria include significance, investigator(s), innovation, approach, environment, and additional review criteria.

NIH Review Criterion Criterion addresses …
Significance Impact on the field of study; why the proposed work should be carried out
Investigator(s) Experience, qualifications and training of investigators to conduct proposed work
Innovation(s) Novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, instruments, and interventions
Approach Experimental design including alternative plans for potential pitfalls
Environment Adequate resources such as equipment and facilities to carry out proposed work
Additional criteria Protections for human subjects; inclusions of women, minorities, and children; appropriate use of vertebrate animals; and management of biohazards

Finally, Zimmerman outlined the NIH review process and talked about how to decipher and respond to reviewer feedback. “Receiving a priority score and reviewer feedback equals success,” said Zimmerman. With funding rates of 20% and lower, the odds of being funded the first time an application is submitted are low. Keeping in mind Zimmerman’s opening statement about communication being the key to NIH success, attendees were encouraged to read and respond to reviewer feedback by revising and resubmitting following the initial steps of convening a comprehensive project team, sharing revised aims with the program officer, and then re-writing the proposal.

Zimmerman ended by directing participants to the proposal-writing resources available on the NIH website as well as resources available through OARS.

Learn more about increasing your odds for NIH funding by attending one of NIH’s 2016 Regional Seminars:

  • May 11-13 in Baltimore, Maryland
  • October 26-28 in Chicago, Illinois

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Roulette wheel image by Zdenko Zivkovic via Flickr. Casino dice image by davidgsteadman via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.


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