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NIDCD Fellowship Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These Questions and Answers focus on NIDCD-specific policies and procedures for its Individual Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA fellowship) programs.

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Prior to Submission

Q: I have heard that the length of the Fellowship applications will be shortened. When will that occur?

A: All applications submitted after January 25, 2010 will have shorter page limits, restructured forms, and new instructions. Fellowship applications submitted for the December 2009 deadline will still have a 10-page Research Plan. Applications submitted for the April 2010 deadline and all subsequent deadlines will have a shorter, 6-page Research Strategy. See http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/restructured_applications.html for the most up-to-date information regarding this change.

Q: Where do I find the correct application form for a specific type of NRSA Individual Fellowship?

A: To obtain the most recent application form, click on the "Apply for Grant Electronically" link in the Program Announcement for the specific fellowship that interests you. Links for the Program Announcement for each type of individual NRSA Fellowship can be found at:

Q: How can I determine if the research focus of my application is within the scientific scope of the NIDCD?

A: The NIDCD strongly encourages all prospective applicants for NIDCD Individual Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA fellowships) to email the NIDCD Individual Fellowship Program Officer (see contact information at end of this page) a brief (2-3 paragraph) summary of the proposed research plan, including the overall goals, scientific motivation and specific research aims, several months in advance of submission. This enables the NIDCD to determine if the proposed project fits within the scientific mission of the Institute, or is more appropriately directed to another NIH Institute or another Federal granting agency.

Q: I am a student in an Au.D. training program seeking fellowship support. Am I eligible to apply for an NRSA predoctoral (F31) fellowship?

A: NIH predoctoral fellowship and traineeship support through the NRSA Program is reserved for students pursuing a research doctoral degree (e.g., Ph.D., D.Sc.) involving a full-scale doctoral dissertation, not a health professional doctorate, such as an M.D., Au.D., or Psy.D. degree. Should you desire to pursue a Ph.D. in tandem with or following your Au.D. training, or, following your training, you desire a postdoctoral research experience or research career development award, contact the NIDCD Individual Fellowship Program Officer for additional information.

Q: What may be included in the appendix of a fellowship application?

A: Information regarding what may or may not be included in the Appendix can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-10-077.html

Q: Can a fellowship application request funds to cover interpretive services for a deaf or hard-of-hearing applicant?

A: Interpretive services are commonly requested as reasonable accommodations for a disability, as defined by the Americans for Disabilities Act, by deaf and hard-of-hearing fellowship applicant when needed to facilitate the research training experience. Applicants who require these and other reasonable accommodations to their disabilities should include several paragraphs in the application establishing and documenting the disability as well as justifying a specific supplemental budgetary request for reasonable accommodations.

Q: I am a doctoral student in the communication disorders and seek a predoctoral fellowship (F31) award. Can an F31 be initiated before advancing to candidacy?

A: The NIDCD F31 award is a dissertation-stage award for doctoral students at or approaching candidacy, who have their dissertation research fully formulated and, thus, are at a point where they can craft a research plan. The award will not be activated until the student has advanced to candidacy, so we recommend that you do not submit your application until you are within a few months of advancing to candidacy. The NIH-wide Diversity F31 programs for minority students and for students with disabilities does, however, support students over the full range of doctoral training including work before candidacy.

Q: In these days of tightening budgets, will the inclusion of preliminary data in my fellowship application increase my chances of funding?

A: The inclusion of credible preliminary data relating to the specific research aims, while not required, nearly always works in favor of an application. Feasibility data, demonstrating that the experiments can be performed in the hands of the applicant, the sponsor, and/or the lab of the latter, should be included in the application. Inclusion of a published or in press scientific paper establishing that the methods proposed are readily in the hands of the applicant or sponsor(s) also demonstrates feasibility.

Q: Can my fellowship application include a specific aim from my sponsor's research grant?

A: A fellowship application should involve an original research plan, written by the applicant and guided by the sponsor(s). While it can be within the sponsor's research area, it cannot be a “cut-and-paste” from the sponsor's research grant.

Q: Does an investigator need to be NIH-funded to serve as a sponsor/mentor for a fellowship application?

A: Technically speaking, no. However, the sponsor needs to demonstrate the research resources, scientific and technical expertise, and mentorship experience to effectively mentor a predoctoral or postdoctoral fellow. In practice, we generally advise applicants to seek an NIH-funded and well-established sponsor. If the sponsor has the requisite scientific or technical expertise, but is somewhat junior, we generally advise recruiting a more seasoned co-sponsor to fill in any perceived void in mentorship.

Q: Can I list manuscripts that are submitted or in preparation on my biosketch?

A: Yes. Manuscripts that are submitted or in preparation can be listed on the fellowship applicant's biosketch, but should not be listed on the biosketch of a Sponsor, Co-sponsor, or any other significant contributors.

Q: I hear that the NIDCD has an expedited review for fellowships. What does this mean and what is the earliest start date I can request?

A: The NIDCD has a review schedule that expedites the time from submission to award. Thus, an award may be made as early as 4-5 months from the submission date assuming that all required assurances and Just in Time information is complete. If you submit for the December deadline, the earliest possible start date is April 1st; if you submit for the April deadline the earliest possible start date is August 1st; if you submit for the August deadline, the earliest possible start date is December 1st.

Q: What are the requirements for Responsible Conduct of Research Training?

A: On November 24, 2009, NOT-OD-10-019 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-10-019.html) was issued, which updates the NIH policy on the instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research. This policy will take effect with all new and renewal applications submitted on or after January 25, 2010 and for all continuation (type 5) applications with deadlines on or after January 1, 2011. Please read this Notice carefully to make sure your Responsible Conduct of Research training meets the new requirements.

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Submitting

Q: I am submitting a fellowship application addressing one of NIDCD's mission areas. I have heard that I need to submit a copy of my application to the NIDCD Scientific Review Branch. Is this true?

A: Now that NRSA fellowship applications are submitted electronically, do not submit a copy of your application to the NIDCD Scientific Review Branch.

Q: How are reference letters electronically submitted?

A: Each of your references must submit a letter on your behalf through eRA Commons using the required reference form, as outlined in the Program Announcement. Additional information can also be found at: http://era.nih.gov/commons/faq_commons.cfm.

Q: When are reference letters due?

A: Reference letters must be submitted and complete by the application receipt deadline. The previous grace period (5 business days) for the receipt of letters of reference after the application due date has been eliminated (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-036.html). Letters of reference may be submitted any time after the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) opens and not later than the application due date. Reference letters can be submitted before the grant application submission. Such letters will be held and later linked to the appropriate application once it is received at NIH.

Q: I am having problems with the electronic submission of my application. Whom can I contact?

A: Help with electronic submission can be found here: http://era.nih.gov/help/

Q: I want my application to be assigned to the NIDCD. How do I accomplish this?

A: Initially, you are strongly advised to consult with the NIDCD Fellowship Program Officer to ensure that your scientific focus is within the research mission of the NIDCD. If indeed it is, include a cover letter with your application (addressed to the CSR Referral Officer) indicating that your research plan has been discussed with the NIDCD Research Training Program Staff and that, on this basis, you request primary Institute assignment to the NIDCD, and Institute review of your fellowship application. A cover letter is one of the options included within the electronic application package.

Q: Will the NIDCD accept supplemental information following the submission of my fellowship application?

A: Details regarding the types of allowable supplemental materials can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-10-115.html.  Note that any allowable materials must be received by the NIH Scientific Review Officer (SRO) at least 30 calendar days before the first day of the scheduled review meeting and that this information must be sent to the SRO from your Authorized Organization Representative.  

Q: Can my sponsor or co-sponsor(s) write a letter of reference for me?

A: No. Your sponsor (and co-sponsor(s), if you have one) can not be one of your 3 required reference letters.

Q: How important is it to contact the NIDCD prior to submission? How early should I do this?

A: It is very important to have pre-submission correspondence with Dr. Daniel Sklare (sklared@nidcd.nih.gov), NIDCD's Program Officer overseeing the Individual NRSA Fellowship Program. You should email her several months in advance of the submission deadline to provide information regarding your proposed application including your specific aims and your sponsor's name.

Q: The NIDCD has agreed to accept primary assignment of my application. Which Scientific Review Group (study section) should I request in my cover letter?

A: The NIDCD reviews its own fellowships. You should request primary assignment to the NIDCD, along with Institute review of your fellowship application, in your cover letter. Do not request a Center for Scientific Review (CSR)-based review committee.

Q: Do I need to include my Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores in my F31 or F30 predoctoral fellowship application?

A: Yes. You must include these scores in the Scholastic Performance section of your biosketch. If you did not take either of these entrance exams, it is advisable that you indicate this in the biosketch. See NOT-OD-11-062 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-062.html) for more information.

Q: Where do I put a description of my graduate or combined degree program in my F31 or F30 application?

A: You are required to put a description of the graduate or combined degree program in which you are enrolled in the Other Attachments section of the application.

Q: What can be included in the Appendix?

A: Approved Appendix materials are very limited and are described here: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-07-018.html

Q: I have a letter of support from a collaborator who is providing me with a critical reagent. Where do I include this in my application?

A: Letters of support are included as Other Attachments. They are not included as part of the Appendix. Note also that letters of support are not the same as your letters of reference. Your 3 letters of reference must be submitted by the references themselves through eRA Commons (see FAQs regarding Letters of Reference).

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Review

Q: My fellowship application is scheduled for review next week. Can I contact the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) in the days following the meeting to ascertain my score?

A: Review panel scores are entered by the SRO into the NIH data system within three working days after a review. Once these scores are entered, they can be viewed by accessing your NIH Commons account. Do not contact the SRO, as s/he will not provide the score, but will refer you to the NIH Commons. If you do not know how to access the Commons, see the Q&A below.

Q: How do I access information on my submitted fellowship application, such as confirmation of its receipt, its assignment, my summary statement, etc.?

A: You need to open and regularly consult your own NIH Commons Account. If your university office of sponsored research or electronic research administration staff or consulting personnel cannot help you with Commons-related issues, contact the Commons Helpdesk at 1-866-504-9552 or by email, at commons@od.nih.gov. However, the NIDCD Fellowship Program Officer will inform you of the Institute's decision concerning funding. If your application will be funded, you will also be contacted by the NIDCD Grants Management Branch.

Q: My fellowship application was recently reviewed. My NIH Commons account notes its impact/priority score, but not a percentile score. Why not?

A: The NIDCD does not percentile its fellowship application scores, as do a number of other NIH Institutes, but makes its funding decisions on the basis of the reviewer narrative critiques, as documented in the summary statement; the “raw,” unnormalized impact/priority score; and, of course, funds available.

Q: My NIDCD-assigned fellowship was reviewed, but it did not receive an overall impact/priority score. What does this mean?

A: The NIDCD utilizes a "not discussed/unscoring procedure" in the review of its fellowship applications, similar to that used in NIH RO1 research grant application reviews. If your application was in the lower half of fellowship applications reviewed, it would be marked "not discussed." The review committee does not discuss these applications, if all members of the review panel agree with that designation. Many "not discussed" applications do have significant strengths and may have readily addressable critiques, allowing the application to be resubmitted, often in time for the next scheduled submission date. As part of the expedited review process, the summary statement will normally be issued and accessible to the applicant through his/her NIH Commons account two to three weeks after the review meeting date.

Q: What are criteria scores and why does my "not discussed" application have them? I thought a "not discussed" application was also "unscored."

A: All applications receive criteria scores from each of the assigned reviewers, in addition to written critiques. Criteria scores use the 1-9 scoring scale. Applications that fall roughly within the upper 50% are discussed in the review meeting and will also receive an overall impact/priority score resulting from that discussion.

Q: How is my impact/priority score, as shown in my Commons account, calculated? What does it mean?

A: In early 2009, NIH moved to a new 1-9 scoring system (http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/scoring&reviewchanges.html). Your overall impact/priority score is the average of the overall impact/priority score from the reviewers on the review panel, multiplied by 10. Thus, if the average of your impact/priority scores was a 2.7, then your overall impact/priority score would be a 27.

Q: I contacted the NIDCD prior to submission and they agreed to accept primary assignment of my F31 application. I requested assignment to the NIDCD in my cover letter, but how do I know that this actually occurred?

A: Your application ID number reflects the NIH Institute that has primary assignment of your application. "DC" designates the NIDCD. Thus your grant number should be 1F31DC#####-0, where # is any numeral. This application ID number should be included in any correspondence with NIH or NIDCD staff.

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Resubmitting

Q: I am resubmitting a fellowship application. Do I need to request new reference letters, or can these letters be carried forward from my previous application?

A: In the NIH review system, a resubmitted/amended application fully supersedes the previous application. No application materials are carried forward to a subsequent submission. Hence, you need to provide new reference letters and all supporting materials with revised applications. (You are free to request these letters from the same individuals who provided reference letters for your previous submission.) The reviewers will, however, receive the summary statement from your prior review.

Q: My summary statement asks that I take a course in the Responsible Conduct of Research, although I reported taking such a course in the past as a beginning graduate student. Please explain.

A: The NIH requires its NRSA-supported fellows and trainees to have taken training in the responsible conduct of research at least once during each career stage, and at a frequency of no less than once every four years. Hence, fellows and trainees who took such a course more than four years ago or at an earlier career stage will need to take training again. Please see NOT-OD-10019 (http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-10-019.html) for the details regarding NIH's Responsible Conduct in Research requirements.

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Funding

Q: My university has offered me a teaching assistantship (TA) in tandem with my individual NRSA (fellowship) award. May I accept it?

A: The NRSA regulations require a full-time, 40-hour per week commitment and allow the awardee to work on a limited basis beyond that, such that these other activities do not encroach upon the NRSA research training commitment. With the concurrence of the fellow's sponsor and institutional official, the NIDCD allows its fellowship awardees to accept TAs involving up to 15-20 hours per week beyond the NRSA commitment.

Q: What is the NIDCD's automatic pay line for awarding fellowship applications?

A: The NIDCD does not have an automatic fellowship pay line for its fellowship applications. Funding decisions are made each review round on the bases of a given application's reviewer critiques, the priority score, and, of course, funds available.

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Post Award

Q: I have received my Notice of Grant Award (NGA). What do I need to do to activate the award?

A: Read your NGA very carefully because it has important information regarding your award. It includes the information on how to activate your award. Awards must be activated within 6 months of the award date, but can not be activated from October 1 through November 30. To activate the award, you must complete the PHS 416-5 form and have your Institutional Business Office submit it on your behalf. If you have a postdoctoral F32 award, you also need to complete a Payback Agreement form. Predoctoral F31 awardees do not have a payback agreement. These forms can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm under the “Training Forms” heading.

Q: I know that I need to complete an annual progress report for my fellowship. What form do I use?

A: Annual progress reports use the PHS 416-9 form. This form can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm under the “Fellowship” heading.

Q: I need to terminate my fellowship. What form do I use?

A: To terminate your fellowship, you need to complete the Termination Notice form (PHS 416-7) that can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm under the “Training Forms” heading. This form needs to be submitted by your Institutional Business Office to NIDCD Grants Management.

 

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Contact Information

Daniel Sklare, Ph.D.—Program Officer for Individual Training Fellowships (F Series)
Tel: (301) 496-1804
Email: sklared@nidcd.nih.gov

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