Issue | june-2019

Noticing More Notices of Special Interest?

You might have noticed an increased use of Guide Notices called Notices of Special Interest (NOSI), rather than full program announcements, to alert the community of specific research topics of interest. This is not a new concept, as some NIH institutes have been using this approach for many years – we are just formalizing it and expanding its use across all institutes.

Notices of Special Interest highlight areas of scientific interest and point to existing funding opportunity announcements (often parent announcements) for submission of the applications. NIH currently has a large number of non-parent program announcements with standard submission and review requirements that only vary from one another in the scientific topics highlighted. These PAs will be phased out over time and will be replaced with NOSIs. This change in no way diminishes our interest in these scientific topics. It simply streamlines how we announce our interests.

The process for submitting an application remains the same. To respond to a NOSI, simply complete the application form package associated with the funding opportunity announcement designated in the notice. Make sure you follow all application guidance in the NOSI. If application guide, FOA, and notice instructions conflict, then the FOA instructions win over the application guide and the notice instructions win over the FOA.

We will continue to post full funding opportunity announcements for requests for applications, program announcements with special receipt/referral/review considerations (PARs), program announcements with set-aside funds (PASs), and parent announcements. 

For more on Notices of Special Interest, see the full Guide Notice and the related FAQs.

Take Advantage of Sizzling Savings on the Fall 2019 NIH Regional Seminar in Phoenix, AZ

New to the world of NIH funding? The NIH Regional Seminar is a great introduction, offering flexible session tracks for administrators, new investigators, and all interests, covering hot topics such as:

  • Application Preparation and Submission
  • Understanding NIH Funding Mechanisms
  • NIH Biosketch
  • Peer Review Mock Study Section
  • Budget Basics
  • Navigating NIH Programs to Advance Your Career
  • And more, including the opportunity to meet with NIH experts one on one!

Get to know the ins and outs of NIH funding by joining us on November 6-8 for the Fall 2019 NIH Regional Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona. Early registration rates end on June 30th, so register today! See the tentative agenda, hotel/travel details, and more on the NIH Regional Seminar site.

How to Notify NIH about a Concern that Sexual Harassment is Affecting an NIH-Funded Activity at a Grantee Institution

In February, as part of a statement from NIH leadership on addressing sexual harassment in science, we encouraged the community to notify us about specific concerns by sending an email to We received dozens of notifications through this channel and are taking each one seriously. We are working with the supported institutions to address these concerns and to assure that NIH-funded activities are conducted in a safe and harassment-free work environment.

As part of our continued efforts, we are pleased to announce a new webform that allows for anybody in the biomedical research community to share information related to a potential case of sexual harassment directly and, if desired, anonymously, to NIH. The establishment of this webform, in tandem with other actions, is taken as part of our continuing commitment to address the underlying culture that enables sexual harassment to take place.

For additional information and resources, please see NIH’s Anti-Sexual Harassment website.

We appreciate hearing from all those affected by this issue. NIH can and will follow up on all concerns related to NIH-funded research submitted through this resource. We also strongly encourage individuals to report allegations of sexual harassment or assault to the appropriate authorities, which may include local police department and/or organization/institution equal employment opportunity or human resources offices.

Where to Post Informed Consent Forms for NIH-Funded Clinical Trials

The revised Common Rule requires that an IRB-approved version of an informed consent form be posted on a public federal website for all NIH-funded clinical trials. This must be done after enrollment ends and within 60 days of the last study visit. See Guide Notice NOT-OD-19-050.

NIH has just released additional guidance regarding which federal websites allow for the posting of these informed consent forms.

Refer to the Posting Informed Consent webpage for additional resources.

Explore xTRACT Before Its Required Use in FY 2020

There is much to explore on xTRACT, an electronic system for creating research training data table and tracking trainee outcomes that has been available on a pilot basis in the eRA Commons since 2015. In the xTRACT system, users can:

  • access data already available in the eRA Commons to pre-populate their tables with information;
  • retrieve publication information from PubMed;
  • upload selected training-related data from their institutions to the xTRACT system in batches; and
  • copy data already entered for one application or progress report into another.

Beginning with RPPRs due on or after October 1, 2019 (FY 2020), recipients must use the xTRACT system to create the required training tables for submission with NIH and AHRQ T15, T32, T90/R90, and TL1 progress reports. While it is not mandatory to use xTRACT for new and renewal applications for the specified types of training grants, it may be required in future years.

Gain experience with xTRACT before it is required with helpful resources such as the user guide, instructional videos, and FAQs, available on the eRA website. For more details on its required use and implementation, see the full Guide Notice.

Outcomes for NIH Loan Repayment Program Awardees: A Preliminary Look

Since 1988, the NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs) have been successful in recruiting and retaining early stage investigators into promising biomedical and behavioral research careers. As I have written about before, one of the most significant benefits of these programs is that NIH can repay up to $35,000 in educational loans per year for these talented professionals, which helps alleviate an often cited barrier to entering the biomedical research workforce. Since their inception, NIH LRPs have funded more than 25,000 new and renewal awards totaling more than $950 million (see more data on the LRP Dashboard).

Repaying educational debt is one thing, but what other benefits might these programs provide?

To answer this question, my colleagues within the NIH Office of Extramural Research’s Division of Loan Repayment compared individuals that applied for and received an LRP with those who applied but did not receive an LRP award between fiscal years (FYs) 2003-2009. Their history of productivity was followed through FY 2017.  More specifically, we assessed pulled information on grant submissions, awards, and publications in a sample that was equalized to control for baseline differences (n=3,053 applications; funded n=1,095, unfunded n=1,958).

Results indicated that individuals who received an LRP award demonstrated consistently higher levels of what we termed “persistence in research” (Figure 1). This composite measure includes submitting grant or fellowship applications, receiving grant or fellowship awards, and publications. Further, when looking at persistence in research over time, LRP funded individuals demonstrated an approximate two-fold increase in productivity, compared to their unfunded peers.  This difference was evident even 14 years after their LRP application.

Figure 1 displays  the Annual persistence in research for funded and unfunded LRP applicants. The X axis is the number of years relative to their index (first) application from negative 5 to positive 15 years, while the Y axis is persistence in research from 0 to 35 percent. The gray line with gray circles represents unfunded LRP applicants, while the red line with red circles represents funded LRP awardees.
Figure 1: Annual persistence in research for funded and unfunded applicants

These findings build on experiences we have heard previously from LRP recipients. In 2014, my colleagues invited 3,005 LRP funded individuals to participate in a customer service study to gauge their experiences in the LRP. Out of the 1,938 who responded, nearly all recipients noted benefiting professionally and personally from participating in the program. Funded applicants cited benefits ranging from being able to pursue research goals, even if it meant having to accept a lower salaried position, reduced clinical duties (i.e., more research time), as well as being more confident that they would succeed in a research career. 

Our first look suggests repaying educational debt through NIH LRP awards may be an effective strategy to retain talented early-career behavioral, biomedical, and clinician-scientists in the research workforce. We will continue to assess this pool of LRP awardees and anticipate sharing more data on their research outcomes.

I would like to thank Drs. Ericka Boone and Jill Mattia for their work on this study.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Hyperlinks in Grant Applications

The do’s and don’ts of hyperlinks in grant applications are simple:

  • Do include hyperlinks when explicitly requested in application guide, funding opportunity, or NIH Guide notice instructions
  • Do use hyperlinks in relevant citations and publications included in biosketches and publication list attachments
  • Don’t use hyperlinks anywhere else in your application

It would be hard to read more than a couple paragraphs on the internet these days without encountering a hyperlink to a definition or additional clarifying information. Hyperlinks are everywhere. So, why does NIH limit the use of hyperlinks in grant applications?

  • Fairness. Key sections of NIH grant applications – Specific Aims, Research Strategies, and Training Program Plans, to name a few – are page limited. Page limits promote fairness by ensuring all applicants have an equal opportunity to present their proposed project. Linking out to additional supporting information negates our page limits.
  • Reviewer Anonymity. We instruct reviewers to rely on the information contained in the grant application and caution them not to follow unrequested links to websites. Website access, especially access to sites controlled by the institution or PI, can be tracked and can compromise reviewer anonymity.
  • Security. Just like clicking on links in phishing emails, following links in grant applications can expose a reader to viruses, malware, or other security threats that can compromise our ability to protect application information.  

At the end of the day, risk avoidance may be the most convincing reason to avoid unrequested hyperlinks. NIH may withdraw your application from consideration if you include them. Don’t risk it. Write a compelling, self-contained grant application and let it speak for itself.