Nexus May 2011
Dr. Sally Rockey

Rock Talk

Moving Forward with Funding

This has been an interesting fiscal year full of management and scientific challenges. Although NIH did sustain a reduction in our budget that will require modest reductions to our non-competing awards, we’re delighted that there is such clear support for biomedical research, and that we have funds to sustain our important research activities, both at NIH and at institutions around the country.  

We have published the details of the NIH fiscal operations plan for fiscal year 2011 and how it will affect competing and non-competing awards in three notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, one on the general fiscal policy, a clarification to that policy, and one on NRSA awards. I’m looking forward to the great science that will emerge from our fiscal year 2011 awards.

Posted in Research Training and Career Development, Rock Talk | Tagged , | 28 Comments

Mapping Publications to Grants

Publications are one of the important products of NIH research grants, and authors are required to cite their NIH support in their publications. But as many of us have experienced, the format of grant numbers varies greatly. Some authors use institutional grant tracking numbers, others abbreviate the NIH number, and many other permeations arise. It almost becomes a “Where’s Waldo?” of the grant number world! All this makes it very difficult to directly link NIH grants to their publications, but the combination of public access policies and an NIH software development effort have recently improved this problem for those publications available via the NIH National Library of Medicine.

In 2001, NIH developers created the first version of a database known as SPIRES (Scientific Publication Information Retrieval and Evaluation System). In a nutshell, SPIRES maps publications to NIH grants. In practice, creating the means to do this was not simple at all. SPIRES uses automated text manipulation methods to extract and reformat grant numbers cited in publications. The reformatted numbers are then compared to NIH grant data, and the “goodness” of the match is rated by the SPIRES system. 

A decade later, SPIRES is now a mature database that maps 30 years of publications from PubMed to NIH grants. The results display through a number of internal NIH systems and to the public on the RePORT website. Because we often demonstrate outcomes of NIH support through publications arising from NIH grants, SPIRES has proven to be a critical component to accurately measure impact. More details about the SPIRES system and an example of what can be learned from publication data are available in the paper “Metrics associated with NIH funding: a high-level view” in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. External Web Site Policy

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Update on Myth Busting: Number of Grants per Investigator

It came to my attention that the analysis we posted last month on the numbers of investigators with multiple awards couldn’t be recreated. A reader took ExPORTER data from 2009 and came up with different numbers.

We have been attempting to replicate your data on the number of grants for the top 20% of PIs and cannot. Here is what we have come up with. Our total, using each of two assumptions about how you counted grants, falls short of your total number of PIs by more than one quarter. Can you explain how PIs were counted in your data in FY2009?

So, we asked them for their data and took a second look at our own. And, unfortunately, we posted the wrong data. These are complicated analyses, and we often go through multiple iterations of each analysis. We at the NIH are, sometimes, human, and we chose the wrong file from the folder. I apologize for this error, and I will provide you with the correct data here. In addition to the updated data for the investigators who receive the top 20 percent in total funding, we’ve added the data for all PIs.

graph showing the distribution of number of RPG awards from the top 20 percent of PIs

Distribution of number of RPG awards for all PIs

Compared to what we posted previously for the top 20 percent, the absolute number of investigators has been corrected downward, but the percentage of investigators falling into each category remains about the same.

Many of you requested similar data for all PIs. If you crunch the numbers, you will see that in each of the four years presented more than 90 percent of our investigators hold one or two research project grants. I hope this helps clear up any confusion with the previous data.

Number of Awards Number of PIs (Top 20%) Number of PIs (All)
FY 1986 FY 1998 FY 2004 FY 2009 FY 1986 FY 1998 FY 2004 FY 2009
1 1,156 1,084 1,041 1,140 13,257 15,873 18,720 18,934
2 1,638 2,055 2,237 2,345 2,738 4,100 5,811 5,428
3 416 862 1,526 1,341 439 930 1,656 1,410
4 73 183 400 326 75 185 406 327
5 17 35 112 66 17 35 112 66
6 4 5 21 13 4 5 21 13
7 2 1 7 3 2 1 7 3
8 0 0 3 2 0 0 3 2
Total 3,306 4,225 5,347 5,236 16,532 21,129 26,736 26,183

Posted in Rock Talk | Tagged | 25 Comments

More on the Top 20

Last month, I blogged about the number of investigators having multiple awards, with a focus on relatively well-funded investigators (the top 20 percent in total funding, or “Top 20”). We got lots of great questions and comments, but a number of commenters weren’t convinced we busted the myth. For example,

“I don’t know how relevant it is to lump R01s in with R21s and R03s (at the smaller end) and big P and U grants (at the higher end). How do all these different types of grants correlate, and how do the actual DOLLARS per investigator map out to different grant types?”

So I would like to share some more information on the sources of support for the Top 20 and help answer at least part of the question. The figure below shows the 11 most frequently used research project grants used to support these investigators. 

graph showing the Top 20 broken out by activity codes: R01, U01, P01, R21, R37, U19, DP1, R56, R33, DP2

Within the Top 20, those investigators having a single award (about 20 percent of the total) are relatively unlikely to have an R01 award and more likely to have one of the large multi-project grants (U01s, P01s, and U19s). The distribution of grant activities among those Top 20 investigators who have multiple awards is more similar to the overall NIH distribution of these activities. There is a higher frequency of some of the smaller grant mechanisms (R21s and R03s) among investigators not in the Top 20, as you might expect. 

I’ll continue to post additional analyses like this one as we work to better understand patterns of NIH support and the pool of investigators we support.

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Top Stories

Remind Referees to Submit by Your Application Due Date

The June 12, 2011 deadline for individual career development awards is quickly approaching. You may want to remind your referees that new NIH policy eliminates the five business day grace period for the receipt of reference letters after the application receipt due date. The new policy requires referees to submit all reference letters by the application due date. Applications without all of the required references in the appropriate format will be considered incomplete and will not be reviewed.

Referees are welcome to submit their letters in eRA Commons prior to the submission of the grant application itself, so encourage referees to submit early. Early letters will be held by NIH and linked to the appropriate application in eRA Commons once it has been received.

For more information, please see our eSubmission Letters of Reference FAQs. In addition, Commons users can find new reference letter help files on the Submit Reference Letter and List of Reference Letters screens in eRA Commons. Users can access these help files by clicking the question mark (?) icon next to the screen name.

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Last Chance to Register for the June 2011 Regional Seminar in Florida!

banner from regional seminar website

This is your last opportunity in 2011 to attend a two-day NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration in Weston, Florida* June 24-25, as well as the optional electronic Research Administration (eRA) hands-on computer workshops June 23. 

Approximately 35 NIH and HHS policy officials and grants management, review, and program staff will meet with participants from across the globe to provide a broad array of expertise and insight into the NIH grant application process. They will help demystify the application and review process, clarify federal regulations and policies, and highlight current areas of special interest or concern. 

In addition to offering administrative and researcher tracks in the agenda, the following new networking opportunities are, also, included:

  • One-on-ones with NIH staff  (Sign up on-site)
  • Dine and discuss the grant-related issues with NIH and HHS presenters and your peers during lunch
  • Enjoy conversation in the laid-back atmosphere of the Thursday evening networking reception
  • Tweet your favorite grant tips during the sessions
  • Jump start Friday with your peers at breakfast topic tables

How Do I Register?  Event Website and Registration

Here’s what a few attendees from the April 2011 NIH Regional Seminar in Scottsdale, Arizona had to say:

  • Overall Agenda: The seminar has been very encouraging and motivating for me, increasing my confidence in writing/applying for NIH grants.
  • Networking Opportunities: (They were)….very informative and helpful. I was able to address specific concerns and understand through the eyes of NIH.
  • Optional eRA Workshops: … exceeded my expectations. I like particularly the interactive way the workshops were conducted.

*Local Ambassador University: Florida Atlantic University

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Time is Running Out to Register for the June Small Business Conference

logo for 2011 SBIR/STTR conferenceDon’t miss the 13th Annual NIH Small Business Innovation Research & Small Business Technology Transfer Conference June 22-23 at the Natcher Conference Center on the NIH Campus in Bethesda, MD. 

This two-day conference features important sessions on how to apply for the ~$690M NIH has available exclusively for small businesses to do innovative research in the life and health sciences. You will also have access to 55 scientific posters showcasing SBIR- and STTR-funded projects, numerous one-on-ones with NIH staff, a free post-conference workshop (PDF – 429 KB) on translating SBIR/STTR technologies into the marketplace, and numerous additional opportunities to network with business and health professionals.

For more information about this conference, including a link to the agenda and registration, visit the SBIR/STTR 2011 conference website.

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New Resources

New Searchable FAQs!

Got Questions?  We’ve Got Answers! 

OER’s frequently asked questions are now easier than ever to use with our new keyword search feature. Use our keyword search or browse by topic to find the answers you seek. If you use the keyword search, the search results will tell you which set of FAQs your hit came from, with a link in case you’d like to check out the entire set of related FAQs. Try it out today!

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New Podcast on Resource Sharing

All About Grants logoIn this podcast on sharing research resources, JP Kim, Director of the Division of Extramural Inventions & Technology Resources in OER, describes the types of research resources that must be shared under the NIH sharing policies and provides advice for including sharing policies in your application. For more information, visit

To get new All About Grants podcasts as they are released, subscribe by visiting us on iTunes or catch our podcast RSS using your favorite software.

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Writing Your Vertebrate Animal Section Podcast

All About Grants logoOur podcasts on grant writing continue with Dr. Pat Brown, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, who explains what must be included in your grant application if you use vertebrate animals in your research.

To get new All About Grants podcasts as they are released, subscribe by visiting us on iTunes or catch our podcast RSS using your favorite software.

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You Ask, We Answer

How Do I List Partial Months on My Budget? On My Progress Report?

Both the budget forms from the application packages (SF424 (R&R) and PHS 398) and the All Personnel eSNAP screen in eRA Commons can accommodate partial months for all personnel. There are a couple of differences, however, and it relates to how we use the information.

The budget forms accommodate partial months up to two decimal places (e.g., 2.55 is an acceptable value) and less than a full month (e.g., .50 is an acceptable value) for any personnel. This allows you to document more precisely the level of effort for each individual who will be paid from the grant.

Your yearly progress report is not used by peer reviewers, so it doesn’t need to be as precise. However, it is used for reporting purposes and monitoring budget and personnel effort. The All Personnel eSNAP screen accommodates up to one decimal place (i.e., 1.2 academic months is an acceptable value), and you should include all personnel, regardless of their source of compensation.

On a related note, less than one person month can only be entered for PD/PIs in the All Personnel eSNAP screen. For all other personnel, only those who participate for one person month or more should be included in the All Personnel Report, regardless of their senior/key designation.

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Who Can Give Permission For a Late Application?

The truth is—no one. Not the staff at any of our help desks, not the Center for Scientific Review, not the NIH institute or center staff.  The policy states, “permission for a late submission is not granted in advance.”

So what can you do?

  • Avoid being late by submitting well before the deadline (as in days, not hours or minutes) to allow time to correct errors and/or address warnings identified in the submission process.
  • Carefully read the NIH Policy on Late Submission of Grant Applications which provides guidance on how NIH handles late submissions and the timeframes in which late applications will be considered.
  • If you feel your reason for submitting late falls within the acceptable guidelines for late submission, then document your case in the cover letter and submit. The timing and reason for your late submission will be evaluated and a decision made.
  • If your explanation is listed in the examples of unacceptable reasons or falls into a similar category, then you will need to rework your application and submit for a different deadline or opportunity.


  • Automated email notifications are often victims of spam-filtering, but the application guide clearly states (Part I, Section 2.11) that you are strongly encouraged to periodically check on your application status in the eRA Commons. 
  • The late policy cannot be used as a way to get around the “error correction window” being eliminated (NOT-OD-10-123). “For electronic submissions, correction of errors or addressing warnings after the due date is not considered a valid reason for a late submission.”
  • If the information you needed is available to you in the application guide or announcement, even if you tried to call for help and didn’t get a call back in time, then you really don’t have a legitimate reason for being late. So use available resources.
  • If you have a or eRA Commons system issue(s) threatening the timely submission of your application, then closely follow the directions provided in the “Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues.” If the eRA Commons help desk verifies a system “bug” or service interruption has occurred, then they will provide you instructions to complete the submission. You are expected to immediately (in most cases within the same business day) make the correction and complete the submission process. Failure to quickly follow through after guidance is given may result in your application being denied further consideration.

Again, the best practice is to submit early.

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June 20-21, 2011: How to Create Efficiency in Clinical Research Management

NRC and CTSA LogosDate: June 20-21, 2011

Location: Bethesda, Maryland 

What Will Be Learned

Join the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, supported by NIH’s National Center for Research Resources Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program, for the Fourth Annual Clinical Research Management Workshop.

Three actions that can reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to become treatments for patients are 1) defining clinical research management processes, 2) addressing research recruitment, and 3) streamlining clinical research operations. This workshop will feature tested process-improvement initiatives in clinical research management and lessons learned by CTSA consortium members, industry and government agencies.


  1. Support process improvement in clinical research management to speed study activation
  2. Define the use of metrics to drive performance improvement
  3. Share lessons learned at CTSA sites such as successful or ongoing processes improvement
  4. Network with counterparts from other CTSAs
  5. Develop recruitment and retention strategies to improve study performance

Additional Information

For more information, visit the conference website.

check iconThe online registration deadline is June 6. On-site registration will be available, subject to available seats.

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June 9, 2011: Writing a Good Animal Assurance

On June 9, 2011, the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) presents “Writing a Good Assurance” as part of the OLAW Outreach Program. The speakers for these free, online seminars will be Eileen Morgan, Kim Taylor, and Venita Thornton from the OLAW Division of Assurances.

  • IO Seminar – Noon to 1 p.m. (EDT) – This seminar is limited to institutional officials (IOs) at PHS-assured institutions. Pre-registration is required.
  • IACUC Staff Seminar – 2 to 3 p.m. (EDT) – This seminar is tailored to institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) staff at PHS-assured institutions. Pre-registration is required.

Participants are encouraged to submit questions in advance by e-mail to

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