This pandemic has challenged the world in ways we never would have imagined. It has changed the way we socialize, the way we parent, the way we work. And, of course, we know it has challenged the research community across the globe. On this blog a few months ago my colleague, Carrie Wolinetz, poignantly describes her experience parenting during the pandemic. Whether you are a parent or not, we continually see evidence of the personal and professional challenges the community is experiencing. (See survey results on the impact of the pandemic from NIH and others, many of which are listed in this report from the Association of American Medical Colleges).
When the public health emergency was first declared, NIH, working with OMB and HHS, quickly identified a long list of flexibilities to support the research community. The list has evolved since the pandemic began, so we would like to take this opportunity to remind the community of many of the current flexibilities we have in place. The full list is available on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding website. Please note: if you are planning on taking advantage of any of these flexibilities, it is important to read the associated policy notices carefully and consult with your funding Institute or Center to ensure you fully understand the details.
Application and Review
- Application development. NIH recently provided guidance that investigators address effects due to the pandemic on productivity or other scoreable issues in the personal statement of the biosketch. (Applications should not include contingency or recovery plans for problems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as staff will assess these prior to award).
- Review. Review meetings continue to be held virtually. Reviewers will be instructed to take pandemic-related circumstances outlined in the biosketch into account when assessing applicants’ productivity and other score-driving factors.
- Late applications. NIH is taking a very flexible stance for applications submitted within the standard two-week late policy. See NIH FAQ on late applications during COVID-19. Many Institutes and Centers have also issued notices extending specific funding opportunities, which can all be found on our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding page.
- Preliminary data. NIH is allowing the submission of preliminary data after application submission for most funding opportunities as long as it is provided to NIH at least 30 days before the study section meeting (and the funding opportunity allows preliminary data).
Extension of Funded Projects
The extensions outlined below are longstanding administrative flexibilities that NIH continues to make available to its recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- No cost extensions. NIH continues to provide maximum flexibility for COVID-19. For most NIH awards, standard NIH policy allows an initial no-cost extension without NIH prior approval. Recipients with awards not eligible for an automatic first no-cost extension, including fellowships and some career development awards, may request prior approval of the first no-cost extension (this is done by the Authorized Organization Official (AOR)). Second and subsequent no-cost extensions may also be requested through prior approval.
- Funded extensions Recipients may request funded extensions due to COVID-19 by contacting the funding IC. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and are subject to the availability of funds. For F and K awards recipients may request a funded extension in instances where training or career development activities have been significantly hindered over and above lost research productivity experienced because of COVID-19 related shutdowns.
- Administrative supplements. If unanticipated costs are identified due to impacts of COVID-19, and unobligated balances are not available to rebudget, recipients may request administrative supplements from the funding NIH institute or center.
Extensions of Eligibility for Early Career Scientists
- Extensions of eligibility for K99/R00 and other career development programs. A number of NIH Institutes and Centers have extended the eligibility for these programs.
- Early stage investigator (ESI) eligibility. Investigators who have been affected by COVID-19 may submit requests for an extension of ESI status. In addition, NIH has clarified its ESI FAQs and will consider requests for extensions of ESI eligibility for life events occurring during an extension period.
Extensions of Reporting Timelines
- Federal Financial Reports (FFRs), Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPRs) and Closeout reports. Recipients who need additional time for FFRs, RPPRs or closeout reports due to COVID should contact their funding NIH institute or center, and requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- NIH institutes and centers may approve cost related flexibilities on a case-by-case basis.
We encourage you to explore the NIH FAQs on COVID-19 Flexibilities for Applicants and Recipients and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding website to learn more about these flexibilities, find answers to common questions, read NIH institute and center notices about flexibilities with specific programs, and to find a list of funding opportunities related to COVID-19.
We certainly hope to see the immediate effects of the pandemic diminish over the coming year. Throughout this time, and in the years that follow, we will continue to be monitoring the needs of the community and providing support as we are able.