Nexus March 2013
Dr. Sally Rockey

Rock Talk

How OER Works With NIH and You

Even regular Rock Talk readers might not be familiar with all the ways my office, the Office of Extramural Research (OER), supports NIH’s mission and works with extramural researchers. My office provides much of the NIH infrastructure that allows grants to happen, and allows NIH – and you! – to get a comprehensive sense of all the research NIH supports. OER’s work provides transparency into NIH grant programs, ensures integrity of scientific programs through policy, develops and maintains electronic systems for grants administration, and much much more.  If you’re interested in learning more about OER, take a look at the 2012 report we just posted online. And if you have specific questions about anything you’ve read, let us know.

Image of the cover of the 2012 OER Report -

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More Applications… But How Many Research Institutions?

In August I presented data regarding the well-known increase in applications to NIH over the past decade. In “More Applications, Many More Applicants” we looked at the source of increase in competing applications, and presented data on the numbers of unique NIH applicants per year. (Further analysis of data pertaining to the number applications per principle investigator was posted to the blog later that month in “Do More Applications Mean More Awards?”, and also discussed in 2011 blog posts on the number of grants per investigator.)

Another question related to understanding the increase in applications submitted to NIH is, how many different research institutions submit applications each year? So, my staff and I took a look at the number of institutions that submitted competing research project grant (RPG) applications each fiscal year, going back to 1995. In addition to looking at all RPGs, we also looked at data for R01s only.

Graph of Unique, Competing Applicant Institutions Excludes ARRA. See RPG definition at Visit RePORT ( for data tables

It’s interesting to note that while the number of unique institutions with competing R01 applications has been relatively stable, the number of institutions submitting RPG applications has increased.

We also looked at the number of award-receiving institutions for comparison, to see if the trend is similar.Graph of Unique, Competing Awardee Institutions Excludes ARRA. See RPG definition at Visit RePORT ( for data tables

Again, the number of unique institutions receiving R01 awards each year has been relatively stable, while the number of institutions receiving RPG awards has slightly increased.

This data provides a bit more insight into NIH application trends, and we’re continuing to work on additional analyses to learn more about these applicant and grantee institutions. Stay tuned.

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Putting NIH Research on the Map… Literally

Early in his tenure as director of NIH, Francis Collins detailed five major areas of opportunity for NIH research.  One of these areas is an increased focus on global health. An emphasis on global health research is nothing new at NIH; the lead story in the inaugural issue of the NIH Record newsletter in 1949 described NIH’s efforts to combat disease in Africa.

At that time, the focus on global health was driven by the needs of returning WWII veterans suffering from tropical diseases.  But as Dr. Collins noted in a guest blog for Huffington Post, the nature of the global health landscape is changing and we must broaden our vision to include neglected tropical and non-communicable diseases and to recognize that developed nations are not the only source of biomedical research and innovation.   The importance of global health is still at the forefront of NIH activities – in fact, this week, Dr. Collins and several members of NIH’s leadership are speaking at a conference here in DC focused on universities’ efforts to support global health.

Cover of 1949 inaugural issue of the NIH Record newsletter with headline "NIH TO HELP COMBAT DISEASE IN AFRICA"

A 2012 report from the World Health Organization’s Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination described global health improvements as “the responsibility of all of us in this interdependent world, in developed and developing countries alike. One recommendation in the report is to facilitate better coordination of global health R&D by creating a global “observatory” to collect and analyze information on the extent and current composition of R&D funding— particularly R&D being undertaken in developing countries.

Creating such an observatory was the intent behind World RePORT, a system developed by my staff in the Office of Extramural Research. We already provide interactive maps of how NIH funds are spent across the United States on RePORT.  World RePORT however shows — on a single map — biomedical research funded by NIH as well as several other major organizations that support biomedical research: the Canadian government (the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the International Development Research Center, and Canadian International Development Agency), the European Commission, INSERM and ANRS in France, the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, the Medical Research Council of the UK, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Swedish Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.  You can search abstracts of the funded research by keywords, apply filters to display projects of any or all of the funding organizations, and drill down on the map to get more information on research projects and investigators.  And, of course, the NIH-funded projects are hyperlinked to more complete project information in RePORTER.

Right now, World RePORT is a proof-of-concept with a limited set of features, including a small number of funding organizations, and restricted to research in sub-Saharan Africa.  But we are engaged in discussions with several funding organizations, coordinated by NIH’s Fogarty International Center, to discuss possible expansion to include other regions of the world and other funders of biomedical research.

We invite you to try World RePORT for yourself.

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Diversifying the Training Experiences of the Biomedical Research Workforce

I’m eager to tell you about another important biomedical workforce-related initiative that NIH is launching based on the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) working group recommendations. This initiative seeks to expand existing research training and allow research institutions to best prepare their trainees for a variety of research-related career outcomes. The ACD working group report showed that while almost half of US-trained doctorates work in academia, an increasing proportion of newly trained doctorates finds employment opportunities in non-academic sectors and in other research-related occupations.

US-trained doctorates post-training employment as of 2008: 18% non science related, 18% science-related non-research, 6% government research, 18% industry research, 43% academia. NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates data based on 130,000 individuals which is an underestimate of total biomedical research workforce

Especially in challenging financial times, it is important to not only prepare trainees for a diverse set of career outcomes, but to leverage existing resources and enlist additional support from the potential beneficiaries of NIH-supported training – the employers of PhD scientists. The Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program aims to do just that.

The BEST awards will be piloted through the NIH Common Fund, and support the development of new and innovative methods for preparing graduate students for the full breadth of research and research-related careers in the biomedical, behavioral, social, or clinical sciences. How applicant research institutions choose to approach this may vary. For example, scientific research institutions might initiate mutually beneficial collaborations with schools of business, public policy or economics, or might propose developing partnerships beyond academia and engaging the private sector or non-profit entities. But all programs should introduce students and postdoctoral scientists to the wide array of biomedical careers early in their training, and provide them with experiences in the career they plan to pursue, in addition to their PhD studies and traditional postdoctoral training.

BEST intends to change the culture of biomedical graduate education by seeding the development of diverse training experiences. Up to 15 BEST awards will be made in fiscal year 2013 to support research institutions’ program and administrative needs during the initial stages of development, and to create self-sustaining programs in collaboration with external support. Communication among awardees and rigorous monitoring of outcomes are essential aspects of this award program so that effective and proven models for training can be shared with universities across the United States.

We plan to review applications to the BEST funding opportunity this summer. An informational webinar to advise applicants will be held in March, letters of intent are due in April, and applications are due in May of this year; more details on the program are in the NIH Guide Notice and on the program website.

As the centerpiece of all the ACD biomedical workforce recommendations, this program is an important part of supporting the biomedical research enterprise as a whole, at all stages of the scientific process. This investment is just the beginning of how we prepare biomedical research trainees for a broader set of career options, and I look forward to following the work of BEST awardees as they pioneer these diverse training programs.


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NIH Operations Under the Sequester

This morning I sent a letter to the signing officials at NIH-funded institutions about the sequestration order signed by the President on Friday. We have posted the letter on the Office of Extramural Research website and I am copying it here for your information.

As we noted in the recent Guide Notice, NIH institutes and centers (ICs) will announce their respective approaches to meeting the new budget level at a later date. Links to these announcements will be available on the NIH extramural financial operations page.

I will keep you informed as events progress.

 Dear NIH Signing Official,

As you are likely aware, in accordance with the Budget Control Act of 2011, a series of spending cuts, called sequestration, will cancel approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the Federal government for the remainder of the Federal fiscal year.  As a partner with you in accomplishing the NIH mission, we are writing to provide you with information about what this reduction means for the funds provided to your organization.

At this time, the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH are taking every step to mitigate the effects of these cuts, but based on our initial analysis, it is possible that your grants or cooperative agreement awards may be affected.  Examples of this impact could include: not issuing continuation awards, or negotiating a reduction in the scope of your awards to meet the constraints imposed by sequestration.  Additionally, plans for new grants or cooperative agreements may be re-scoped, delayed, or canceled depending on the nature of the work and the availability of resources.

To the extent that fiscal year 2013 funds for your grants or cooperative agreement are affected due to these budget cuts, you will be contacted by the appropriate Grant Management Officer with additional details at a later point.  Please note that these budget cuts do not affect grant or cooperative agreement awards made with fiscal year 2012 resources.

Thank you for your continued partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH, and for your cooperation as we work together to manage these circumstances.

Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Deputy Director for Extramural Research
National Institutes of Health

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Top Stories

Working with Animal Models? Review the Updated American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines

Applicants and grantees using animals models for medical research should be sure to review the new American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals, as described in the NIH Guide Notice published on March 1, and published in the Federal Register. The Notice provides guidance to all Public Health Service (PHS) awardee institutions on how the 2013 AVMA Guidelines will be implemented.

NIH and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) encourage institutions with existing PHS Animal Welfare Assurances to begin using the 2013 guidelines when reviewing research projects, as soon as possible. All grantees are expected to fully implement these guidelines by September 1, 2013. After this date, previously approved projects undergoing continuing review according to PHS Policy, IV.C.5., must be reviewed using the 2013 guidelines.

NIH is seeking input from the public on any concerns they may have regarding the updated guidelines. Public comments must be submitted electronically here by May 31, 2013.

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New Resources

New All About Grants Podcasts: Who Do I Contact at NIH?

We’ve just released two new All About Grants podcasts to help you learn more about the roles of NIH extramural staff, and who you should talk to for help at different stages of the grants award and application process. In “Roles of NIH Staff and How They Work Together”, the first episode of the “Who Should I Contact at NIH?” series, program officer Sue Brobst (NIAID), scientific review officer Nick Gaiano (CSR) and grants management officer Grace Olascoaga (NIGMS) describe their roles in grants administration and how they work together to support extramural research. In “Finding a Funding Opportunity and Developing Your Application”, Sue, Nick, and Grace are joined by customer support guru Dave Hunter (eRA/OER) and talk about who to contact at NIH as you are identifying funding opportunities and developing your application. Stay tuned for more “Who Do I Contact at NIH?” episodes to come!

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You Ask, We Answer

What Should I Include in the Project Narrative Section of the Grant Application?

The Project Narrative is the section of the grant application where the applicant should talk about the relevance of the proposed research project to public health. The information should be:

  • succinct (no more than 2-3 sentences long)
  • in plain language understandable by a general, lay audience

The Project Narrative is made public for all awarded grants in RePORTER, appearing at the end of the project abstract.


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What Should I Include in the Project Summary/Abstract?

When writing an NIH grant application, remember that the Project Summary/Abstract will be viewable to the public on RePORTER if the application is funded.  Keep in mind the following guidance:

    • Limit length to 30 lines or less of text
    • Include the project’s broad, long-term objectives and specific aims
    • Include a description of the research design and methods for achieving the stated goals
    • Do NOT include proprietary or confidential information, or trade secrets
    • Write in plain language, so even a non-scientist can understand the importance of the project

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Wednesday, April 17: Watch NIH Director Francis Collins at TEDMED 2013

We’re pleased to inform you that NIH Director Francis Collins will be speaking at TEDMED 2013 on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

TEDMED  will make available a real-time and on-demand simulcast of his talk from the Kennedy Center stage, and the entire TEDMED program, at no cost to medical colleges, teaching hospitals, government agencies, and other non-profit institutions. You can obtain the most recent program schedule here.

TEDMED has provided registration directions for the event below. Should you have any questions, please contact the simulcast organizer directly at

 For personal access via your computer or tablet:

  • Go to:
  • Select Organization: National Institutes of Health
  • Enter Affiliate ID: L28801
  • Complete rest of form.
  • You’ll be granted immediate access to the TEDMED Live simulcast homepage. Watch the test video and mark your calendar to return April 16-21.


To enroll your entire organization:

  • Register your organization at:
  • You will receive an Organization Affiliate ID, which can be used to watch in groups and also shared with all your colleagues for personal access via computers and tablets.

Registration for this event is at the sole discretion of each participant, pursuant to the process and terms directed by TEDMED. NIH is not responsible for the content of the TEDMED program.

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Other NIH Happenings

In Memoriam: Dr. Rod Ulane, NIH Training Officer and Director of the Division of Scientific Programs

NIH mourns the loss of Dr. Rod Ulane, NIH Training Officer and Director of the Division of Scientific Programs in the Office of Extramural Programs. Dr. Ulane passed away unexpectedly March 7. He was an ardent and dedicated supporter of biomedical research workforce training. His impact was felt across the NIH and extended to other government agencies, foundations, societies, and institutions with a stake in training the next generation of biomedical scientists. At the time of his death, Dr. Ulane was playing a key role in implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the Director’s working group on the biomedical workforce. Over the next few years, as these initiatives take shape, Dr. Ulane’s influence will be felt.

Dr. Ulane earned his PhD in yeast genetics and developmental biology from Southern Illinois University in 1971. He served as associate dean and director of MD/PhD programs at both the New York University School of Medicine and at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Graduate and Medical Schools in Dallas, and remained in touch with many of his former students. He had a wealth NIH experience, from his early work as an intramural staff research fellow, to his later leadership positions within the Center for Scientific Review and as a  program director in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Dr. Ulane will be sorely missed by his colleagues; he is remembered for his dedication to young scientists and their training.

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