NIH Grant Strategy: Just keep the ball in play

Sep 16 2014 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism

We're at the point of the fiscal year where things can get really exciting. The NIH budget year ends Sept 30 and the various Institutes and Centers need to balance up their books. They have been funding grants throughout the year on the basis of the shifting sands of peer review with an attempt to use up all of their annual allocation on the best possible science.

Throughout the prior two Council rounds of the year, they have to necessarily be a bit conservative. After all, they don't know in the first Round if maybe they will have a whole bunch of stellar scores come in during the third Round. Some one-off funding opportunities are perhaps schedule for consideration only during the final Round. Etc.

Also, the amount of funding requested for each grant varies. So maybe they have a bunch of high scoring proposals that are all very inexpensive? Or maybe they have many in the early rounds of the year that are unusually large?

This means that come September, the ICs are sometimes sitting on unexpended funds and need to start picking up proposals that weren't originally slated to fund. Maybe it is a supplement, maybe it is a small mechanism like a R03 or R21. Maybe they will offer you 2 years of funding of an R01 proposed for 5. Maybe they will offer you half the budget you requested. Maybe they have all of a sudden discovered a brand new funding priority and the quickest way to hit the ground running is to pick something up with end-of-year funds.

Now obviously, you cannot game this out for yourself. There is no way to rush in a proposal at the end of the year (save for certain administrative supplements). There is no way for you to predict what your favorite IC is going to be doing in Sep- maybe they have exquisite prediction and always play it straight up by priority score right to the end, sticking within the lines of the Council rounds. And of course, you cannot assume lobbying some lowly PO for a pickup is going to work out for you.

There is one thing you can do, Dear Reader.

It is pretty simple. You cannot receive one of these end-of-year unexpected grant awards unless you have a proposal on the books and in play. That means, mostly, a score and not a triage outcome. It means, in a practical sense, that you had better have your JIT information all squared away because this can affect things. It means, so I hear, that this is FINALLY the time when your IC will quite explicitly look at overhead rates to see about total costs and screw over those evil bastiges at high overhead Universities that you keep ranting about on the internet. You can make sure you have not just an R01 hanging around but also a smaller mech like an R03 or R21.

It happens*. I know lots and lots of people who have received end-of-the-FY largesse that they were not expecting. Received this type of benefit myself. It happens because you have *tried* earlier in the year to get funding and have managed to get something sitting on the books, just waiting for the spotlight of attention to fall upon you.

So keep that ball in play, my friends. Keep submitting credible apps. Keep your Commons list topped off with scored apps.

*As we move into October, you can peruse SILK and RePORTER to see which proposals have a start date of Sep 30. Those are the end-of-year pickups.

h/t: some Reader who may or may not choose to self-identify 🙂

17 responses so far

  • Former Technician says:

    Our lab has been awarded one R01 in year end funding cut from 5 years to 4 with a significant cut in each year's funding. We have two more being considered according to the IC. We are not really expecting the other two as the requests for more info have been much fewer. Our award was dated mid-August instead of Sept.

    Using late Sept funding dates to determine end of year funding may not cover all.

  • anon PI says:

    I received a JIT in August for an award that has a start date of 9/30. No NoA yet, just pending. Very worried now that the overhead is too high and we asked for too much (full amount, which RePORTER shows is traditional for this award). I was telling myself they were waiting for the continuing resolution... now I feel ashamed for being greedy.

  • mistressoftheanimals says:

    Anon - When you write, write your budget for what you need. Do not feel greedy. OTH, lots of folks get a JIT (I got one for a triaged grant, weirdness). Have you contacted PO? As for overhead - nothing you can do about that.

  • This was also exactly what happened with ARRA. One IC decided to use ARRA funds to award every single pending R21 that was scored 25%ile or better. If you didn't happen to have one pending when they needed to commit the ARRA funds, you weren't in the mix.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yeah I think I remember being hacked that I didn't have anything in play when ARRA hit. Thanks for the unpleasant reminder homes!

  • anon PI says:

    "Anon - When you write, write your budget for what you need. Do not feel greedy."

    Ugh. I thought I was safely following the herd of successful awardees and requesting the default. I don't know exactly what I'll need because this is a five-year non-R01, and my lab is new. My confidence intervals easily include the upper limit of the award.

    PO said at the end of August that I'd hear in the next few weeks if there are no issues preventing award. I have no idea what that means. The world is rich in issues, but I hate to think I added another.

  • Asst Prof who needs money says:

    This is exactly the kind of advice/info that I was hoping to hear. I got a near fundable score on an R21 A0 application submitted last summer and which was reviewed mid-December (all info from the PO). Is it advisable to contact the PO and beg and plead? The one thing I don't want to do is piss him off. I do have the A1 in and is expected to be reviewed in November.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    AnonPI- I don't see the issue. You write a grant for what you need. Trying to game out being "cheap" on original submission is silly. Not enough odds in it. Trust me, Program will offer a reduced amount if this is an issue for end of year pickups.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    You need to write the grant budget for substantially more than you need, since you are gonna get administratively cut around 20% give or take.

  • Grumble says:

    Asst Prof - beg and plead? Do you really think that will do any good? For one thing, your PO isn't the one who makes the funding decision. He's involved, but the decision isn't his alone.

    However, your PO is your advocate with the other POs and senior program staff (including the institute director) who collectively decide which "grey zone" grants get funded, so his support for your grant is essential. You can't assure his support. But you can make sure your grant is still on his radar screen by e-mailing him to ask what your chances are for end-of-year funding, remind him of the close-but-no-cigar score the grant got, and drop a sentence or two describing why the work is really important. It's probably not necessary, but it can't hurt - he's used to fielding inquiries like this so a short e-mail shouldn't bother him.

  • Viroprof says:

    I got lucky and scored a very good percentile on an R01 during a June study section (well below the payline). Commons said that council review is complete but there hasn't been any updates for a month or so. According to the PO it will be funded "soon" but he couldn't say when it would start. Attempts to reach the grants administration specialist for the study section haven't been successful, so I'm hoping that they are just waiting for Oct 1. If they take longer then I'm going to have to do some fancy accounting to keep the post-docs employed. Does anyone have any insight into how NIAID tends to deal with cycle 3 funding start dates?

  • Viroprof says:

    Sorry, cycle I not cycle III

  • Asst Prof who needs money says:

    To Grumble:

    That's what I was trying to get across. I wouldn't beg and plead, necessarily, but want to give a gentle reminder that I was a point away from being funded (no %ile was given in the review). The main question I had was, do these types of queries piss them off.

    Thanks for the help.

  • Trying to get responsiveness from POs and GMSs in September is pretty much impossible. They are completely overwhelmed by dealing with the end of the fiscal year.

  • drugmonkey says:


    Generally Cycle I apps are going to have the first possible funding date of 1Dec. (What did you put on yours?) Naturally, this is the worst possible date to have when Congress is not getting their stuff together on time. Keep your eye out for a continuing resolution. You are hoping for sooner rather than later on that.

  • Viroprof says:

    PP: The PO was responsive, but you're probably right about the GMS.

    DM: The grant was submitted with Sept 1 as the earliest starting date and according to Commons Council review was completed back in July (July 24th was when this was posted). The schedule in the link above states that council in August would result in a start date may be September and Council in October results in start dates of December or later. I'm hoping that it will start in October if the congress critters manage to do their jobs.

    I think the advice I got on this blog has helped improve my grantsmanship quite a bit and finally win the lottery. That and using Georgia font.

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