Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants. Today we will be discussing ways new faculty members can jump start their research programs with Dr. Roger Sorensen.
Megan Columbus: Welcome to another addition of All About Grants, I'm your host, Megan Columbus; I'm the acting director of communications and outreach for the Office of Extramural Research here at the National Institutes of Health. Today we'll be discussing how new faculty members can jump start their research program. I have with me Dr. Roger Sorensen, who I'd like to welcome to the show today. Hello, Roger!
Roger Sorensen: Hi Megan.
Megan: As a program officer with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Roger helps prospective applicants on a daily basis. Roger, do you want to tell me a little bit about your background?
Roger: So, my background, I received a Ph.D. in biochemistry, so my background is in basic science training. I had a faculty position at Thomas Jefferson University before coming to the NIH. I'm approaching now about 10 years at the NIH as a program official, been working with investigators, such as those listening to us.
Megan: Very good. So, the question I get asked most by new faculty members is really "As I'm trying to establish a lab, should I try for the R01?"
Roger: Absolutely, you should try for an R01. The R01 grant at the NIH is known as the gold standard. The R01 grant is the grant that everybody should be using to base their research program on for the future.
Megan: Well, I guess one of the things about the R01 is that it provides 5 years of support, which at this career stage is particularly important.
Roger: Correct. It provides 3 to 5 years of support. The R01 application gives flexibility to your program to do a lot of things that you may not be able to do with other grant mechanisms that the NIH has.
Megan: So, why would I look at an R03 or an R21? And do you want to tell us a little bit about what those grant mechanisms are?
Roger: First of all the R01, we've been talking about that. You may request anywhere from 3 to 5 years of grant support with an R01. With the R01 you can request any budget to fit the research program or research needs that you're trying to build upon. Any grants above 500,000 in direct cost you need to contact the NIH to see if we will accept the application for consideration of funding. So, you have lots of flexibility with the R01. With the R21 and R03, these are our so-called smaller grants, but they have a special purpose. The R21 is for up to 2 years of funding, at a total cost of 275,000 direct costs, split however you'd like between the two years, say 150,000 the first year, 125,000 the second year. The R21 Exploratory Developmental grant where is you have a hypothesis or an idea that's not well established in the research field and you would like to pursue it, which may lead to a new area of research. You also will collect preliminary data towards that hypothesis, which will make you more competitive for an R01. An R03 is also up to 2 years at 50,000 a year, each year direct costs. An R03 is to obtain pilot data on various ongoing research programs or to do data analysis, secondary data analysis of data sets or so. I try to tend to tell new investigators not to consider an R03, but either an R21 or R01.
Megan: Ok, and not all institutes have signed on for an R03 or R21, right? So they don't all accept them, so one of the things I think that's important for folks to know is that they do need to make sure they contact the institutes to find out whether not those are something that they accept.
Roger: Absolutely. Investigators should always, as a rule of thumb, be contacting the institute for any guidance on NIH grants.
Megan: So, we talked about the R01, and the R03, and the R21, what about the career development programs, the Ks?
Roger: Now, for new investigators establishing their laboratories, the R applications are what you should be striving to achieve because again, as I said, that helps establish your research programs. Now, the K awards, the mentored K awards, to be specific, and we call these the K01, K08, K23. The mentored awards are meant where you already have previous training and previous background as in your postdoc, or what have you, but maybe you need additional training. These are not to be confused with R applications. A K is a career development award it is meant to enhance your capabilities in the lab to further help you be able to develop your research program and to continue on. And these mentored K awards-you identify a mentor-you will learn another aspect to compliment your background whether it's a new technique or data analysis technique or what have you. And you will have a research plan that will help you to learn this new technique or capability, but it's not meant to be a research grant per se.
Megan: So Roger, what about investigators who are at institutions that are not research intensive and don't have much NIH funding? Are there any programs or advantages for them?
Roger: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that. So the NIH is fully aware that researchers coming from historically underfunded institutions-that would be relevant to NIH funding-we have a program known as AREA grants-Academic Research Enhancements Awards. These awards are meant to again address a research project, so you should have a well-defined project. We understand that you are going to have more undergraduates working in the laboratory, so a part of the research you will be supporting and getting interest in graduate students into performing the research and it is another way of going to obtain NIH funding if your institution is eligible to apply for this award.
Megan: And those are awards up to $300,000 in direct costs a year I think?
Roger: 300,000 in direct costs, absolutely, and these are known as R15 awards.
Megan: Great. Do you know if getting that AREA award impacts ability to submit as a new investigator?
Roger: The good thing about this is receiving an AREA award does not affect your status as a new investigator or early stage investigator. So the whole point of the AREA program, the AREA research grants, is to help you to pursue your research program with the hope that you will collect additional data and be competitive for that R01 application.
Megan: Great. New Innovator awards, is this something I should be thinking about as a new faculty member?
Roger: The New Innovator awards are meant for those of you who are new investigators who want to establish a research program. Now these are very competitive awards, highly competitive. This is where you have an idea, and it is really thinking outside of the box. It is not meant to substitute for any of the other research project grants-not meant to substitute as an R01. This is you have one outstanding, spectacular idea that you want to pursue-again highly competitive, thinking outside of the box. It's a shortened application, and it's meant to provide a big picture of where you want to take your research, perhaps going into just a new direction that others have not thought about.
Megan: So it seems to me that one of the other options for a new faculty member is the decision about whether they might want to get involved in a program project grant.
Roger: Program projects, in general, may not be the first avenue for a new investigator trying to establish the laboratory. But, of course, any research grant is a good research grant and a good program. The advantages of a program project or center grants is that it helps you to number one to set up collaborations within your institution. The program project or center grants again they are multiple projects. Consider a group of R01-equivalent applications; say about four, all together addressing a common research theme. Now within the program project and center grants, number one you usually have core facilities, which will provide some basic methodology or resource tools. For example, it may have an animal facility, may have a microscopy, biochemistry, histology laboratory or DNA sequencing for example. So there are core resources within these large grant applications. Again, number one setting up collaborations with faculty members as you are starting out. Another advantage I like about it is many of these larger research grants will also have a pilot component. So if you are starting out your laboratory, and you are looking for additional support for your lab, these pilot projects usually provide about 50,000 in direct costs for a year to again help you to pursue your research and collect preliminary data so that you can go out and get your own research project grant-your own R01.
Megan: So, if an investigator is involved in these pilot projects, that is not going to count against their new investigator status should they choose to apply for an R01 later. However, if they are the PI on the subprojects that would count against them. Is that true?
Roger: That is correct Megan. So the pilot project again, they are equivalent to a small grant, and any small grant award at the NIH does not remove you from early stage investigator or new investigator status. But now if you have a research component of these large grants, they are considered the equivalent of an R01 application. And there you would lose any future consideration as a new investigator or early stage investigator.
Megan: But it sounds as though the benefits might be worth it.
Roger: But the benefits might be worth it in establishing collaborations, having access to the resources that are also supported through the application. And let me also say that if you are considered as a new investigator or early stage investigator, remember on a program project everybody has to be a new investigator or early stage investigator to have that grant application considered as a new award. More than likely, the principal investigator, or PI, on a center or program project grant is going to be a well-established investigator.
Announcer: Want to contact someone at the NIH to discuss your research program but not sure who to call? Listen to our April 30th podcast, "Grant Writing for New Investigators" for tips on how to contact an NIH Program Official. And to learn more about the various NIH grant mechanisms, visit the Office of Extramural Research's Web site at grants.nih.gov, once again that's G-R-A-N-T-S dot N-I-H dot G-O-V. Now back to our show.
Megan: So, as a new faculty member often times there's start up packages that help you get started at my institution. Should I be using those funds to generate preliminary data? Should I be holding off on my application until I have that data? What's your recommendation?
Roger: Every situation is unique. You are probably entering your new faculty position, you have been a postdoc for a while, you have some publications out and now you are going. So only you know how much data you have. Now for R01 applications you need preliminary data to show the feasibility of your project. You need preliminary data to show how you collect data, how you analyze data. You will take data from your previous experience before you join the new faculty. Use your start up funds. Your start up funds-you will be buying equipment to have the support of doing experimentation in your laboratory, but also use the funds to collect additional preliminary data. The whole purpose is to have data to make your application competitive. In an R01 application, each specific aim should have a piece of preliminary data showing the feasibility or data collection support for that aim. If you have it through your postdoc or through your previous experience before joining the new faculty, then you're probably good to go to submit an application to the NIH. But, if you feel that you don't quite have the data or you're moving in a little bit different direction, use your start-up funds. Collect a bit more data. Make sure you're competitive for the application.
Megan: So, that's getting to preliminary data. What about publication record? How strong as a new faculty member do reviewers expect my publication record to be as I'm applying for, let's say an R01?
Roger: The one good thing about new faculty, new investigators-the reviewers understand you may not have the stellar publication record of the more senior investigators in the field. They understand that. What they're looking for is your ideas on the application. They want a nice, concise application-specific scientific goals, objectives, hypothesis, and specific aims that address the scientific goals, objectives or the hypothesis. When the reviewers see that, that's how you in your application tell the reviewers that you have thought about where you want to go with your project, what you want to accomplish. The publication record, at this point, tells the reviewers this is your background. This is your capabilities in the laboratory right now. This is your expertise. The reviewers then are going to look at your proposal. Do you have the expertise for your whole proposal or do you need additional expertise to cover the types of experimentations that you are proposing in your proposal.
Megan: And so if you need the additional expertise I assume then you go out and find collaborators to fill in any gaps that you might have and provide that kind of expertise to the project?
Roger: Absolutely. Collaborators-investigators should not consider that they're any competitors in the field. Investigators should always consider that there are collaborators. Collaborators is a win-win. Maybe you have all the expertise for your application, but maybe not. When you do not have the expertise, but you want to do another aspect of an application, find a collaborator-a collaborator down the hall within your department, within your institution. Go to scientific meetings and talk to people at their posters and say "Oh, I see you have this technique. I'm working on this. Maybe we can collaborate in a joint type of project to build upon experimental direction or so." But go out and find those collaborators. It's very important that, especially as a new investigator, if you find that your expertise limits everything you want to do in your research application, to have that collaborator. Again, it goes back to showing the reviewers that you've thought about your project, what you need to make this project feasible, to make it work for you, and that includes finding collaborators when necessary.
Megan: Well another way to find collaborators, to look at what investigators are funded of your area of science by NIH already. And one way to do that is going to projectreporter.nih.gov and doing a search on your area of science.
Roger: Absolutely, you can do keyword searches there and that will identify other investigators in the field and send them an e-mail, and see if you can work something out.
Megan: Great. So, at this stage of someone's career, how important is mentorship?
Roger: Mentorship at any stage of your career is very important, but even more so as you're starting out. You are the new junior faculty, and you have people who have been there and the senior investigators, from everything I've heard, want to help out. You need help in developing a program and your guidance around your institution itself. But, you can take advantage of your mentors in grant writing and developing research programs and getting the needs to establish your laboratory. Mentorship, informal mentorship, your colleagues down the hall-above all very important in being able to develop, promote and push your research program forward.
Megan: Great. So, Roger is there any other advice that you might have for our listeners before we tune out today?
Roger: My advice: You're starting out in the laboratory, and you want to get going. You're very excited. You have a lot of ideas-a lot of research areas. You're just full of ideas, and I love that excitement. When you're applying for grants at the NIH, make use of what we talked about: make use of mentors, think of mechanisms, please talk to program staff. What we want to do is try to help and guide you; we want to channel your enthusiasm. The one largest mistake that I'm seeing with new investigators is that they have so many ideas, so many things that they want to put in the application. The application becomes burdensome, becomes over ambitious, it becomes unfocused because you want to do so many things! Remember at a R01, it's 3 to 5 years, and so you should be proposing 3 to 5 years of work, not 20 years of work. So please, talk to people, channel your enthusiasm, focus your application, have your applications have well defined scientific goals, objectives, and hypotheses you want to test, specific aims that are directed towards those objectives, hypotheses, and tell the reviewers that I've thought about this, you want to see my work, and get a funded grant.
Megan: Great. Good last words. Well, that wraps up today's edition of All About Grants. I'd like to thank our guest Dr. Roger Sorensen for joining us today. Tune in next time when we'll be discussing options for postdocs who are thinking about independence. For NIH and OER, I'm Megan Columbus.
Announcer: To research the NIH Institutes and Centers, please visit www.nih.gov and click on the Institutes tab. To search for NIH funded projects, visit projectreporter.nih.gov, again that is P-R-O-J-E-C-T-R-E-P-O-R-T-E-R dot N-I-H dot G-O-V.