It is important for potential grantees to learn about the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding programs. Every year, the NIH, through its 27 different institutes and centers (ICs), invests $31 billion in research and development (R&D) by awarding a range of grants to more than 300,000 scientists and researchers. Apart from nurturing R&D and bringing in biomedical advances, the purpose of the NIH grants is to simplify the process for new and/or early-stage investigators as well as for senior research scientists to acquire funding via various requirements for grants.
Here is how the NIH categorizes the scientists:
- New Investigators – scientists who have not received a grant from the NIH institutes and centers with the exception of a career award or some specific minor grant.
- Early-Stage Investigators – scientists who have received their Ph.D. or MD or have finished residency within the past 10 years.
- Senior Scientist – Scientists who are the NIH employees selected by the Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR).
The major NIH grant awards are categorized into the following series:
- Research Grants (R series)
- Career Development Awards (K series)
- Research Training and Fellowships (T & F series)
- Program Project/Center Grants (P series)
- Resource Grants (various series)
- Trans-NIH Programs
- Inactive Programs (Archive)
Each grant program, told apart by several activity codes, illustrates for you a structure of various funding types, mechanisms, and research support at other institutions and facilities. This article, however, is intended to provide you with a general, easy-to-understand overview of Research Training and Fellowships (T & F series) grants.
Research Training and Fellowships (T & F series)
Research Training (T series) and Fellowships (F series) fall under the category of Training and Career Development Grants that provide research experience to students and scientists at different career stages.
Fellowships (F Series)
F awards are individual-specific fellowship awards supported by the NIH for the training of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral scientists who seek institutional research training opportunities through the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program.
The purpose of the Fellowship awards program is to provide support and encouragement to scientifically useful research training experience for the NIH Intramural Research Program.
Individual Development Plans (IDPs) as a trainee in F series awards provide career planning and management assistance for promising applicants that display potential of becoming a committed researcher in accordance with NIH’s mission. The fellowship award programs provide opportunities for trainees to be groomed professionally in the company of experienced scientists to become invincible in both academic and non-academic careers. (Jacob and Lefgren, 2011)
If you do not have the U.S. citizenship or a permanent resident (PR) status with a valid registration receipt card (green card) at the time of the award, you will not be considered entitled to a fellowship grant because scientists, new or early-stage Investigators on temporary or student visas are not eligible to apply.
These grants are divided into fellowship awards (F Series) which are designed for individual researchers and training awards (T Series) which in turn are available for senior investigators or organizations.
F Series – the individual fellowship grants & the maximum number of years are as follows:
- F30: Ruth L. Kirschstein Pre-doctoral Fellowships for pre-doctoral MD/Ph.D. applicants (6yrs)
The purpose of this fellowship program is to train promising pre-doctoral candidates who aspire to become clinical/physician scientists. You must be registered in a dual-doctoral degree program to be able to apply for F30.
- F31: Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Pre-doctoral for pre-doctoral Ph.D. applicants (3-5yrs)
The purpose of this fellowship program is to provide research training to talented pre-doctoral candidates showing a promising potential to become independent research scientists with a doctoral degree.
- F32: Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Post-doctoral for post-doctoral fellows (3yrs)
The purpose of this fellowship program is to provide research training to talented post-doctoral individuals showing promising potential to become an independent investigator in accordance with the NIH Institutes and Centers’ mission
Fellowship Application – How You Should Write One
Writing an impressive grant application — which is not only in absolute compliance with NIH policies and regulations but also demonstrates your research proposal in the best possible manner — are three-quarters of your battle won. (Berg et al., 2007). You must start with a careful study of the SF 424 Application Guide as well as relevant funding opportunity announcements to know what your application for the individual fellowship should contain.
You are also required to submit a maximum of three reference letters along with the citation papers from the NIH-funded research in light of NIH public access. Make sure to have your references written beforehand in order to minimize the document clutter at the time of your application deadline.
Fellowship Applications Due Dates
There are several due dates NIH has in place for fellowship applications:
- April 8, August 8, and December 8 — for non-AIDS fellowship applications of F30, F31, and F32
- May 7, September 7, and January 7 — are standard due dates for AIDS and AIDS-related fellowship applications.
Consult with your organization to decide upon the application submission methods to see which of the preferred methods suits the team, i.e.,
- NIH Application Submission System and Interface for Submission Tracking (ASSIST) or,
- The NIH standard Submission Options
What Will Your Fellowship Grant Pay For?
When you apply and subsequently succeed in achieving the grant, these fellowships provide:
- Stipends of varying nature to cover your fee or any tuition you may avail
- 60 percent of the fund requested by the applicant through F30 and F31 grants for dual-degree training
- Packages health insurance
- $4,200 for non-federal/non-profit organizations annually and $3,100 for federal/for-profit institutions through F30 and F31grants
- $9,850 per year at non-federal/non-profit organizations annually and $8,750 for federal/for-profit institutions through F32 grant.
Research Training Grant (T Series)
National Research Service Award (NRSA) T grants, or T series Training Grants, provide institutional support to nonprofit, local governmental institutes with capital resources to train and mentor pre-doctoral and post-doctoral research candidates for two to three years. Usually, senior investigators at research institutes apply for these grants because low-ranking faculty almost never apply for them. Trainee-level candidates expect their institution to provide training opportunities that enable them to practice and gain experience with the established research team and have sufficient expertise for an independent career later in the time.
The purpose of research training grants is to advance and improve scientific research conducts at NIH institutes and centers. During the training period duration, the research training plan – presented by the grant expectant – describes the quality, experimental design, and significance of pipelined scientific projects. If you are a Post-doctoral applicant, you will receive a certain stipend because post-doctoral candidates are not considered an employee. As a trainee, though, your stipend entitlement depends on the open positions under your program director.
If you’re planning to apply for any of the research training grants, you must possess U.S. citizenship or are a permanent resident with Alien Registration Receipt Card (green card) because researchers on temporary or student visas are not considered eligible.
T Series – the research training grants as follows:
- T32: Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional NRSA
The T32 training program works in many ways as the F32 individual fellowship program; It assists institutions to enroll selected individuals for pre-doctoral and postdoctoral research training in targeted, somewhat unexplored areas and groom them to have a career in health-related research.
- T34: Ruth L. Kirschstein Undergraduate NRSA
The purpose of this training program is to support academic research training to create and groom highly trained personnel that in time will lead the biomedical and behavioral research for the betterment of humans and animals alike.
- T35: Ruth L. Kirschstein Short-Term NRSA
The T35 research training program supports pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training in selected embryonic scientific areas as well as short-term summer research training programs for undergraduates in institutional health faculties
Training Grant Application
Again, if you succeed in writing an impressive grant application, you are already more than halfway through your ordeal. You must start with a careful study of the SF 424 Application Guide as well as relevant funding opportunity announcements to learn what your application for research training should contain.
Successful research training grant applications are the ones where applicants could convince peer reviewers of the value of their research contribution with evidence to the welfare of humans as well as animals. Your application should readily convey your objective and research strategy bearing the clarity of your commitment, competence, and resources. (Pier et al., 2018).
Research Training Grant Applications Due Dates
There are a couple of due dates NIH has in place to accept research training grant applications:
- January 25 and September 25—for non-AIDS training grant applications
- May 7 and January 7—standard due dates for AIDS and AIDS-related training grant applications.
Consult with your organization to decide upon the application submission methods to see which of the preferred methods suits the team.
What Will Your Research Training Funds Pay For?
If you make it to the accepted applicants for T32 and T35 research training grants, you will be provided support for:
- Stipends of varying nature to cover your fee or any tuition you may avail
- Health insurance packages
- Pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees—60 percent of the request made by the applicant for dual-degree training
- $4,200 for pre-doctoral trainee and $9,850 for post-doctoral annually to assist with training expenses comprising research material and administrative support
- Additional funds to support disabled trainees on per case basis
Post Submission Material – Research Training and Fellowships
After you have submitted your application and before peer review, you are given a chance by the NIH to send certain materials under clear terms and conditions. You can send any of the nonscientific information through your authorized organizational representative in PDF file to your scientific review officer at least 30 days before the peer review meeting is scheduled. You must not abuse this opportunity to make corrections or alterations to your already submitted application.
(T & F series) Peer Review
After you submit your Fellowship application, the assigned staff committee of reviewers at NIH Center for Scientific Review (NCSR), nominated on the basis of scientific content of your application, will peer-review your application. Members of the review group assess applications with strict measures to determine the potential of an independent researcher. The fate of your application is determined by first- and second-peer review, keeping you on board with the decision of application acceptance or rejection.
- Jacob, B.A., & Lefgren, L. (2011, July). The Impact of NIH Post-doctoral Training Grants on Scientific Productivity. Res Policy, 40(6), 864-874. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2011.04.003
- Berg, K.M., Brown, A.F., Elmore, J.G., Gill, T.M., Wilson, I.B., & Zerzan, J. (2007, November). Demystifying the NIH Grant Application Process. J Gen Intern Med, 22(11), 1587–1595. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11606-007-0301-6
- Brauer, M., Carnes, M., Filut, A., Ford, C.E., Kaatz, A., Nathan, M.J.,… Raclaw, J. (2018, March 20). Low Agreement Among Reviewers Evaluating The Same NIH Grant Applications. National Academy of Sciences, 115(12), 2952-2957. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1714379115