ELSI Funding FAQs

ELSI Funding FAQs

Finding funding opportunities for ELSI Research

How can I find funding for ELSI research and training?

  • Visit our Funding Opportunities page for a list of funding for ELSI research, training, and career development opportunities.
  • Get updates on new ELSI funding opportunities by subscribing to the CERA Newsletter and following @ELSIhub on Twitter.

What are sources of funding for ELSI research and training at NIH?

  • The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) ELSI Program lists funding opportunities here.
  • The NIH Office of the Directors lists additional funding opportunities for bioethics research across NIH here.
Identifying the appropriate ELSI grant

What grants are appropriate for trainees and junior faculty to apply for?

  • NHGRI’s ELSI Program supports individual fellowships for graduate students (F31, F31-Diversity) and for postdoctoral fellows (F32).
  • NHGRI’s ELSI Program also supports career development awards for junior faculty and advanced postdoctoral fellows, including: 
    • K01 for research scientists (with a research or health professional doctoral degree), involving or not involving a clinical trial – these may be used to support training in a new field or those who have had a hiatus in their careers because of illness or other circumstances;
    • K08 for clinical scientists (with a clinical doctoral level degree), involving or not involving a clinical trial;
    • K99/R00 for PhDs or those holding health professional doctoral degrees with no more than 4 years of postdoctoral research training, involving or not involving a clinical trial;
    • NIH supports research supplements to many types of grants that have already been awarded, in order to promote diversity by funding students, fellows, and some investigators from groups underrepresented in health research;
    • NIH also supports research supplements for re-entry into a research career after an interruption because of family responsibilities, for individuals who had been accepted into a postdoctoral or faculty position when they left active research.
  • The Greenwall Foundation supports Faculty Scholars in bioethics, with priority given to junior faculty who have not yet been considered for tenure or equivalent promotion.
  • The National Science Foundation has a list of Special Programs for Graduate students, and a number of Special Programs for Postdoctoral Fellows.
  • The NIH also has Loan Repayment Program grants that counteracts financial pressure by repaying a portion of a researcher's educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.

What grants are appropriate for people who want to "retrain" as ELSI researchers or want to obtain new skills to conduct ELSI research?

  • The ELSI Program supports individual senior fellowships for experienced researchers who want to make major changes in career direction or obtain new research capabilities.
  • The K01 and K99/R00 can be used to obtain additional training to enable ELSI research.

Are there other opportunities for ELSI training?

  • T32s enable institutions to make National Research Service Awards to individuals selected by them for predoctoral and postdoctoral research training in specified shortage areas. A list of NHGRI-funded training program sites, including sites that offer Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) training opportunities and Diversity Action Plan funded sites can be found here.
  • R21s are intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of project development. 
  • Diversity supplements foster diversity by addressing underrepresentation in the scientific research workforce.
  • Some Centers for Excellence in ELSI Research (CEERs) offer training fellowships.
Preparing to write an ELSI grant

How do I find what ELSI grants were funded by NIH?

  • ELSIhub houses a comprehensive Grants Abstracts Database. The ELSI Grant Abstracts database contains all grants funded by the NHGRI ELSI Research Program.
  • The Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT), is a comprehensive database of NIH funded projects.
    • CERA created the ELSI Grant Abstracts database because ELSI projects are not easily identifiable within RePORT. You can search the RePORT database using award characteristics such as funding institute (e.g., NHGRI), award type (e.g., R01), funding opportunity announcement (e.g., a specific request for applications), or assigned program officer.
Writing an ELSI grant

What is the timeline for preparing a grant? How far in advance should I start?

  • The short answer is – as soon as possible! The exact time it will take to prepare a grant will depend on a number of factors, including the type of grant you are planning to submit, your previous grant writing experience, the resources and supports available to you at your institution, and the number of collaborators you plan to engage, among others. Working backward, you first want to identify the correct deadline for your specific funding announcement, then check with your institution’s business office or research management group regarding any internal deadlines that likely come before the actual submission due date. Before your internal deadline, you will want to plan at least one week to finalize all pieces of your proposal, and you will want to dedicate at least two weeks before this to gathering feedback from collaborators and incorporating them into your proposal. This means having a strong draft of your proposal ready for feedback a minimum of one month before the due date. Plan on dedicating at least two months before this to actually writing the many pieces of the proposal, and ideally two months before this to brainstorm and develop your ideas, establish collaborations and communicate with your program officer at the NIH regarding your idea. The table below provides an overview of this timeline. But keep in mind that certain types of awards (e.g., career development awards) require additional components and may require up to twice as much time to develop a strong proposal.
    • 5 months before due date: Develop idea and collaborations
    • 3 months before due date: Write all sections
    • 1 month before due date: Gather feedback
    •  2 weeks before due date: Finalize
    • 1 week or more before due date: Submit to Business Office
    • Due Date: NIH Submission

Additional information on planning and writing an NIH grant can be found here. 


 

How can I get feedback on my grant proposal?

Gathering feedback is an essential process for good grant writing, and there are many ways to go about gathering feedback. In early stages of proposal development, prepare a specific aims page that summarizes your grant proposal, and share this with potential collaborators and colleagues who know the work that you do. In addition, reach out to the program officer listed on your funding announcement. Most program officers are willing to review specific aims and can provide valuable feedback to help make sure your proposal is responsive to the goals of the funding agency. As you are writing, seek opportunities for peer review from colleagues in your department or at other institutions. Take advantage of any works-in-progress seminars that may be offered by your department. In addition, many large academic institutions offer peer review workshops that provide the opportunity for readers outside of your immediate discipline to review your proposal. This can be a particularly valuable source of feedback because the NIH reviewers for your grant will likely not be familiar with your specific discipline or area of expertise, and outside reviewers can help to identify opportunities to clarify your proposal for this type of audience. In summary, gather feedback early, often, and from a range of sources to make sure your proposal is as strong as it can be.

What are common grant writing mistakes?

Even very experienced grant writers make mistakes. Grant writing is both an art and a science, and there is no single correct way to craft a proposal. That being said, there are some key pitfalls to avoid. Here are a few:

  • Don’t rush it. Putting together a new grant takes a lot of time, putting together a new, great grant takes even more time. See more on this in the 'What is the timeline for preparing a grant?' question above.
  • Read the funding announcement carefully. The funding announcement is your roadmap for both the technical composition of your proposal and the priorities of your potential funder. The funding announcement will also likely include specific review criteria for that funding mechanism. This is the exact set of criteria reviewers will use to assess your proposal, and your proposal will be stronger if you are explicit about how your work meets each of these criteria.
  • Talk to your program officer. S/he is a valuable resource for crafting a proposal that will be compelling to the funding organization you are targeting. They are available to discuss specific aims, answer specific questions, and to discuss summary statements to gauge reviewer responses to your applications.
  • Don’t overpromise. Reviewers are experienced researchers who understand what it takes to get new projects up and running. While adding an additional, exciting component may seem like a good idea, if it isn’t really feasible to complete, it could only weaken your proposal. Also be sure to check your proposed work against your available budget, to be sure you have both the time and the funding to complete your project.
  • Make sure your methods answer your research questions. You may be particularly strong in a given method, and you may have a great question you want to answer, but if your method doesn’t work to answer your research question, it will be difficult to convince reviewers that you can accomplish your goals.
  • Write 50 versions of your specific aims. Okay, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that your specific aims is a key component of your grant. For most of the reviewers on the panel, this is the only part of your proposal they will read. You want every word of this one-page document to be perfect.

Can I see examples of successful ELSI grant proposals?

Yes, the NIH has provided several examples of funded grant proposals that include biosketches and reviewer comments.

How and when to communicate with NIH Program Officers

Overview

It is important to maintain good communication with an NIH program officer throughout the grant application process. This is particularly important for trainees or other applicants who are new to the NIH grant application process. An overview of the roles of different NIH staff and when to contact them is available here.

Prior to submission

Prior to submitting your application, you should contact a Program Officer at an NIH Institute or Center whose scientific priorities seem like a good fit for your research. A Program Officer can provide guidance about the appropriate grant mechanism, funding opportunity, and whether your research topic is a good fit for that Institute or Center. In addition, Program Officers can typically answer questions and provide general information about the grant submission and review process. Typically, the best approach is to email the Program Officer with basic information about yourself and your proposed project and set up a time to talk. If you’re early in the process of preparing a grant or unsure of whether an NIH grant application is the right step, a brief description of the research topic and your general approach may be sufficient.  If you’re closer to submission, you should provide a draft of your specific aims page. Please keep in mind that Program Officers have varying schedules and availability.  If you wait until right before the application deadline, you might receive only limited feedback or you may not have sufficient time to respond to any comments.

After submission

Once your application is submitted, it now enters the peer review phase of the process. If you have any questions at this stage, particularly if you have any questions about review, you should contact the assigned Scientific Review Officer. It is a good idea to check what panel your application is assigned to. Please note that while you can request assignment to a particular panel or study section when submitting your application using the Assignment Request Form, the Center for Scientific Review is responsible for assigning applications and is not bound by your request. In general, most research (R) and career development (K) applications submitted in response to ELSI Funding Opportunities are assigned to the Societal and Ethical Issues in Research study section.

After review of your application

After review, feel free to reach out to the assigned Program Officer once the summary statement is released. If your application was discussed, the Program Officer may have listened to the review and can sometimes provide context for the reviewers’ comments. Please keep in mind that funding decisions cannot be made until after the application has undergone the second level review at the appropriate Advisory Council. Therefore, the Program Officer will not be able to provide a firm answer as to whether your application will be funded. The Program Officer can help you think through whether it might make sense to revise and resubmit your application, and if so, how you can address reviewers’ comments.

After Council

A few weeks after Council, the assigned Program Officer should be able to provide more clarity about whether your application is being considered for funding.  If your application is likely to be funded, you will need to provide “Just-in-Time” or JIT information prior to award. Please note, NIH issues automated Just-in-Time emails for all applications that receive an overall impact score of 30 or less. However, applicants should not submit any Just-in-Time information until a specific request for information is received. The type of JIT materials required will vary based on the grant application, but may include information on Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval of the use of human subjects or verification of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee’s (IACUC's) approval of the proposed use of live vertebrate animals, if applicable. Applicants will also need to provide up-to-date information on active and pending support for all individuals designated in an application as senior/key personnel – those devoting measurable effort to a project. You may receive requests from either the Program Officer or the Grants Management Specialist about additional documentation that is needed if information in your application was missing or unclear. Always do your best to respond to such requests in a timely manner and pay attention to any specific requirements about how the information should be submitted. In addition, if the review groups deemed your application “not acceptable” for human subjects protections or inclusion of women, children or minorities, those concerns will need to be addressed prior to funding.

After Funding

Throughout the course of your project, you should keep your Program Officer informed about any major changes or obstacles to your research.  Certain types of changes, such as a change in the specific aims or a significant reduction in the effort of the PI or other key personnel, require prior approval by NIH staff.  You will be required to submit an annual Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) and make satisfactory progress on your research in order to receive future years of funding. In general, it is a good idea to let your program officer know in advance if you anticipate any significant issues with your research rather than waiting until your annual RPPR is due.

K Award FAQs

How many mentors do I need for the application?

There is no hard and fast rule with regard to structuring a mentoring team. Some K awards only have one mentor, while others have three or four. More important than the number is the fit of the mentor’s expertise and experience with the goals of the proposal. Your mentorship team needs to guide you through both your proposed training and your professional development. If a single mentor provides both the methodological and content expertise needed for your training, and also has a track record of mentoring other trainees who have gone on to successful academic careers, then you may not need anyone else. On the other hand, if you have a mentor with the perfect background to support your training who is more junior, you may consider adding a more senior co-mentor with a demonstrated track record in mentorship to reassure reviewers that you will have sufficient support for your career development. If your mentor provides most of the expertise and experience you need, with the exception of (for example) certain methodology necessary for part of your proposal, you can also consider listing an advisor/consultant who is not a mentor, but provides specific expertise you need to succeed.  If you have access to any previously funded K award proposals, this can be a great way to see how different mentoring models can be structured for different research goals.

Is the number of reference letters important?

You can submit up to five reference letters, and while every applicant would ideally have five very strong letters, quality matters just as much – if not more – than quantity. You referees should know you well, ideally for an extended period of time, and be able to speak to your strengths and skills with a convincing level of detail. If you only have three people who can do this, then better to submit three strong letters than additional letters that are weak. More information on reference letters can be found here.

Can I ask members in the advisory committee, collaborators, or consultants to provide reference letters?

No, this is very important. The individuals providing your reference letters must be independent from the proposed research.

Should I include my accomplishments during high school?

For a K award you would generally only include your more recent accomplishments of your graduate level training and any postdoctoral work. That being said, if there was a key event or activity early in your life that shaped your research interests, you could describe this in the personal statement section of the biosketch.

Should I include conference abstracts in my Biosketch?

Yes. In the Contributions to Science section of the biosketch, you can include up to five contributions, each with its own summary and list of up to four publications or “research products” relevant to this contribution. Though peer-reviewed publications should be given priority for inclusion, conference proceedings such as meeting abstracts, posters, or other presentations are also allowed. Remember to summarize your contributions in addition to listing your publications or other research products.

Can I include the grants that I helped my PI in the funding section in Biosketch?

In general yes, if you worked on a grant with your PI, it can be listed in your research support section of your biosketch. You should also include a brief description of your role on the project. You do not need to include information about the amount of funding or person-months.

How can I find the review criteria?

Being responsive to the review criteria is essential. The specific criteria relevant to your application can be found in your funding announcement. In addition, NIH publishes general criteria for different types of K awards.

Can I submit my K to multiple institutes?

The answer to this question varies depending on the meaning. Many K award applications are submitted under a parent funding announcement in which many Institutes (and Centers) participate. The assigned institute for the  application will be determined by Center for Scientific Review after submission, based on the research interests of the various institutes and the research topic of the application. It is possible to have an application assigned to more than one Institute after submission. This is actually relatively common with ELSI applications. However, you cannot submit duplicate applications to multiple funding announcements, as you cannot have overlapping applications under review at the same time. Also keep in mind that, if you plan to include the PHS Assignment Request Form indicating a preferred institute for your application, you should review the Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements and Staff Contacts for details of the specific K award guidelines for that institute.

If my application is not funded, can I revise and resubmit my application?

First, check whether the funding opportunity you applied under allows re-submissions. Most Program Announcements (PAs) or Program Announcements with Review (PARs) allow resubmissions, but many Requests for Applications (RFAs) do not. If resubmissions are allowed, only a single resubmission of an application will be accepted.  Following an unsuccessful resubmission application, applicants may submit the same idea as a new application for the next appropriate new application due date. If you’re uncertain whether your application would be considered a resubmission or if you need advice about whether to resubmit, you should contact the Program Officer listed on your application. You can find more information on the submission/resubmission process here and read the frequently asked questions on resubmission of NIH applications here.

How many times can I apply?

You can submit twice – the original application and one resubmission of the original application. If neither of these applications are funded, then you have to start over with a new original submission. You can find more information on the submission/resubmission process here.

Are there any other resources to help me write an effective K application?

Yes, Writing An Effective “K” Application: A Video Guide is a useful resource in preparing a K award application for submission to the NIH.