Tips for Writing and Submitting NIH Grants: More from the CGSA Grant Writing Workshop Series

The fourth workshop in the CGSA Grant Writing Workshop Series has flown by!  In late January, the CGSA focused on NIH grants.

Dr. Jason Rasgon and Dr. Scott Lindner presented on grants they had shared with the attendees ahead of time for advance reading, including a R01 and a R21.  It was interesting to see the differences in the packages within the NIH and compare to the NSF EEID grants from previous workshops.   


Photo Credit: Catherine Herzog

The PIs shared their experience getting on and working on study sections (groups that review the grant proposals submitted) and how to determine which study section you should send your grant to.  New for this workshop was seeing the reviewer comments on the proposals and the page worth of response to the reviewers that the NIH allowed. Some highlights of the discussion in this workshop included:

  • Write down the scientific ideas you come up with in some place – you will probably have more ideas than you can tackle in your career so it’s good to have them handy when a funding opportunity on that topic comes up.
  • Your preliminary data can go in multiple places of the grant – do whatever flows best.  However – don’t put all your preliminary data in the grant – save some for the resubmission.
  • This is a proposal, not a contract.
  • FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS (many don’t!), and remember you’re scored on significance, innovation, and approach for NIH.
  • Do NOT piss off the reviewers – make it easy for them to find the parts they wish to score and make the page pleasant to look at and read.
  • Study section compositions are always changing and consist of 20-30, mostly senior, experts in a topic area.  It is useful to find out if your study section is known to have politics ahead of time.  3-4 folks will have really read your proposal and will present it to the others, ALL of whom vote on if you should be funded (even if they haven’t read it in full!  They’ve often only read Specific Aims and Abstract).  Make sure to specify a study section when you are submitting or the algorithms will assign one!  However, never ever ask people on the panel about your grant.
  • You must convince the reviewers that if they were to only fund one grant – that it should be yours.  Assume your reviewer is intelligent but doesn’t know everything so you must make them care about your science as soon as possible in the proposal text.  Context is king and providing reminders for reviewers to see the same important information over and over again is good.
  • GET TO KNOW YOUR NIH PROGRAM OFFICERS (POs)!!  Go to the meetings/conferences they are going to when possible and keep them updated on your work so they think of you when they have funding opportunities.  If they are active on Twitter, consider also doing so as a way to keep in touch.  Although POs don’t influence your score, they can give you a feel for how the topic will be received by that section, etc. and they may be able to save you if you are borderline by providing some bridge funding.  Your PO will be the person to give you the summary statement of the study section’s discussion of your proposal.
  • As you gain experience, you will get experience on how long your proposed experiments will take and how much they will cost – but as a new researcher you need to make sure to do calculations to ensure your timeline and budgets are reasonable!
  • As junior faculty, you made need to have letters of support from experts or more senior faculty to help improve your application.  Try to do this with local expertise.  On R21s your supporters won’t get any of your money but on a R01, they can!
  • Timelines are different for everyone – your first R01 could take months of writing but once you are more senior it could take far less.
  • Ask your colleagues at your institution if they are willing to share some ‘boilerplate’ text for you to model some of your non-science proposal sections after (e.g. facilities, etc).  If you are a junior faculty the reviewers may look over these sections more so you want to make sure they are in good shape.
  • Remember, some times there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR GRANT.  Persistence is key.  Your grant does not have to be perfect.  Grant funding is *almost random*.  It’s better to submit several ‘good enough grants’ instead of one ‘perfect’ grant.
  • Things you can do right now if you plan to apply for NIH funding: Get an eRA commons id for NIH and create a biosketch for yourself (Dr. Lindner shared his with the group).


Up next in the CGSA Grant Writing workshop series, NSF grants with Dr. Isabella Cattadori and Dr. Nita Bharti.

About catherineherzog

Epidemiologist. Disease ecologist. Ballroom dancer. World Traveler. Currently studying transmission dynamics of peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a morbillivirus, affecting sheep, goats, and cattle in Northern Tanzanian in collaboration with the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences and the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology on a Bill and Melinda Gates funded project: "Program for Enhancing the Health and Productivity of Livestock."
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2 Responses to Tips for Writing and Submitting NIH Grants: More from the CGSA Grant Writing Workshop Series

  1. Pingback: Tips for Writing and Submitting NIH Grants: More from the CGSA Grant Writing Workshop Series | Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Graduate Student Association

  2. Pingback: Tips for Writing and Submitting NIH Grants: More from the CGSA Grant Writing Workshop Series – psuphdtz

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