Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Internal Grant Competitions: A New Opportunity for Research Officers to Build Institutional Funding Portfolios

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Internal Grant Competitions: A New Opportunity for Research Officers to Build Institutional Funding Portfolios

Article excerpt


The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the predominant funding agency for biomedical research in the United States, was allocated $29.24 billion for its fiscal year 2007 budget, an inflation-adjusted decrease of 1.2% from the previous year (National Institutes of Health, 2007). At the same time, NIH expects the number of grant proposals to increase by 6.5% in 2007 (Zerhouni, 2006). This is compounded by the decline in success rates for new NIH R01 research grants from about 25% in 1998 to 16.3% in 2006 (NIH, n.d.). At the same time, many academic institutions are attempting to increase federal research grant funding. For smaller, less research-intensive institutions, the situation is even more challenging if they are to compete with their more research-intensive counterparts.

Funding decisions at NIH are based primarily on the critiques provided by the reviewers who serve on study sections. While this system is necessary to ensure that only the best and most worthy proposals are funded, it can be a slow process. With the Roadmap program, NIH is streamlining the application process and encouraging more applicants by revising the review criteria, transitioning to the electronic grant application system and introducing a new award mechanism targeted toward beginning investigators (NIH, 2004, NIH, 2006 & NIH, n.d.). Despite these efforts, the average turnaround time between grant submission and receipt of scores and reviews is still five to seven months (NIH, n.d.). Typically, NIH grant programs permit a maximum of two resubmissions. Because the overwhelming majority of new proposals do not get funded during the first review cycle, it is not uncommon for applicants to spend up to two years revising and resubmitting their proposals before receiving a final decision on funding. In the absence of sufficient institutional support, this time lapse can significantly hinder a research project.

Sufficient preliminary data to demonstrate the feasibility of the applicant's hypothesis is one of the key factors that increase reviewers' enthusiasm for a grant proposal. In a proverbial Catch-22, however, limited resources can delay or prevent the generation of preliminary data required for a successful proposal. Hence, it would be helpful to have a targeted source of funding for a promising proposal that may not be funded in the first submission.

This article describes a novel competitive grant program that we believe can help address some of the problems discussed above. Faculty compete for $20,000 awards by submitting NIH research grant proposals for internal review. Our program is intended to increase both the quantity and quality of grant proposals submitted to NIH and to provide incentives to enhance chances of funding in a timely manner. Similar programs can be adapted and further customized to meet the needs and objectives of individual institutions.

The Program at OU-COM

The Office of Research and Grants at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) initiated a program to stimulate the submission of competitive NIH proposals. The aim of this new mechanism is to support selected faculty in continuing their research and gathering more preliminary data while their proposals are under review.

Participating faculty are required to complete a full research grant proposal using the NIH application format. These proposals are then sent to qualified external reviewers from across the nation. Reviewers are recruited with not only the necessary expertise in the scientific area of the grant proposal, but also with a track record of NIH funding and experience with the N1H review system. The reviewers, who are paid a modest honorarium, are instructed to critique the proposals based on NIH's standard review criteria and to assign a priority score, lust as they would do as part of an NIH study section. The call for proposals is sent to faculty during the summer (July/August), with milestones and deadlines set in such a way that the applicant will be able to complete a significantly revised version of the proposal for submission to NIH during the February/March cycle of the following year. …

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