One of the first things that you need to do is find the institute that wants you and your research. This involves going through the list of institutes and deciding which ones to contact. Often one’s mentor or former mentor can help with this. But, Old Farts get used to a particular place. Your work may belong elsewhere. Take a look.
As alluded to yesterday, many institute specific websites have a link to Descriptions of Extramural Research Areas (for DCD or DDK or CHD – you get the idea). These IC specific sites provide the info about contacts. Usually contacts are for specific research areas within the institute. For example, at NIA (Aging) there is the following statement:
Each of NIA’s four extramural research divisions offers guidance about the scientific focus of their programs, as well as funding opportunities in their specific research areas. Research sponsored by the divisions covers NIA’s focus on a range of research in aging. Find information on studies in: biology, social and behavioral aspects of aging, geriatrics and clinical gerontology, and neuroscience (including Alzheimer’s disease).
But you need to click through to various pages on specific areas to find the people to talk to. This NIA page has email links, some have phone numbers. I have always found it better to email someone and ask if they have time to talk with you. In my experience NIH staff hate cold calls. Communicating with the program person is critical to making sure you grant goes to the right place. And, there may be no right place. NIH has its own interests and they are under no obligation to support what we think is interesting. There is a fine art to making your project fit with their funding priorities (yet another future post).
The NIH two step (review process) means that the first evaluation of your proposal is by a non-institute-specific study section or Scientific Review Group (SRG), officially known as an SRG. These are run by the Center for Scientific Review or CSR. There page has lots more info about submission processes, etc, for applicants and for reviewers. In your copious free time, it is worth while reading the review guidelines. Understanding how and what the reviewers evaluate can save you a lot of time. More on this in a future post, too.
When you submit a grant you get to write a cover letter. This letter MAY but does not have to, include a request for an IC and study section. WHEN you talk with an NIH program official in an IC, they may tell you to say “that you spoke with them and to that they invited you to request their IC”.
Finding a study section is critical. You can request one that in your view, and that may be most important as you know your work better than they do, is best suited and most qualified to review. The NIH CSR study section page has good suggestions for finding a study section. (This page also with info on what goes in the letter and a suggested format). First and foremost, look at the online descriptions of the study sections. There is lots of overlap. You also need to look at the rosters for each section (you can find the rosters on the pages with the description of each study section).
Part 3 will pick up with some misc information about the process your grant goes through.