R03 Grant is a ‘small’ funding program provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It supports shorter duration research projects, i.e., up to 2 years, within a limited budget, i.e., $50,000/year.

Small grants support studies/projects that are usually exploratory but limiting in nature, such as a pilot study or a small, self-contained research project. R03 is a non-renewable grant that is suitable for student investigators who need a protected time for collecting feasibility data or developing research methodology. However, the grant neither supports independent investigators nor is recommended for long term research. (Gina, Yvette, Leo, Joshua & William, 2014).

Though R03 is called a small grant program that does not require any preliminary research, it is still not easy to get. Competition for the grant is exceptionally high. For instance, in 2018, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded only 68 R03 grants as compared to 625 R01 grants.

  • R03 Participating Institutes and Centers

The NIH grants are provided/awarded by the participating institutes and centers (ICs). The NIH has 27 ICs, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), NIAID, etc., which participate in different grant programs.

For R03 grant, a total of ten NIH ICs currently accept investigator-initiated (principal investigator) applications. These include:

  1. NIAID
  2. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
  3. National Institute of Aging (NIA)
  4. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  5. National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)
  6. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  7. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
  8. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  9. National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
  10. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
  • R03 Non-Participating Institutes and Centers

Usually, the NIH makes the parent announcement for the grants. However, sometimes ICs make funding announcements on behalf of the institute themselves, i.e., Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA). For instance, the ICs that have made FOA for R03 are:

  • Fogarty International Center (FIC)
  • National Center of Advanced Translational Sciences (NCATS)
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
  • NCI
  • National Eye Institute (NEI)
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
  • National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
  • National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
  • National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)
  • National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  • Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP)

All of the abovementioned ICs accept R03 applications.Each year, the NIH announces the R03 Parent Funding Announcement (PA) for investigator-initiated applications.

  • Basic receipt due dates are: February 16June 16 & October 16
  • AIDS and relevant applications due dates are: May 7, September 7, & January 7

Please check the “Release/Posted Date” in the “Key Dates” section of the RFA/PA to ensure that it is up to date.Find and contact the participating IC that backs your field of R03 research through the R03 IC-Specific Scientific Interests and Contact webpage.

Go through the research instructions stipulated in the SF424 (R&R) application guide.

You can submit your application electronically through any of the following three options:

  1. Use the NIH ASSIST system to write, submit, and follow your grant application online.
  2. Use an institutional system-to-system (S2S) solution to prepare and submit your application to Grants.gov andeRA Commons to follow your application. Check with your institutional officials about its availability.
  3. Usegov webpage to write and submit your application and eRA Commons to follow your application.

Once submitted, your R03 application goes to the concerned IC. It is extremely important to be careful while submitting the application. An application submitted to the wrong IC is rejected right away instead of being re-allocated to the right IC.

The application format, length, and other organizational aesthetics vary with the type of the program announcement. However, there is something common in all applications, such as:

Project Title

Your application title should be limited to 81 characters, including spaces and punctuation marks.

Project Summary

The NIH has instructed to keep the project summary to 30 lines or less. The summary should briefly mention project aims, significance, research design, and suitability for public healthcare.

Project Narrative

Describe the relevance of your project to public health in no more than three sentences using a language that a lay audience can easily comprehend.

Budget Information Form

The total research period cannot exceed two years. Direct costs are restricted to $100,000 over the integrated two years duration. You can ask for up to $50,000 a year directly. The budget and budget justification should provide estimated costs related to staffing, supplies, and travel for local research activities, etc. on standard NIH forms. Finances for investigator salary are eligible, but travel to conferences and IT equipment may not be included.

For pilot studies lasting for more than one year, you need to specify the budget for each project year separately. When funds are awarded, it will be necessary to submit budget requests separately for each budget year (June 1st – May 30th) during which the pilot study will be conducted. Depending on the start date, one-year pilot studies may be conducted across two budget years, and two-year pilot studies may be conducted across three fiscal years.

Specific Aims

One page limit is provided for enlisting aims of your research leading to a specific hypothesis. Do not propose more aims than can actually be achieved.

Research Strategy

Every Principal Investigator (PI) faces the challenge of page limitation during their application writing to discuss the project’s feasibility and improve chances of success. An R03 grant application cannot accommodate lengthy details; do not exceed from 6 pages in this section because the research project has a limited duration. This section includes the following headings:

a)      Significance:

Describe how your project will recover the scientific discrepancies and how these concepts, methods, technologies, or services will be changed if the suggested aims are achieved.

b)      Innovation:

Prove how your application challenges and explores to shift present research concepts and how novel your hypothetical concepts, methods, or measures are. If an application secures low marks for innovation, during peer review, and does not cite a clear case to produce its utility, the application will not likely succeed. (Holly, Harold & John, 2011)

c)       Approach:

Describe how the sample data will be gathered, inspected, and interpreted. Discuss possible problems, optional strategies, and measures for success expected to achieve the aims.  If the research is in the early stages of advancement, describe any method to establish its utility, and discuss the management of any high-risk issues of the suggested work.

Identify any techniques, circumstances, or substances that can be hazardous to staff and precautions to be applied. If you are including the Preliminary Studies/Progress Report, mention it in this section. However, preliminary studies are not necessarily needed.  But let’s face it; you really have to include preliminary data if you want the reviewers to take the application seriously

Biographical Sketches

It contains detailed biographical information about your principal investigators and senior mentors starting from their qualifications and should not exceed 5 pages. Give a personal statement describing why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role in this project. Include no more than 15 publications.

Cover Letter

Provide a cover letter mentioning a specific IC and review committee for your research application.

Appendix

Only defined Appendix data is permitted. No publications or other data, with the exception of blank questionnaires or blank surveys, can be added in the Appendix.

Non-participating ICs might ask for other R03 applications by utilizing Requests for Applications (RFAs) or Program Announcements (PAs) to match specific program requirements. Information about such funds can be obtained in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts and by contacting the NIH staff. In some cases, those announcements may mention distinct application features, review criteria, and receipt due dates.

Potential investigators can resubmit their grant application a maximum of three times.  Investigators submitting pilot research applications having high impact, but are also having minor weaknesses, will be requested to submit a one-page modification letter before the next submission cycle begins.

Pros:

  • No exploratory data required but can be included if you have it.
  • Usually, mounting complicated experiments can be beyond the grasp of many early-stage investigators and grant mechanisms. However, it is within the confines of R03 supported research to establish methods and administer pilot tests for their usefulness and acceptability. (Enola, Byron, Ana, Ashley & Ryan, 2012)
  • R03 awardees are still considered new investigators.
  • Suitable for the following researches:
    • Feasibility or pilot research
    • Secondary analysis of present data
    • Small, autonomous research projects
    • Advancement of research methodology
    • Advancement of novel research technology

Cons:

  • Very limited finance for a short period of time. The time and budget restraint make the R03 most conservative among other common research grants such as the R01, which allows large funding and can lend support for up to 5 years, or the R21, which also offers up to 2 years of aid but administers a much larger budget.
  • The R03 application, once submitted, cannot be renewed.
  • A doctoral student cannot request for an R03 grant to finance a thesis or dissertation research. An R03 award supports students who are pursuing dissertation researches when the work is within the capacity of the R03 award.
  • NIH did not create them to help you build a research career.
  • These smaller awards are not easy to get.
  • While they do help some investigators, there is no proof they create a path to independent research.
  • Does not support clinical trials and delay onset study.

From the year 2007 till 2017, the R03 applications success rate dropped considerably from 23% to 18%. But in 2018, 21% of total R03 applications got approval from NIH which has raised hopes for the exploratory researchers and pilot study.

Your project must be tightly focused, able to be completed in two years and manageable on a maximum of $100,000 in direct costs over the two-year period. If your project doesn’t meet these criteria, it’s not likely to be well received by reviewers.If you have not yet received substantial independent NIH funding, then NIH considers you a ‘New Investigator.’ R03 awardees have higher acceptance rates in subsequently applying for R01 awards than those without any prior awards, with additional advantage derived from remaining a new investigator after achieving the R03 award.

You are an ‘Early Stage Investigator’ if you qualify as new and you are also within 10 years of either of the following:

    • Terminal research degree
    • Medical residency or equivalent

The R03 research seems very appropriate to a new investigator at first look. A request of up to $50,000 a year can be made in direct costs without having to show exploratory data. Though constructing Research Strategy (versus 12 pages for an R01) can be a daunting experience for someone who has never written a grant application before. Nonetheless, it is heartening as compared to R01, which requires a 12-page Research Strategy, R03 requires only six pages.

Given all this, you may be attracted to it, but you should think again. A smaller page limit means that you need a precise and concise research strategy, while a shorter and limited budget suggests that you have but a limited room for mistakes.

  1. Dijoseph, L., Klein, W.M., Schnell, J.D., Seger, Y.R., & Tesauro, G.M. (2014, March). Assessing the Value Of a Small Grants Program for Behavioral Research in Cancer Control. Translational Behavioral Medicine4(1), 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13142-013-0236-x
  2. Milner, J.A., Nicastro, H.L., & Seifried, H.E. (2011, October). Opportunities for Small Nutrition-Related Cancer Research Grants (R03) From The National Cancer Institute. The Journal of Nutrition141(10), 1765–1768. https://doi.org/ 3945/jn.111.144261
  3. Baumann, A.A., Hamilton, A.M., Powell, B.J., Proctor, E.K., & Santens, R.L. (2012, October 12). Writing Implementation Research Grant Proposals: Ten Key Ingredients. Implementation science7, https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-7-96