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Grants News

NIDCD AREA Grants Give Undergrads the Chance to Conduct High Level Research

Christopher Platt, Ph.D., is a program director in the NIDCD’s Division of Scientific Programs who administers the Academic Research Enhancement Awards, or AREA grants. AREA grants, which are also referred to as R15’s, fund small-scale research projects in the biomedical sciences at primarily undergraduate institutions across the country. Dr. Platt recently sat with the editor of INSIDE to answer some questions about this program and its importance in the NIDCD grant portfolio.

INSIDE: How long has the NIH been awarding AREA grants?
CP: The program began in 1985.

INSIDE: How many grants does the NIDCD award every year?
CP: We set aside funds for two awards per year. Across NIH, about 200 awards are made every year.

INSIDE: What kinds of schools apply for AREA grants?
CP: It’s evolved over the years to include not just small liberal arts colleges, but smaller campuses in state university systems as well as health-related professional schools affiliated with major medical schools. About two-thirds of the grantees are at public colleges or universities.

INSIDE: How many students who participate in the program go on to graduate school or end up as biomedical researchers?
CP: Judging from what we read in many of the final reports we receive from the principal investigators on the grants, many of their students go on to graduate school, but we don’t know the actual numbers. Sometimes we’ll hear from current biomedical researchers that an early experience on an R15 was an important factor in their career choice.

INSIDE: Tell me about FUN!
CP: The Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) is an organization of small colleges—many of them recipients of AREA awards—that hosts a get-together at the Society for Neuroscience’s (SFN’s) annual meeting. It’s the most widely attended social at SFN, with a poster session and awards for outstanding teachers and students. Their enthusiasm about participating in important research is obvious.  Most of these faculty members have positions that predominantly involve teaching, so for them, the ability to do lab research, and involve students, is a special opportunity that goes beyond their regular job. 

INSIDE: Why are these grants important?  What do they provide that other grant mechanisms can’t?
CP: An R15 grant gives good scientists who aren’t in research-intensive institutions the opportunity to do peer-reviewed biomedical research and it gives undergrads hands-on experimental experience that’s not possible with an R01 grant, which emphasizes graduate or post-doc experience.

For more detailed information about how to apply for an AREA grant, visit this Web page.