Applying for a Grant: Basics

Writing research grants and scoring funding from federal and non-federal resources remain a challenging task for many researchers. While established faculty may find this section helpful, the links included here are geared towards junior faculty, for whom the process is even more challenging, long and highly competitive. 

Understanding the peer-review process of NIH 

To be able to write a successful grant, it is imperative that one understands the peer-review process that NIH has established for reviewing grants. NIH Guidelines [http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/] Below are links to two must see videos, where renowned scientists “review” a mock grant and take the viewer through the entire process of NIH grant review:

NIH Peer-Review Revealed

NIH Tips for Applicants 


You can also download these videos (.mov format) to make a CD or DVD for educational purposes. You will need Quicktime 7 player to view the downloaded videos:

• NIH Peer-Review Revealed  - http://www.csr.nih.gov/video/2010/CSRVideoRevealed.mov
• NIH Tips for Applicants  - http://www.csr.nih.gov/video/2010/CSRVideoFAQ.mov

Developing the Idea (Hypothesis)

The core of any successful grant is a powerful idea that is based on solid scientific facts and addresses an issue of clinical relevance. Remember, the primary mission of NIH  is to fund research that will improve public health. Although, there are mechanisms to fund basic research, pursuing a problem of clinical relevance enhances chances of a favorable review of your grant.

As the core idea of your grant will play a significant role in the outcome of the review process, critically evaluate the reasoning behind your idea. Run it by your peers and ask for their uninhibited comments. An idea should relate not only to a general public health issue, but should also be an extension of your training as a graduate student and/or as a postdoc and should reflect your strengths as a researcher. Learn about core research services that are offered by your institute, as that will help you assess the feasibility of your proposed studies. Find out about, and seek advice of, researchers at your institute who are working on similar research issues and can help you as advisors and/or collaborators. NIH strongly encourages intra-institutional collaborations and utilization of existing resources so such advance planning and networking can help you develop your idea into a successful grant. Carefully read the funding announcement, as the information contained within usually carries critical information regarding the eligibility of a grant, important dates, and other information. Also, carefully review the page restriction and other requirements for submitting an NIH grant. If not carefully followed, your grant could be rejected without review.

Presenting Concepts

Once you have a good idea of available institutional/departmental resources and have compiled a list of potential collaborators/advisors, you are now in a position to layout a framework of the proposed studies within the limitations of resources offered by institute. Before you begin, you will require Letters of Collaborations from scientists (Key Personnel) within and outside your institute in support of your grant. In addition, you need their NIH Biosketch for inclusion in your grant. As per UMASS requirements, the Research Funding Services will not approve your grant for submission unless all your key personnel are entered in the Cayuse system. Request these letters well in advance to accommodate any prior commitments of your advisors/collaborators. If you are planning to propose use of Human or Animal subjects or human embryonic stem cell lines, then familiarize yourself with strict regulations - NIH Guidelines  or human embryonic stem cell lines, that govern their use. Be sure to obtain the necessary institutional approvals (for example IRB, IACUC, ESCRO approvals). Review UMASS compliance guidelines before proceeding.

NIH has page limits for all activity codes, so be very succinct and precise in expressing goals of your grant, clearly describe the rational behind each of the suggested specific aims, provide enough technical detail in your experimental approach so that a reviewer can easily follow your logic, and discuss shortcomings of your proposed studies and how you will approach the problem should one of them become an obstacle in achieving the stated goals of your grant. Be realistic in proposing experiments; ambitious grants may not do very well, as reviewers will consider your expertise and available resources to conduct the proposed experiments within the timeframe and budget constraints of the grant. Conduct your own “Peer-review” of the grant by requesting your colleagues to go over it and provide you with their critical assessment of the proposal. Seek advice of your mentors, as they are in a better position to give you an idea regarding the feasibility of the grant and its potential for success in scoring the funding. Current information can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer/peer.htm

UMASS Procedure for Grant Submission

All electronic and paper requests for funding (government and non-governmental grant applications, contracts or subcontracts, fellowships, industry collaboration agreements) need to be reviewed and signed-off on by Research Funding Services before they are submitted to the funder.

  • Setup a Cayuse account for electronic grant submission. Follow instructions and links in the Electronic Grant Submission section of the Research Funding Services website. http://www.umassmed.edu/research/funding/changes/
  • Prepare documentation for internal review and approval by the Department Administrator and by Research Funding Services. Note that Research Funding Services needs at least 5 business days prior to submission deadline to review the documentation including the UMMS PS Grant Module Routing Form signed by the Department Administrator, Internal budget spreadsheet, Budget Justification and Signed Conflict of Interest forms for ALL key personnel. They will review the administrative components and budget of the grant application in Cayuse prior to granting their approval of the application.

The documents listed below must be reviewed and signed by the Department Administrator before submission to the office of Research Funding Services:

New Grants/Renewals/Resubmissions:

Note: For non-standard R01s, including fellowships and non-governmental funders, a copy of the application instructions for budgeting including restrictions or limits on indirect costs, salary and fringe benefit costs, travel or equipment purchases must be included with your paperwork for Research Funding Services review.

Progress Report/Non-Competing Renewals:

After final submission of the grant application to the funder, send a hardcopy or PDF file of the entire application to the Department Administrator for the department files.

Contact Person: Kristen Maki, Department Administrator
E-mail: KristenMaki@umassmed.edu
Phone: (508) 856-2260 

Contact Person: Timothy Rinner, Office of Research (Research Funding).
Email: Timothy.Rinner@umassmed.edu
Phone: (508) 856-8980

Submitting the Grant

Most funding agencies require that you submit your grant online. NIH requires all researchers to create an NIH Commons profile (https://commons.era.nih.gov/commons/) before they can submit a grant. Before you submit your grant, visit the Center for Scientific Research website (http://cms.csr.nih.gov/) and find out which NIH Study Section may be the most appropriate for your grant. You can request the Scientific Officer handling your grant to assign your proposal to a specific Study Section. Although the Officer is not required to assign your grant to the suggested Study Section, most of the time, s/he will honor your request.