Nexus April 2013

Rock Talk

More on More Applicants

Last August, I wrote on the number of investigators applying for NIH grants. Several readers correctly noted that the increase we showed in the number of applicants was based on the number of investigators submitting at least one application in a given year (rather than, say, all investigators “in the system”). In responses to this and other blog posts, commenters suggested this method of counting could create a misleading picture that suggests the number of individuals applying for grants has increased when it could simply be that the same individuals are submitting more often (e.g., applying every third year instead of every fifth year).

To examine this possibility, we looked at the number of different investigators applying for research project grants (RPGs; including both unsolicited and those submitted in response to requests for applications) over each five-year period from 1998 through 2012. The number of applicants increased from about 56,000 in the five years ending in 2002 to 83,500 in the five years ending in 2012, a 50% increase.

Table of application and applicant numbers. Visit for the original table


Graph of data showing the number of different RPG applicants over five year periods: Line graph of data showing the number of different RPG applicants over five year periods ending in 2002, 2003, etc, through 2012. Data tables available at:

Applicants did apply more often, but the changes were rather small:  the total number of applications per investigator in each 5-year period increased from about 2.7 to 3.1 (or from 0.54 applications per investigator per year to 0.62). The percentage applying in only one of the five years in each period decreased from 45% to 40% and the number of investigators applying in four or five of the years in each period increased from 12% to 18%.

Table of applicants who submitted one out of 5 years, 2 out of 5 years, etc. Visit for the original table

It appears that application rates have been increasing continuously since 1998.

Bar chart of data regarding the number of years within a 5-year period in which a PI submitted at least one RPG application. Visit for the source data

So which of these two factors, the number of applicants or application rate, has been the largest contributor to the increased number of RPG applications to NIH? It appears the number of applicants has contributed more. Let’s do the thought experiment. If there had been no increase in applicants and only the observed higher application rate (from 0.54 to 0.62 applications/investigator/year), the number of RPG applications would have grown 16% from 148,878 applications in 1998-2002 to about 170,000 in 2008-2012 instead of the 258,802 that we actually saw. On the other hand, as noted at the beginning of this blog, the increase in applicants alone would produce an increase of about 50%, from 148,878 to almost 225,000.

So thanks for all the comments, it spurred us to go back and look at these data again. This is one reason why I find this blog so useful.

Note: The data table corresponding to these figures is posted on RePORT and can be downloaded in an Excel file. The file also includes comparable figures for R01 applications.

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Join Me at the NIH Regional Seminar in Baltimore

Those of you new to Rock Talk and working with NIH – or maybe just in need of a brush up on NIH funding and related topics – might want to join me in Baltimore (home of this year’s Superbowl champions – go Ravens!) for the NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration. This year we’re only holding one seminar, taking place June 26-28.

I’ll be joining about 35 of my NIH and HHS colleagues – including NIH policy officials, grants management and scientific program and review staff, to meet and exchange experiences with students, researchers and research administrators like you.

Wednesday is an optional, full-day workshop for those new to using eRA Commons. Then Thursday I’ll be speaking at the seminar kickoff and also leading a session called Rock Talk which, like this blog, will be a candid discussion of hot topics and big picture issues in the minds of NIH leadership. Thursday and Friday offer a range of session topics, such as understanding NIH, the peer review process, grant writing, how to interact with NIH electronically, policy topics (e.g., human subjects research and advanced administrative topics) and NIH special programs (e.g., training programs, SBIR and AREA grants). And of course we try to provide ample opportunities for networking with presenters and attendees, as well.

If you think you’d like to join us, check out the program agenda, info about registration, and more on the 2013 seminar website. The seminar will be chock full of information and  provide you with insight into NIH and resources for your career, whether as a scientist, research administrator or anyone else working with NIH grants. I really enjoy having the opportunity to interact with those new to NIH as well as the folks that join us for these seminars year after year. Hope to see you there.

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Additional Support for Sandy-affected Grantees

It’s been a little less than six months since Hurricane Sandy, and many NIH grantees are still experiencing the effects of this major disaster. About a month after the storm I traveled to NYU, once with members of my staff, and again with NIH director Francis Collins to survey the damage. As Francis described on his blog, the amount of damage we saw was truly devastating. In light of the severe damages to a number of NIH-supported research programs in the area, we have worked diligently over the past months to put together a plan to assist in the restoration of these programs. With the passage of the Disaster Relief Appropriation Act, of which NIH was part, I am happy to announce the first of several funding opportunities to recover losses to NIH supported research resulting from Sandy.

Using funds appropriated from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, we will offer limited competition awards to grantees in the FEMA-declared Hurricane Sandy major disaster states who suffered significant disruption to their NIH supported programs, to help restore their research and facilities. The first set of programs, announced today, include administrative supplements to current grants for the restoration of lost or damaged research and resources, as well as an opportunity for new or early stage investigators to recover and restore lost pilot data.

In the near future NIH anticipates releasing additional opportunities to further assist these grantees to restore and recover lost or severely damaged research resources. We’ll also publish an NIH Guide notice that provides an overview of all the funding programs related to Hurricane Sandy recovery, and links to the individual funding opportunity announcements for further details, specific requirements, and contact information for each program. Remember also to go to our natural disaster resource page for information on our general responses and activities when an event such as Sandy hits.

I’ve spoken to many scientists affected by this disaster, and their determination and perseverance is truly commendable. I’m hoping that while our grantees and their families work to get their lives on track, we can support them in getting their research back on track as well.

Updated 4/30/2013 by the Rock Talk Blog Team

Additional funding opportunities for Sandy-affected grantees are now available:



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Taking On the Challenge of Better Biomedical Workforce Data

The primary goal of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) biomedical research workforce working group was the creation of pathways through undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral training that provide excellent preparation for biomedical research careers in a timely fashion, and that ensure future US competitiveness and innovation in biomedical research. In their report, the working group members described how they were “frustrated and sometimes stymied” by the quality of the data available on the biomedical research workforce, e.g., major gaps in information on the total number of individuals working as postdocs, inadequate information on postdocs who obtained degrees in other countries, and lack of systematic data on graduate students trained in labs supported by NIH research grants.

So to this end, we’ve been working on a number of plans to try and fill these gaps in biomedical workforce information. Here’s a quick overview of the directions we are headed.

Identification of all NIH-supported students and postdocs: NIH has considerable experience tracking students and postdocs supported by the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA). This information enables us to carry out studies on the careers of former NRSA recipients. Unfortunately, we have far less information about the students and postdocs that are associated with research grants even though there are two times more students and four times more postdocs supported on research grants than NRSAs. So, in 2009 we began requiring eRA Commons accounts for all postdocs listed in the grantees’ annual progress report. We are exploring the idea of extending that requirement to graduate students to provide a more complete picture of all the trainees supported by NIH funding.

Automated NRSA training tables: For decades, training grants have required elaborate data tables on the trainees and faculty associated with the training program, along with the career outcomes for trainees who left the program within the most recent ten year period. This rich source of data on the subsequent employment and productivity of trainees provides reviewers with considerable information about the success of training programs, but the tables themselves are cumbersome to complete, and the information is not easily aggregated into information on the work environment faced by those leaving the training program. We are working to turn those tables into an automated, pre-populated, digital archive of information using an NIH-wide approach similar to that employed by CareerTrac (currently used by three NIH institutes and centers) and a similar trainee tracking system used by NINDS.

Develop a Fed-wide researcher profile system: We are engaged in a project with five other federal agencies to develop an online curriculum vitae called the Science Experts Network (SciENcv). This system is being built by the NIH’s National Library of Medicine with input from the agency and university representatives that make up the Federal Demonstration Partnership. SciENcv will permit researchers to use existing data sources to easily assemble and validate the information necessary for building a biosketch in the format required by federal research agencies. SciENcv will reduce the burden associated with preparing applications for federal grants and at the same time provide a rich source of information on researchers, their grants and their scientific output. A beta version of SciENcv is expected sometime this summer.

Encourage adoption of unique persistent researcher IDs: Identifying the output of individuals with commonly occurring names is difficult. Reducing name ambiguity within and across data systems is always expensive and time consuming. It appears that an international, non-profit organization called the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) is gaining traction. ORCID is a persistent digital identifier that can be associated with author names in publications. The ORCID system also will allow individuals to identify their research output and create a registry of IDs. SciENcv will include a utility that make it easy for users to obtain an ORCID and to link it to their publications and grants. A broadly used researcher ID also will facilitate the identification of scientific output from those who work outside federally funded research programs.

These are just a few measures starting to take shape, and we’ll likely have more to come, thanks to input from you – your feedback on how to collect better workforce data is one of the areas we’ve asked you to comment on in the request for information (RFI) that opened in February this year (as published in the NIH Guide and described in previous posts).

True to our nature as scientists, the prospect of collecting new, solid data is really exciting to me and my colleagues, as I think it will definitely enhance how NIH – and educational institutions – approach training. Once these new systems and tools are in place, I hope our improved understanding of how NIH trainees — past and present — become biomedical researchers will be able to improve our programs and support of these individuals.

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Two New Programs Aimed at Increasing Diversity in the Biomedical Workforce

I’d like to spotlight two funding opportunity announcements that mark the beginning of novel initiatives for improving diversity in the biomedical research workforce.

As I’ve blogged about before, in June, an Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) diversity working group presented their recommendations in regard to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds in biomedical research careers. Then, at the December ACD meeting, we presented the ways we’d address these recommendations.

NIH’s newly established “Increasing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce” program, supported by the NIH Common Fund, will further NIH’s existing efforts to improve biomedical workforce diversity, and foster innovative ways to support the recruitment and retention of individuals from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social science research.

One aspect of this program, the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, or BUILD initiative, has the long-term goal of catalyzing cultural changes at academic institutions so that the best and brightest students are well-prepared to enter research careers. BUILD will allow the development and testing of novel models for underrepresented student recruitment and training within the biomedical sciences. The currently open funding opportunity lays the foundation for the BUILD initiative with the opportunity for six-month planning grants to enable under-resourced institutions to form partnerships and position themselves to prepare applications for the multi-year BUILD implementation funding opportunity, anticipated to be announced in 2014.

Another initiative, the NIH National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), will facilitate the development of robust mentoring relationships by coordinating nationwide pairings of scientific leaders and early career scientists (undergraduate students through junior faculty members) who may benefit from additional mentoring, including — but not limited to — individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. The currently open funding opportunity lays the groundwork for the mentoring network implementation via six-month planning grants that will prepare awardees to submit applications for the multi-year NRMN funding opportunity anticipated for announcement in 2014.

Letters of intent, while not required, are encouraged for both programs and are due April 10. A variety of resources, such as eligibility details, answers to frequently asked questions, and a listserv for those interested in email reminders related to these initiatives can be found via the BUILD and NRMN funding opportunity announcements, as well as on the NIH Common Fund website for biomedical workforce diversity, if you’d like more information.

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Top Stories

Progress Reporting Changes Begin this Month

NIH grantees with Streamlined Noncompeting Award Process (SNAP) and Fellowship awards are now required to use the eRA Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) Commons Module, for awards with start dates on or after July 1, 2013 (due dates on or after May 15 and May 1, respectively). Progress reports for these awards submitted in any other format will not be accepted and must be resubmitted in the RPPR format.  If a progress report has been initiated as an eSNAP, the format must be changed to the RPPR, with the help of the eRA help desk. It is important to be aware of these requirements because noncompliance with them will jeopardize the NIH’s ability to issue timely awards.

Not sure if this requirement applies to your NIH grant? Your Notice of Award will specify whether an award uses SNAP. Awards routinely using SNAP are “K” awards and “R” awards. The RPPR requirement also applies to all fellowship (“F”) awards as well. If you need additional help, you can find contact info for assistance in this NIH Guide notice, or get in touch with your grants management specialist. The RPPR page and Frequently Asked Questions also contain additional information to help you.

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New Resources

Who Ya Gonna Call… At NIH?

Icon for the NIH All About Grants PodcastWe’ve just released two more 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. Following up on earlier episodes in this series, in the episode “Application Submission through Review”, head of CSR‘s Division of Receipt and Referral Cathie Cooper, CSR scientific review officer Nick Gaiano, and customer support guru Dave Hunter (eRA/OER) talk about who to contact for help as you’re submitting your application to NIH. In “Life After Peer Review,” Dave is joined by program officer Sue Brobst (NIAID) and grants management specialist 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 go to for help after you’ve received your summary statement.

Listen to the latest podcasts using the links below or visit the All About Grants podcast website for more.

  • Who Should I Contact at NIH? – Part 3 of 4: Application Submission through Review (MP3 and transcript)
  • Who Should I Contact at NIH? – Part 4 of 4: Life After Peer Review (MP3 and transcript)


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Learn More About the Principles of Peer Review

Whether you want to gain more familiarity with the NIH peer review process, or are looking for a comprehensive description of the purpose, principles, and core values of peer review, a new NIH report, “NIH Peer Review: Grants and Cooperative Agreements,” is for you. This report is a one-stop explanation of the core values of peer review and the NIH policies that uphold them. More information about peer review can also be found online on and on the Center for Scientific Review website.

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Making the Link with RePORT

Have you seen that researchers can add links that are associated with their name in Screenshot of PI Profile on RePORTERRePORTER to their faculty page, professional profile, biosketch, or lab website, whenever their name appears allowing others to learn more about their research? (Learn more in this Nexus article.)

Now, institutions can add these links in RePORTER for all of their research investigators at once by providing them in bulk format. Boston University and Boston Medical Center were the first institutions to use this feature and provided links for hundreds of investigators. They have also integrated RePORTER information (downloaded from ExPORTER) such as grant project numbers and publications into their own profiles website.

Representatives of organizations interested in establishing links between RePORTER and their own institution-hosted webpages can read more about this feature here. To learn more about the many ways the RePORT team continues to enhance tools available to the public, check out updates from ReSource.

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You Ask, We Answer

What Do I Do If NIH Systems Incorrectly Show a Publication as Falling Under the NIH Public Access Policy?

Principal investigators can see the public access policy compliance status of the publications they developed with NIH support through My NCBI as well as in the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR). If the publication is showing as not being compliant, but is exempt from the compliance requirement or is appearing erroneously, you can change the designation in My NCBI (which will fix what you see in the RPPR as well). Note, once the change has been made in My NCBI you will need to refresh the RPPR screen in order for the RPPR to reflect the update.

To learn more, see Managing Compliance in the My NCBI help manual, and the video overview of MyNCBI compliance.


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How Should Grantees Acknowledge NIH Support in Papers, Presentations, Press Releases, Etc.?

According to NIH grants policy, all grantee publications, including:

  • research publications
  • press releases
  • other publications or documents about research that is funded by NIH

must include a specific acknowledgment of NIH grant support, such as:“Research reported in this [publication/press release] was supported by [name of the Institute(s), Center, or other NIH offices] of the National Institutes of Health under award number [specific NIH grant number(s) in this format: R01GM987654].”

The new NIH funding acknowledgement page describes when, where, and how to cite your NIH grant in your manuscripts, presentations, and in press releases describing NIH-supported research. From grant number format to special information for public information officers at research universities receiving NIH funds, we’ve got you covered! So bookmark “Communicating and Acknowledging Federal Funding” as a handy reference. We also welcome feedback on this new site.

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Save the Date: 15th Annual NIH SBIR/STTR Conference – Oct. 28-30, 2013

Thinking about applying to the NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) Research programs? Or are you a current grantee looking for more information and networking opportunities with other entrepreneurial researchers, small businesses and NIH staff? Then save the date for the 15th annual NIH SBIR/STTR conference, which will be held October 28 to October 30, 2013, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The program agenda, registration, and other logistics will be announced in the coming months in both the NIH Guide and on You can also now follow the NIH SBIR/STTR program on Twitter:@NIHsbir – stay tuned for details!

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