Nexus January 2012

Rock Talk

Results of Our Biomedical Research Workforce Request for Information

As you may remember from previous blog posts Jan. 31, 2011 and June 3, 2011, a working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director began studying the biomedical research workforce and published a request for information asking for input last fall.

Today, we posted a report summarizing the comments. I will give you a couple of highlights in this post, but I encourage you to read the report—I found it very interesting.  We received input from more than 200 commenters, the majority of whom provided personal input (75%). Twenty percent of the commenters responded on behalf of organizations. The comments addressed all the issues described in the request for information, as well as some additional ones (see asterisks below). As you can see, questions of supply and demand and characteristics of the PhD received the most comments.

Distribution of Primary Issues. *Issue not specified in the request for information but raised by commenters.

Commenters were asked to indicate the most important issue(s) for the working group to address. The following table shows the differences in the prioritization of issues by individual and organizational respondents.

Self Organization
Supply and Demand PhD Characteristics
PhD Characteristics Clinician Characteristics
Biomedical Research Career Appeal Post-doc Training Characteristics
Post-doc Training Characteristics Supply and Demand
Clinician Characteristics Biomedical Research Career Appeal
Effects of NIH Policies Staff Scientist Career Track
Diversity Diversity
Mentoring Effects of NIH Policies
Staff Scientist Career Track Training to Research Grant Ratio
Industry Partnership Early Educational Interventions
Early Educational Interventions Mentoring
Training to Research Grant Ratio Industry Partnership

On each of these issues, the report describes the major comments and outlines specific recommendations for NIH action. In general, commenters suggested that most of the issues discussed are inter-related and are important for a sustainable biomedical workforce. A set of secondary issues that were mentioned in many of the responses were analyzed for each primary issue to help describe the overlap.

The working group is incorporating these responses in their deliberations as they consider their recommendations for a sustainable biomedical infrastructure. I will continue to update you as their activities progress.

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Provide Your Input on Workforce Diversity and Research Data Policies

Earlier this month, two working groups of the Advisory Committee to the Director released two requests for information to seek public opinion about two different, but important issues facing biomedical research. Both working groups are charged with developing recommendations to present to the NIH Director.

The Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce is seeking input on ways the NIH can increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce throughout the various research career stages, particularly with regard to underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons from disadvantaged backgrounds. The working group has identified the biomedical research workforce pipeline and the review process as two areas of importance in this discussion.

Submit your response electronically through February 24, 2012.

The Data and Informatics Working Group is seeking input on policies regarding the management, integration, and analysis of research data and administrative data. The working group has identified a number of important issues to consider, including data standards development, secondary or future use of data, data accessibility, incentives for data sharing, and support needs (e.g., workforce and tool development).

Submit your response electronically through March 12, 2012. 

I encourage you to submit your thoughts about these important topics.

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What’s Behind the 2011 Success Rates?

I’m going to discuss the fiscal year 2011 research project grant (RPG) success rates, and in doing so, I’m showing you a few screen shots from the NIH Funding Facts tool on RePORT, so you see how easy it is to use the site yourself to find some nifty information.

Delving further into what’s behind the fiscal year 2011 RPG success rates, we queried:

  • Topic: number of applications and awards, and success rates
  • Funding mechanism: Non-SBIR/STTR research project grants
  • Type: All competing applications
  • Fiscal Year: 2010 and 2011

screen shot of Funding Facts showing the selections outlined above

It is easy to see in the resulting hit list the reason for the decline in RPG success rates from 2010 to 2011. There were 3,609 additional applications, and 656 fewer awards in fiscal year 2011.    

screen shot of hit list showing the changes in number of awards and applications and success rates

Many More R21 Applications

Focusing on the success rates for two of the most-frequently used grant activities in the RPG category (R01s and R21s) provides a more complex picture.

screen shot of R01 and R21 applications and awards

The number of competing R21 applications increased by 17% (1,904), accounting for more than one-half of the total increase in the number of RPG applications. The increase in the number of R21 applications alone accounts for nearly all of the decrease in R21 success rates from 15% to 13%. 

screen shot of R01 and R21 success rates

R01 Success Rate Is a Result of Several Factors

The R01 picture is more complicated; the increase in R01 applications accounts for only 1-point of the 4-point drop in the R01 success rate. The remainder of the decrease is accounted for by a combination of several factors.

The NIH budget was reduced by 1%

As you recall, the fiscal year 2011 budget was reduced by 1%, resulting in a reduction in funding for R01s of $117 million. This reduction affected competing awards disproportionately because in any given year, the proportion of the NIH budget for R01s that is tied up in commitments (funding for non-competing continuations), can range from approximately 70 to 80 percent. This brings us to the next factor—funding ongoing research.  

NIH funds grants incrementally

NIH funds most RPGs on an incremental basis—approved awards are funded for an initial budget period (typically one year), and subsequent budget periods are funded as non-competing continuation awards out of the current year’s appropriation. The commitments to the non-competing continuation awards in any given year can be considered a fixed cost, and any reduction (or increase, e.g., during the NIH doubling from 1999-2003) in the NIH budget would disproportionately affect our ability to make competing awards. Even with a cut to the non-competing continuations by 1% (or 3% in the case of NCI), the amount committed to ongoing research in fiscal year 2011 increased by $189 million. This demonstrates how carefully we need to manage our funds since funding decisions in any one year have implications for the out years. 

graph of noncompeting commitments as % of total R01 funding showing and increase over time 1998 to 2011

These two factors, the reduction in the budget and the increased commitments, accounted for the majority (2.5 points) of the 4-point drop.

The average cost of R01 awards increased

An increase in the size of an award contributed the remaining 0.5-point drop in R01 success rates. While not keeping up with the costs of doing research (as indexed by the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index), the cost of R01 awards did increase by 2% in fiscal year 2011. 

graph showing the increasing total cost of competing R01s from 1998 to 2011

So what’s the story?

To summarize, the 4-point drop in R01 success rates (the biggest driver of overall RPG success rates) can be traced to:

An increase in R01 applications: 1.0%
NIH budget reduction: 1.0%
Increase in commitments: 1.5%
Size of award: 0.5%
Total decrease: 4.0%

While the success rate number is often cited as the indicator of the state of funding at NIH, it is very complex, and certainly, there is not a simple relationship between the success and the quantity of science supported by us. Success rate may be more closely equated with an indicator of competition, at least within some mechanisms, but even then, it is not straightforward. Hope you find these data as interesting as I did.

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A Year of Blogging

It’s really hard to believe I’ve been blogging for a year now. I find the blog to be an extraordinarily good way to maintain a dialogue with you, the extramural community. Your comments have been particularly useful to us, and based on the web stats, it looks like the topics and issues discussed in the blog are relevant to you. In fact, I believe that my legacy as a public servant most likely will be “Author of Rock Talk” as people recognize me from the blog,  more often than any other way. Not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but I like it! (And even though some of my readers don’t approve, I happily will continue to use the occasional exclamation point!) I also have noticed that @Rock Talking (yes, I tweet too) is picking up followers, perhaps from my blog readers. 

The past year has been exciting, challenging, and particularly active for NIH. It couldn’t have been a better time to start the blog. I have tried to keep you up-to-date on the latest issues and present you with data that have driven key policy decisions at NIH. Indeed, I’ve noted that the response is greatest when I present data in the blog. So I plan to continue this by bringing you interesting data when we have it at hand. I’m sure that the next year is going to be just as eventful here at NIH, so look for interesting blogs to follow. 

As with all good things, there are always ways to make them better. Please let me know how I can make this blog more useful to you. I want to end by thanking my dedicated staff who are the behind-the-scenes engine for the blog and to you for your support. And finally, go social media! It’s changing the world.

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2011 Success Rates, Applications, and Investigators

2011 Success Rates, Applications, and Investigators

Well, the numbers for 2011 (fiscal year) are in. Here are a few facts about the applications and people we supported in 2011.

Overall success rates for research project grants fell compared to 2010. 18%
Success rates for new investigators were equal to established investigators submitting new applications. 15%
The representation of women NIH investigators remained the same as in 2010. 29%
Women’s success rates were equal to men for new applications. 15%
Our commitment to supporting the individual investigator remains strong, with R01s and R37s representing a significant percentage of all research grants. 60%
The average size of R01-equivalent grants increased slightly compared to 2010. $408,594
The average size of a center grant fell by 6% compared to 2010. $1,863,037
Number of institutional training grant applications continued to decline, from a peak in 2005. 686

You can find all of these data and more in the NIH Data Book, which was recently updated with 2011 data. The Data Book is the first place to check when you are looking for summary statistics on NIH awards. The data and charts are exportable, making for easier reports, presentations, or blog posts.

There are a few things I wanted to note about the success rate data. A number of factors contributed to the lower RPG success rates in 2011. One of the most obvious was an 8% increase in the number of competing RPG applications. We received a record 49,592 applications. It was a busy year for everyone in the extramural community!

The slow, but steady, increase in the representation of women among NIH-supported investigators continues, and their success in applying for new grants has been the same as men’s (albeit slightly lower for renewal awards). Despite these increases, their representation in the NIH-funded pool of investigators still has not reached their level of representation among U.S. citizen postdoctorates in the biomedical sciences (approaching 50%). See my April 27, 2011 blog for more of my thoughts on this topic.

Over the next few months, I’ll post more information about these data and others in the Data Book. In the meantime, take a look.

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Working Through the Transitions of NCRR and NCATS

On December 23, NIH received our fiscal year 2012 appropriation and with it came the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the dissolution of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). This is the first major NIH reorganization in many years and with it comes exciting opportunities, as well as many administrative challenges that we will have to work through with you as we go forward.

With a fiscal year 2012 budget of $575 million and the goal of overcoming hurdles that slow the development of effective treatments and cures, NCATS will provide an enhanced opportunity for the extramural community to work together with the private sector, and the federal enterprise to speed the translation of basic research into clinical applications. To meet these goals, NIH is reorganizing a wide range of our translational science programs within NIH. The following programs are forming the foundation of NCATS:

  • Bridging Interventional Development Gaps, which makes available critical resources needed for the development of new therapeutic agents
  • Clinical and Translational Science Awards, which fund a national consortium of medical research institutions working together to improve the way clinical and translational research is conducted nationwide
  • Cures Acceleration Network, which enables NCATS to fund research in new and innovative ways
  • FDA-NIH Regulatory Science, which is an interagency partnership that aims to accelerate the development and use of better tools, standards and approaches for developing and evaluating diagnostic and therapeutic products
  • Office of Rare Diseases Research, which coordinates and supports rare diseases research
  • Components of the Molecular Libraries, which is an initiative that provides researchers with access to the large-scale screening capacity necessary to identify compounds that can be used as chemical probes to validate new therapeutic targets
  • Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases, which is a program to encourage and speed the development of new drugs for rare and neglected diseases

As we see, many of our NIH translational programs are finding a new home in NCATS, but exciting translational research is supported throughout NIH, so NCATS will have strong collaborative relationships with all of our institutes and centers. Also important to note, as Dr. Collins has previously pointed out, the creation of NCATS does not change our commitment to the basic research that serves as the foundation for our discoveries and advancements.

For those of you supported by NCRR, you have contributed mightily to the NIH mission and will certainly continue to do so from your new homes in NCATS, other NIH ICs, or the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, in the Office of the Director. I also want to take a moment to thank the staff at NCRR whose dedication to their organization and to the NIH was exemplary. Many will either be leading their programs from their new homes or are embarking on new responsibilities throughout the agency.

The various components within NIH, including OER, have been working diligently to ensure that NCRR grants and applications are transferred to their new homes with a minimum of disruption and that there is understanding of the fundamentals of standing up the new NCATS. The Guide notices posted today will help grantees and applicants understand how NIH will be transferring existing and pending awards and applications to other institutes or centers within NIH, and what it means for those of you interested in applying in the future to NCATS or to other ICs where your programs of interests now lie. We will be sending out notifications to PIs and institutional officials in the coming weeks with further information regarding applications and awards currently in the system.

As always, we want to be as informative as possible as we go forward with the reorganization, so expect to be hearing from us often.

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Top Stories

Submitting and Tracking Administrative Supplement Requests Electronically

Starting early next week all grantees will have the option to submit their administrative supplement requests electronically. If you are planning to submit an administrative supplement request, we encourage you to try it. Submitting through eRA Commons should be quick and easy. You will find much of the supplement application pre-populated with information from the parent grant data, and the system will guide you through the rest of the application. 

We also developed a way to submit through if that is your preference. NIH does not have a way to pre-populate the application data for you if you choose this method of submission, but for our grantees who have institutional systems designed to interact directly with, this method can leverage the same information collection and submission processes used for competing grant application submissions.

This a pilot, so electronic submission of administrative supplement requests is not required at this time. It will be, eventually, so it would be a good idea to try the system now.

Need more information? Check out the NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-12-024, overview presentation, and FAQs.

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Interested in Learning How to Obtain and Manage NIH Grants from NIH Insiders?

It’s not just the Superbowl that’s big news in Indianapolis or the presidential election creating a buzz in D.C. this year! The 2012 NIH Regional Seminars on Program Funding and Grants Administration will take place April 16-18 in Indianapolis, Indiana and June 20-22 in Washington, DC. 

Don’t miss these exciting opportunities for both investigators and administrators to interact with more than 35 NIH and HHS experts. Learn tips and tricks about the application process, navigating the peer review process, and managing an award. Come hear the latest grants policy and process information first hand. 

These are 2 full days of sessions, endless networking opportunities, and valuable expertise around every corner. Plus, on the day prior to the seminar, there is an optional opportunity to attend hands-on eRA computer workshops.

Catch the best rate by registering early for the seminar. Reserved hotel space is limited, so plan now to be a part of one of these valuable seminars. 

Indianapolis, Indiana – REGISTRATION OPEN

  • April 16 (Monday): Optional eRA Hands-On Computer Workshops — (limited availability)
  • April 17 (Tuesday) & April 18 (Wednesday): 2-Day Regional Seminar
  • Event Website and Registration – Includes program, registration, & hotel info.
  • Ambassador: Indianapolis University School of Medicine


  • June 20 (Wednesday): Optional eRA Hands-on Computer Workshops
  • June 21 (Thursday) & June 22 (Friday): 2-Day Regional Seminar                                             
  • NIH Regional Seminar Website & Save the Date Page
  • Ambassador: TBA
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What’s in a Name?

During a recent conversation with some of our more prolific eRA Commons users, they mentioned some frustrations when dealing with the termination of fellows through the xTrain module. The discussion revealed some potential error generating scenarios. Mostly these seem to revolve around the difference in the name of the sponsor on the Personal Profile in xTrain and the name of the sponsor on the fellowship application, and the need for the sponsor to have the sponsor role in xTrain.

As a result, we can make the following recommendations:

  1. Make sure the sponsor name in xTrain matches the sponsor name on the fellowship application. Failure to do so will result in errors when processing termination notices. If a sponsor changes after a fellowship has been awarded, work with the awarding NIH institute or center to document the approval of the change in sponsorship. This process requires NIH prior approval. This will ensure the sponsor name is updated in our system.
  2. Make sure the sponsor has been assigned the sponsor role within Commons so termination notices can be properly processed.
  3. If you have issues with termination notices, please be sure to contact the eRA Help Desk and open a ticket. This allows us to track the issues and get a better idea of where problems may exist.

By following these recommendations, you will reduce your chance of frustration while helping us improve the process.

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Got the Right Forms?

Resubmitting your application? (Or been working on your application for a few rounds, trying to make it just right?) Make sure the application forms have not changed versions since your initial submission. We issued new parent announcements in July for the R01, R03 and R21. The old parent announcements expired on January 8, 2012. If you are submitting to one of these parent announcements for the February deadline, be sure you are using form version ADOBE-FORMS-B2. As a matter of practice, always go to the funding opportunity announcement to obtain the latest forms before you complete and submit your application.

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New Resources

New Podcast on the AREA Program

In the lastest installment of our podcasts on grant writing, Dr. All About Grants logoErica Brown, director of the NIH AREA program, explains who can apply to the AREA program and what you can do to prepare the most competitive AREA application.

To view past podcasts and transcripts, visit our podcast page

To get new 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 Fill Out the Budget Form for an AREA App?

In contrast to many of our other awards, all years of support for an AREA project will be given at the start of the project. So put your total budget for all years of the proposed project in budget period 1. Do not complete budget periods 2 or 3. They will not be accepted with the application.

More information about completing the budget form can be found in section IV of the AREA program announcement.

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February 20, 2012 (Federal Holiday): NIH Closed

NIH (including help desks) will be closed Monday, February 20, 2012.

If a standard postmark/submission date falls on this federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

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