The following is a transcript of the presentation video, edited for clarity.
What Will It Take to Complete Your Project?
An important part of your application—no matter what application you’re preparing —you have to make sure that you have demonstrated in your application that you have a strong sense of how long everything takes. That’s sort of your time budget. You know how long it’s going to take to identify subjects, recruit subjects, consent subjects, screen them. This is really a key element. If you start and you say, I’m going to go out to the western part of the state and start looking for subjects the day I get my first dollar, you’ve wasted a lot of time.
If you have letters of agreement that are in your application that show that you already have access to this patient stream and that you have run patients like this, you know exactly how long it takes, you know what your subject mortality rate is, you know what kind of problems you’re likely to encounter, and you can come up with an informed estimate of the time requirements—you’re way, way ahead of the game. If you can demonstrate that your project will hit the ground running, all the better. Especially for a two or three year award.
The ancillary agreements all need to be in place. It’s amazing how reviewers will pounce on this. There’s no page limit on letters of agreement. You can have all the letters of agreement you need, and those can be very powerful. The truth is, in most cases, you’re the one who writes the letters of agreement, the letters of support. You write this letter, you describe your project, you describe how enthusiastic I am about your project, and you send this to the clinic director of some place where you want subjects, or your department chair who is going to provide release time, all these different things, and you include all of those letters.
Reviewers will identify when those letters aren’t there. They’ll barely read them when they are there. So, the presence of the letter is really what you’re after.
You’ve got to make sure you have access to the population numbers. You can include those numbers in the letters, so that can be a really effective way to demonstrate feasibility. To say, “Yeah, we see 300 patients a week that are like that. I don’t think it should be a problem getting 4.”
If you need access to specialized equipment, like scanning equipment or things like that, eye trackers, things that may not be part of your lab that you need a lot of access to it, be sure that you have letters of agreement in place giving you all the access that you’re going to need for that project.
So, this is a little tricky here. If you have mentoring guidance, most of the mentoring you might need for R03s in particular and K awards, for Fs, everything except R01s, you’ll need letters of support, unless they are key personnel. It’s better if they’re among you’re key personnel. Then with the new biosketches, they can write quite a statement in that biosketch in terms of how they’re going to support your project. So you can’t do both. But make sure if these people are part of your consulting or support team, make sure you have at least a letter from them, but preferably a biosketch if they are key personnel.
Again you want to be ready for specialized equipment. If you need to buy it, you want to be ready to go. You want your budget to reflect the fact that you know what model numbers you need. These are for big items that your project really depends on like an eye tracker, a big EEG setup. All that equipment is ready to order. You don’t want to see people waiting while they are raking in NIH dollars.
And then have a good estimate of how long it takes to do data analysis.
You should take a moment where you’re realistically looking for what your grant needs to provide. It’s not enough to just say that you need a grant because your department chair says you need a grant, or because your career path says you have to have a grant and getting a grant is the end in itself. You really should take a closer look at what you need it to provide.
The most important thing most faculty need for it to provide is summer salary. It’s July and baby needs new shoes. Three months of salary support is probably where you start, and then release through the year. This is going to include not just your salary but your benefits as well, so you’ve already taken up a pretty good chunk of your R03. You may need co-investigators or consultants. Hopefully you need graduate research assistants—I really hope you need those, that’s our survival. You probably need postdocs, maybe one or two postdocs. Though that can be a little chancy for a new PI to budget in a postdoc, reviewers can feel like you’re not ready to guide a postdoc and you need somebody who can provide guidance to postdocs on your team, or something like that. Research assistants, lab manager, programming, a statistics consultant—and they might be with 2%. Sometimes statistics consultants can be 2% of their salary, so these don’t have to be big expensive people. But the fact that they appear on this application show that you’ve planned out who this team is and how you’re going to provide for their care and feeding.
You may need to buy some equipment, but about 80% of your budget or more should be people. You should not look at a grant as a way to get your lab equipped. That goes over very poorly. That actually shows poor institutional support. When you went to your institution, you got startup funds, you established your lab, you have collaborations with people who have operating labs. This is not the time to fund your lab.
But there can be some equipment, if there’s a little bit of specialized equipment that you need. If you need a portable audiometer to do something—you’re not doing to buy a PET scanner, but maybe you’re going to get a frequency analyzer, some computers, something like that. For an R01, you might get something like motion analysis equipment, for example.
Subject reimbursement, travel, other supplies. Just sketch out your budget—what it is you need your grant to provide.
Preparing for Your First NIH Grant: More Videos in This Series
1. Who Is the Target Audience for Your Grant?
2. How Do I Determine an Appropriate Scope, Size, and Topic for My Research Project?
3. Common Challenges and Problems in Constructing Specific Aims
4. Are You Ready to Write Your First NIH Grant? Really?
5. Demystifying the Logistics of the Grant Application Process
6. Identifying Time and Budgetary Commitments for Your Research Project
7. Anatomy of the SF424: A Formula for NIH Research Grants
8. Common Strengths and Weaknesses in Grant Applications