Metamorphosis Cocoon Close Up

Changes to NIH R15 mechanism are coming

Mike Lauer addresses an audience as part of a panel discussion.
NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Mike Lauer (right), says changes are coming to the R15 program, but reaffirms NIH’s commitment to the funding mechanism.

With their focus on engaging students in meaningful research experiences, National Institutes of Health’s Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA, R15) are a popular mechanism for Miami University principal investigators. These grants are designed for institutions receiving less than $6 million per year in NIH support (currently the case at Miami) and emphasize enhancing the research environment at eligible schools.

I attended an NIH Regional Seminar in mid-October. Held semi-annually, these seminars clarify federal regulations and policies and highlight current areas of special interest or concern. The R15 grant mechanism was highlighted in the plenary session presented by Mike Lauer, the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research. Lauer hinted at upcoming changes to the R15 program, but emphasized that the NIH commitment to the R15 program will remain the same.

One change that Lauer made clear is that the current practice of the NIH maintaining a list of institutions ineligible for AREA grants will be discontinued. It will become an institution’s responsibility to affirm eligibility based on the level of NIH funding over the last 7 years. OARS will be developing a template letter to cover this requirement.

In spring 2018, the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) issued a specific call (PAR-18-714) for R15 proposals with an emphasis on providing biomedical research experiences primarily for undergraduate students. While graduate students shouldn’t be excluded, they are not the focus of this call.

In a seminar breakout session on R15 grants, the presenter, Tracy Waldeck, Director of the Office of Extramural Policy and Review (OPER) for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated that other NIH institutes and centers will be signing on to participate in this call. The current call lists all the institutes and centers that have signed on to participate, some as recently as October 31. Waldeck also alluded to an upcoming announcement about changes to the AREA grant program. OARS is monitoring the situation and will share news as it becomes available.


Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Cocoon photo via Max Pixel, used under Creative Commons license. Photo of Mike Lauer by Ernie Branson and Rich McManus for the NIH, public domain.

Bronze sculptures of a person with their ear pressed up against a brick wall, as though listening.

OARS responds to feedback about professional development offerings

Road sign reads "Professional Development"

In February, OARS launched a survey to gather input from the Miami University research community about professional development opportunities. We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated. We also want to let you know what we heard and some of what we’re planning in response.

Proposal writing

Survey findings

Seventy-four percent of the 83 respondents indicated they are or might be interested in professional development related to proposal writing. The strongest interest, as shown in the chart below, was in feedback from peers and experts on specific sections of a proposal.

Bar chart showing responses to question about interest in professional development related to proposal writing: 42 percent yes; 32 percent maybe; 26 percent no. Yes and maybe responses are broken out into additional bar charts. Traditional workshop bar chart: 34 percent yes; 30 percent maybe; 36 percent no. Shut-up-and-write cohort bar chart: 27 percent yes; 35 percent maybe; 37 percent no. Section-focused feedback bar chart: 45 percent yes; 36 percent maybe; 19 percent no.
Interest in professional development related to proposal writing

Breaking things down further, 30% of “yes” and “maybe” respondents expressed interest in the NSF broader impacts section and 24% expressed interest in the NIH specific aims section and budget justifications, respectively.

Bar chart showing interest in section-specific feedback: 45 percent yes; 36 percent maybe; 19 percent no. "Yes" and "maybe" responses are further broken out in a bar chart: 30 percent NSF broader impacts; 24 percent NIH specific aims; 24 percent budget justifications; 18 percent data management plans; other: research design - 1 respondent; crafting hypotheses/research questions - 1 respondent
Proposal sections of interest to respondents who said they are or might be interested in section-specific feedback.

In addition, 64% of respondents indicated they are or might be interested in OARS’ traditional proposal writing workshop, which meets for 90 minutes each week for six weeks. For those respondents, the Summer 2018 term was preferred over Fall 2018 (58% vs. 32%).

OARS plans

NSF broader impacts – OARS will offer a session led by a member of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts, if not this semester, then in the fall.

NIH specific aims – We’ll be inviting an expert to conduct a session within the next year.

Proposal writing workshop – OARS will offer a summer session of the traditional proposal writing workshop, with an emphasis on peer and expert feedback.

Other topics

Survey findings

As for other topics, respondents seem most interested in:

  • Specific funding agencies (47% said “yes” and 32% said “maybe”)
  • How to talk to a program officer (43% said “yes” and 26% said “maybe”)
  • The review process (35% said “yes” and 35% said “maybe”)

NSF, foundations, and NIH were the agencies of greatest interest. In the “other” category, write-in candidates included the Department of Energy (5); and various defense agencies (13).

Bar chart: 22 percent NSF; 20 percent foundations; in decreasing order, with no percentages specified: NIH; DoEd; Other; IES; OH Arts; OH Hum; NEH; NEA
Agencies of interest

Less than half the respondents said they are or might be interested in professional development related to early career programs, applying for NSF supplements, and eSPA/Cayuse.

OARS plans

NSF  – To address both the interest in NSF as a funding agency and the desire for more information about how to talk with a program officer, we will host a session led by Miami faculty who have served as NSF program officers.

eSPA/Cayuse – We will continue to offer eSPA/Cayuse training to accommodate new faculty and staff, but will likely keep it to just once each semester.

Early career faculty – We assume that at least part of the lack of interest in early career programs owes to fewer early career faculty participating in the survey (if for no other reason than that there are just fewer of them on campus!). So we will continue hosting a series of breakfasts for new faculty. These get-to-know you events help us learn more about new faculty members’ work and about how we can best support them in securing external funding. Limited space is available for faculty who started at Miami in 2016-2017 or 2017-2018 to have breakfast with us on one of the following dates (contact me at standeae@MiamiOH.edu for more information or to RSVP):

  • Wednesday, April 11, 8-9am in Oxford
  • Thursday, April 26, 8-9am in Middletown*
  • Friday, May 4, 8-9am in Oxford
  • Monday, May 7, 8-9am in Oxford

*We plan to host a breakfast in Hamilton during fall semester.

General opportunities

Survey findings

We asked about interest in three types of general professional development:

  • Brown bag/drop-in, “ask-me-anything” sessions with OARS staff
  • Interdisciplinary round tables
  • Networking for specific interdisciplinary programs

We were a little surprised to find an apparent lack of interest in interdisciplinary round tables, as we have had good showings at past events of this type. When given an opportunity to provide open-ended comments, one respondent said they miss frequent, informal gatherings to discuss research, like there used to be in the “old days,” as opposed to formal interdisciplinary round tables or “speed dating” events. While we don’t have a detailed understanding of this response (few of us were around in the “old days!”), the spirit of it struck a chord with us, and we suspect it captures the sentiment of some of the respondents who said “no” to interdisciplinary round tables.

For the other two types of events, there were a significant number of “maybe” responses, as show in the chart below.

3 bar charts. 1) Brown bag/drop-in "AMA" sessions with OARS staff: 15 percent yes; 54 percent maybe; 31 percent no. Interdisciplinary round tables: 26 percent yes; 28 percent maybe; 46 percent no. Networking for specific interdisciplinary programs: 26 percent yes; 37 percent maybe; 37 percent no.
Interest in general professional development opportunities

It’s possible that this uncertainty stems from unfamiliarity with the format types. It’s fair to say that you don’t know whether you’d want to participate if you don’t know what to expect.

OARS plans

Brown bag sessions – We will initiate a brown bag lunch series, where OARS staff will be on hand to answer ask-me-anything-type questions. We will also incorporate some themes into these sessions, to encourage like-minded faculty to come together and build collaborations. Occasionally, a session may focus on a specific upcoming funding opportunity.

Just the beginning

The plans we’ve listed here are not the end. Rather, they represent a portion of what we’ve planned in response input from you — the Miami research community. Be on the lookout for more information about the opportunities mentioned here, as well as others. And if you have any suggestions for brown bag series topics (or any other professional development!), send them to me at standeae@MiamiOH.edu.


Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Listening image by Couleur via Pixabay. Professional development image by R M Media via Creative Commons Images. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Miami University's Hamilton campus. A building is seen through an arch with "Miami University" signage.

OARS’ newest staff member shares her experience

Amy Cooper and three other people stand behind a table that holds Regionals-branded tote bags among other items.
Amy Cooper (second from right) worked at Miami’s Regional campuses for 25 years before coming to OARS.

My new position in the OARS office feels a lot like coming home for me. I first arrived on the Oxford campus as an undergraduate in 1986. After earning a degree in professional/technical writing, I spent the next 25 years at Miami’s Regional Campuses.

I was with the Center for Chemistry Education on the Middletown Campus for many years. We worked with educators from preschool through college level to make chemistry fun for all students, with more than $15 million in grant funding received. The experience I gained in proposal development and managing large-scale funded projects (along with some difficult lessons learned) helps me advise faculty and staff on avoiding pitfalls in project planning.

More recently, I was the grant writer and then the director of proposal development for the Regionals. After 18 years of chemistry, all day and every day, it was an exciting adventure to support external funding efforts across all disciplines. I was privileged to work with a lot of dedicated faculty and staff members who put students first, including many non-traditional and first-generation students with a broad range of life experience and some unique challenges.

An accomplishment I’m very proud of was coordinating the Regionals’ successful application for a US Department of Education Upward Bound grant in partnership with Hamilton High School. Students at the high school will be helped to see college as a viable option and provided with step-by-step support to apply and enroll in college, at Miami or elsewhere.

Throughout the years, I worked closely with OARS staff, who ensured that proposals were in line with funders’ and Miami’s guidelines. At first, their work seemed very mysterious to me. Over time, I grew interested in research administration, particularly when Tricia Callahan or Anne Schauer caught an issue that might have doomed a proposal. They were generous in answering my questions about how they did their jobs.

As a new OARS team member, I’m thrilled to be starting on this latest Miami adventure, back where my Miami life started. I’m very interested in how faculty members on all campuses build a research agenda and garner funding to support that work. I want to help make the process as straightforward as possible. I look forward to working with you!


Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director, Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Miami University.