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NIDCD Fellowships: Frequently Asked Questions
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Prior to Submission
Q: Can a clinical trial be part of my research plan in a fellowship application?
A: Stand-alone independent clinical trials cannot be proposed as part of the research plan in a fellowship application. However, applicants can gain clinical trial experience by proposing clinical trial research training as part of a clinical trial study led by a mentor. The clinical trial must meet the NIH definition and follow the NIH clinical trial guidelines, but the funding source need not be from the NIH. Options to gain clinical trial research training experience are:
- The applicant can be part of the clinical trial team while in training and can use the data generated during the clinical research training experience in his/her proposed research project.
- The applicant may add an intervention, additional measures, and/or a subpopulation that is within the scope of the existing clinical trial led by the mentor who assumes overall responsibility and funding for the clinical trial.
- The applicant may add an intervention, additional measures, and/or a subpopulation that was not contemplated in the original clinical trial and is out of the scope of the clinical trial; however, the mentor must provide the following documentation:
- Clinical trial IRB approval of the additional component.
- Statement that the mentor assumes overall responsibility and funding for the clinical trial as well as the additional component.
- Approval of the additional component by the funding source. For example, if the clinical trial is NIH-funded, the mentor must provide evidence of approval of the proposed change. Mentors must be aware that the addition of a component may constitute a change of scope of the existing clinical trial (more information on change of scope).
For fellowships proposing a clinical trial experience, the sponsor or co-sponsor is required to include a statement to document leadership of the clinical trial. The statement must include the source of funding; ClinicalTrials.gov identifier (e.g., NCT87654321), if applicable; and a description of how the sponsor or co-sponsor’s expertise is appropriate to guide the applicant in any proposed clinical trials research experience. This statement must be included in the Sponsor and Co-Sponsor Statements attachment of the F.430 - PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form.
Applicants for fellowship awards are expected to write their Research Training Plan and describe the collaborative process they had with their sponsor/co-sponsor in the development, review, and editing of their Research Training Plan. While similarity between the applicant’s Research Training Plan and the sponsor/co-sponsor’s current research is expected, the applicant’s Research Training Plan should not duplicate research for which the sponsor/co-sponsor is already receiving funding.
Q: I have heard that the length of the fellowship applications was shortened. What are the guidelines now?
A: All applications submitted since January 25, 2010, have shorter page limits, restructured forms, and new instructions. See Shortened/Restructured Applications for more information.
Q: Where can 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:
- F30: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship for Students at Institutions Without NIH-Funded Institutional Predocotoral Dual-Degree Training Programs (Parent F30)
- F30 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship for Students at Institutions With NIH-Funded Institutional Predocotoral Dual-Degree Training Programs (Parent F30)
- F31: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships
- F31 Diversity: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research
- F32: National Research Service Awards for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (Fellowships)
- F32: NIDCD Research Dissertation Fellowship for Au.D. Audiologists
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 applicants to send an email to Alberto Rivera-Rentas, Ph.D. , the NIDCD’s Research Training Officer, before preparing an application. Include a biosketch in NIH format along with a brief description of the project, including the aims (1 page), the population that will be studied (as applicable), and the name of your mentor(s). In addition, applicants must include a statement on how the proposed project fits our strategic plan and our research areas, and how the project will contribute to our mission. After the NIDCD evaluates the information provided, applicants will be informed if the project fits NIDCD requirements and will be accepted through the FOA process.
Q: Which programs are available for students in Au.D. training programs?
A: If you are in a combined joint dual-degree Au.D./Ph.D. program, you can apply for either the F30: Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Fellowship for Students at Institutions Without NIH-Funded Institutional Predoctoral Dual-Degree Training Programs or the F30 Awards: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship for Students at Institutions With NIH-Funded Institutional Predoctoral Dual-Degree Training Programs. If you completed your Au.D. degree and entered an academic program to pursue a research doctorate (Ph.D.) in biomedical research supported by the NIDCD, you can apply for the F32: NIDCD Research Dissertation Fellowship for Au.D. Audiologists.
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 in the Policy Reminder Concerning Appendix Materials for All NIH/AHRQ/NIOSH Grant Applications.
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 (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act) by deaf and hard-of-hearing fellowship applicants when needed to facilitate the research training experience. Applicants who require these and/or other reasonable accommodations 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 who are at or approaching candidacy and 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 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 four to five 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 1; if you submit for the April deadline, the earliest possible start date is August 1; if you submit for the August deadline, the earliest possible start date is December 1.
Q: What are the requirements for Responsible Conduct of Research Training?
A: NOT-OD-10-019, issued in 2009, updated NIH policy on instruction in the responsible conduct of research. This policy took 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.
Q: I am submitting a fellowship application addressing one of the 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. See the eRA Commons Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
Q: When are reference letters due?
A: Reference letters must be submitted and complete by the application receipt deadline. The previous grace period (five business days) for the receipt of letters of reference after the application due date has been eliminated. 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: Contact information for help with electronic submission and other issues can be found on the NIH Grants and Funding Help page.
Q: I want my application to be assigned to the NIDCD. How do I accomplish this?
A: The NIDCD strongly encourages applicants to send an email to Alberto Rivera-Rentas, Ph.D., NIDCD’s Research Training Officer, before preparing an application. Include a biosketch in NIH format along with a brief description of the project, including the aims (1 page), the population that will be studied (as applicable), and the name of your mentor(s). In addition, applicants must include a statement on how the proposed project fits our strategic plan and our research areas, and how the project will contribute to our mission. After the NIDCD evaluates the information provided, applicants will be informed if the project fits NIDCD requirements and will be accepted through the FOA process.
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 Enhancing Peer Review: New NIH Policy on Post-Submission Application Materials, and in subsequent and related notices listed on that page. 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) cannot be one of your three 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 Alberto Rivera-Rentas, Ph.D., the NIDCD's Program Officer overseeing the Individual NRSA Fellowship Program. You should email him 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: No. NIH Guide notice NOT-OD-15-120 eliminated the requirement for inclusion of scores from standardized exams (e.g., MCAT, GRE) in the fellowship biosketch.
Q: Where should 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. Read descriptions of approved appendix materials.
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 in 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 three letters of reference must be submitted by the references themselves through eRA Commons.
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, electronic research administration staff, or consulting personnel cannot help you with Commons-related issues, contact the Commons Helpdesk at 1-866-504-9552. The NIDCD Fellowship Program Officer will inform you of the NIDCD'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 uses 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 percent 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. 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, in this case, 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.
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 for details regarding NIH's Responsible Conduct in Research requirements.
Q: My university has offered me a teaching assistantship (TA) in tandem with my individual NRSA (fellowship) award. May I accept it?
A: NRSA regulations require a full-time, 40-hours-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 basis of a given application's reviewer critiques, the priority score, and, of course, funds available.
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 contains important information, including how to activate your award. Awards must be activated within six months of the award date, but cannot 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 in the NIH Grants and Funding Forms Library.
Q: I know that I need to complete an annual progress report for my fellowship. What form should I use?
A: Annual progress reports use the PHS 416-9 form. This form can be found in the NIH Grants and Funding Forms Library.
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) found in the NIH Grants and Funding Forms Library. This form must be submitted by your Institutional Business Office to NIDCD Grants Management.
Alberto Rivera-Rentas, Ph.D., NIDCD Research Training Officer