Applying to NIH grants

VP&S receives a large portion of its external research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This page will orient you to the NIH application process and the resources available at Columbia to help you in developing and submitting your proposal.

Also, check out the NIH Webpage: Grants Process Overview.

NIH Video: Fundamentals of the NIH Grants Process and Need-to-Know Resources (From Nov. 9, 2021)

How to navigate the NIH application process

All governmental agencies use a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to notify the public that funds are available for discretionary grants or cooperative agreements. 

NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts: NIH's official publication of notices of grant policies, guidelines and funding opportunity announcements (FOAs).

NIH Parent Announcements (PA): PAs are a type of FOA for unsolicited investigator-initiated applications. Most PIs will use this type of FOA to apply for their R01, K award, F award etc. Choose the mechanism (i.e., R01) and clinical trial allowability (see below) that best suits your application and/or eligibility. Eligibility information may be found under Section III: Eligible Individuals (Program Director/Principal Investigator) in the PA. 

  • Consult the NIH's annotated FOA to determine information that is important for you to know when applying (i.e., participating institutes, notices, scientific/research contact officer etc).

NIH Comparison of Funding Opportunity Announcement Types by Clinical Trial Allowability: Determine to which type of PA you should apply: No Clincial Trial Allowed, Clinical Trial Required, Basic Experiments with Human Subjects 

NIH RePORT: The Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) provides access to reports, data, and analyses of NIH research activities, including information on NIH expenditures and the results of NIH supported research. Use the NIH RePORTER feature to look up abstracts of funded grants to ensure your proposal is novel. View the NIH Video: Using RePORT to Understand Who and What NIH Funds for additional details.

NIH Video: Finding and Understanding Funding Opportunity Announcements (October 11, 2020)

Follow NIH's instructions:

  • NIH How to Apply Application Guide: This is the official application instructions for NIH grants. Use this guide in addition to the requirements outlined in the FOA/PA to complete your application. Furthermore, some institutes have their own requirements for certain mechanisms so please check with the institute's Scientific Program Officer.
  • NIH page limits: A NIH grant application is composed of several PDF attachments that are uploaded into NIH's applications system, Assist, and each attachment has its own limit on length. Additionally, page limits for each grant attachment may vary by the grant mechanism to which you are applying (i.e., a R01 Research Strategy is 12 pages and a R21 Research Strategy is 6). 
  • NIH requirements for formatting attachments: Determine the type of font, font size, margin width, etc. that is required for your application.
  • NIH Website: Write Your Application

The VP&S Office for Research has created a Grant Toolbox that has templates, examples, and descriptive text for many of the grant attachments.

  • Grant Starter Kit: The Grant Starter Kit contains (1) checklists, so that you can keep track of all the attachments you need for a grant; (2) templates, to serve as a primer so you know what should go in each attachment; and (3) examples of some attachments so that you may get a feel of what to include or how to phrase things. In particular, the R01 writing guide, information on writing a compelling NIH Biosketch, etc. will be useful.
  • Facilities and Resources Bank: Template descriptions of resources (i.e., campus-wide, departments, offices, etc) that you may use in your grant application.

You will work with your grants manager (pre-award administrator) to build the application in NIH's application system, Assist. You will also need an eRACommons account, NIH's research administration site, with the PI role assigned to submit an application. Work with your grants administrator for questions regarding your eRACommons account. Refer to the videos below for overviews on Assist and eRACommons.

NIH Video: ASSIST Overview (September 8, 2014)
NIH Video: eRA Commons Interacting Electronically with NIH (November 15, 2021)

Standard NIH Due Dates: NIH has three application cycles that correspond to standard application due dates (mechanism/activity code dependent), timeframe for review, council decisions, and project start date. For instance, if you are applying for a standard R01 (research program grant), the due dates for new applications are February 5, June 5, and October 5. Please note that Columbia has internal deadlines since your application will have to undergo institutional approval before Columbia submits the proposal. Start working with your grant administrator a few months before each NIH due date. They will help you ensure your eraCommons ID is affiliated with Columbia, and that all compliance related submission materials are in order.

NIH Website: NIH Submission Process

NIH Peer Review Process and funding:

  • Application is assigned to a Study Group: The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) checks all applications for administrative and formatting requirements. The CSR also assigns your application to an NIH Institute or Center as well as a review group. You can request that your application is assigned to a particular NIH Institute or Center as well as a specific standing study section (if applicable).
  • Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Standing Study Sections: You can recommend that your grant be assigned to a study section based on the expertise needed (see the link for a list). Note: Some mechanisms and institutes have their own study section (i.e. fellowships or NIDDK career development study section and do not use the standing study sections).
  • Levels of Peer Review: Applications go through a few rounds of review in which they are scored, discussed, and recommended for funding. Please review to the NIH Peer Review Process website for details. Additionally, NIAID has a useful website on understanding the review process.
  • See the Enhancing PI Knowledge About Grant Elements (EPIKAGE) NIH Review Process Info Session for slides and a recording of a presentation by Dr. Daichi Shimbo.
  • See the NIH Peer Review YouTube channel for additional videos.

NIH Success Rates: Percentage of reviewed grants that receive funding.

NIH Video: What Happens to Your NIH Grant Application (September 28, 2018)