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Before you start writing the grant application, it is important to understand the type of funding agencies such as National Institute of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each funding agency has its own approach, goals, and priorities; it is important to understand their mission because funds are research-specific and what works for another researcher may not be the right fit for your project.

The NIH, for instance, has a mission to support exploratory and translational research encompassing health, medicine and other life sciences in order to find a cure, reduce disease burden and lengthen life.

Understanding the mission of funders will help you craft the most accurate and specific grant application. This knowledge allows drafting and viewing your work through the lens of the reviewers. It also increases your chances of securing the grant and furthering your research because most research institutions are financially stressed and incapable of giving your career the early thrust.

Gathering detailed information about the types of NIH grants is all the more important for an early-career investigator because NIH is the largest federal funding agency that dedicates millions of dollars to health research every year (Hendriks and Viergevercorresponding, 2016). It is the most sought funding agency in the United States (U.S.) because it:

  • Surpasses all other grant institutes,
  • Supports a myriad of scientific experimentations, and
  • Provides the most befitting professional portfolio to medical researchers.

However, the NIH award-success rate is low; which means your project and application have to excel in all aspects to seal the deal. Each year thousands of medical researchers drop their applications at NIH, but only a few succeed. In 2010, the NIH received 2097 new proposals, of which only 355 managed to receive funding. (McGovern, 2012)

Nonetheless, there are numerous grant opportunities at the NIH. It is tempting to chase the one that offers a large sum or has a convenient deadline but submitting the wrong application can be a lethal career mistake. This is called “over-reaching,” which is a career-kill. Overreaching comes across as foolish and dishonest to the reviewer.

As a researcher, you need to understand the types of NIH grants to know the category your project falls into. This article demystifies the types of NIH grants and ways to obtain them.


Demystifying NIH Grants

NIH is made up of 27 institutes and centers (ICs), of which 24 can award grants. Each year, the NIH announces grant proposals for new and seasoned investigators at more than 25,000 universities, medical schools and research centers all over the world. These include a gamut of multiple-sized awards; some small to encourage the novice investigators, others large to cover collaborative efforts. With advanced knowledge and a thorough search, you can identify the funding opportunity specific to your project.

The NIH has categorized grant types into 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 series, represented by activity codes, represents a theme. The activity codes differentiate between the grant types; for instance, R-series denotes the research project grant; K-series is intended for researchers yearning independent career. Both R- and K-grants support independent investigators.

Let us have a detailed look at each grant type.

1. Research Grants (R Series)

Research Grants fund independent health investigators and professional institutes. The funds can be in the form of direct research cost, sponsors, salaries or equipment & supplies. R series is the largest category of NIH funding; it includes:

  • Research Project Grant (R01): This is an investigator-initiated traditional grant that is awarded to organizations on behalf of the principal investigator (PI). R01 is the oldest grant and funded by all NIH CIs. It is renewable and has an open budget for each project.
  • NIH Small Grant Program (R03): a small grant involving small-budgeted research projects (pilot studies, secondary analysis, research methodology, etc.) with a short deadline (up to two years). It is non-renewable and does not require preliminary data.
  • Scientific Meeting Grants (R13): support national or international scientific conferences, workshops, and meetings. Applications must be submitted to gov.
  • NIH Research Enhancement Award (R15): is dedicated for small-scale projects conducted at educational institutes that are not major recipients of NIH grants. The purpose of this grant is to propel students of these institutes to mainstream research as well as to expose scientists and their meritorious studies nationally and internationally. The grant duration is ≤36 months.
  • Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (R21): is dedicated for either new studies and projects or extension of earlier discoveries, particularly high-risk studies that lead to medical breakthroughs. The fund is non-renewable and does not require preliminary data.
  • Early Career Research (ECR) Award (R21): is a fund for scientists seeking an independent career with research focused on one of the scientific missions of The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), i.e., speech, hearing, taste, smell, etc. The research could be a small, self-contained new project or secondary analysis of existing data.
  • NIH Planning Grant Program (R34): This grant supports initial stages of a clinical trial and comes handy in establishing the research team and developing tools for data management and trial designs etc. This fund is non-renewable and is available for projects that are limited to three years only.
  • R41 and R42: Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grants (R41/R42): is awarded to non-profit research centers and small businesses collaborating research and development (R&D) projects for commercial health products and services.
  • Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIR) (R43/R44): serves to encourage small businesses to participate in technological innovation and supplement federal R&D needs. It also serves to increase private sector commercialization and assimilate it with the federal R&D to establish technical merit. The grant provides monetary support for 6 months – 1 year.
  • NIH High Priority, Short-Term Project Award (R56): is reserved for new or competing renewal R01 applications. This is a high-priority award that is given to applicants with high scores that just fall outside the scope of NIH ICs. This is a limited, short-term award that helps PI, a career stage scientist, to gather additional data in order to complete or revise the current application. The fund lasts for 1-2 years.
2. Career Development Awards (K series)

Career Development Awards (K series) support senior post-doctoral or faculty-level scientists. The purpose is to pave the way for scientists to conduct independent researches. The funds are exclusive for U.S. nationals and permanent residents. K series includes:

  • Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award (K01): a supervised career-development fund awarded to scientists who apply for training in a new field or are resuming their research after a break.
  • Independent Research Scientist Development Award (K02): is reserved for outstanding scientists in need of funding to expand or deepen their research project that bears a potential to contribute to science and medicine.
  • Senior Research Scientist Award (K05): is for independent and established scientists with peer-reviewed research who want to devote efforts to research as well as to mentor novice investigators.
  • Academic Career Development Award (K07): offers development awards for junior scientists and leadership awards for senior scientists. It tends to provide support to both researchers as well as the sponsoring institute.
  • Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08): supports researchers working on clinical, behavioral and biomedical projects that are expected to bring significant improvement for national healthcare.
  • Clinical Scientist Institutional Career Development Program Award (K12): is awarded to institutes that run career-development plan to facilitate the transition of institution-dependent scientists to an independent career.
  • Research Career Enhancement Award for Established Investigators (K18): is for seasoned scientists who seek fresh and updated research skills to further their already-established careers.
  • Career Transition Award (K22): supports investigators become independent researchers.
  • Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23): for researchers conducting patient-oriented studies.
  • Midcareer Investigator Award in Patient-Oriented Research (K24): is for associate professors dedicated to patient-oriented research as well as mentoring clinical residents.
  • Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award K25): is to attract researchers to medicine and science who have thus far not focused on health and disease.
  • Midcareer Investigator Award in Biomedical and Behavioral Research (K26): is for biomedical and behavioral scientists.
  • Emerging Global Leader Award (K43): is for the junior-faculty scientist from a low- or middle-income country (LMIC) who is seeking research support.
  • Emerging Leaders Career Development Award (K76): is for a horde of scientists working on a project destined to improve healthcare.
  • Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00): aims to help the cohort of researchers move forward from mentored research position to independent faculty positions and launch competitive careers.
3. Research Training and Fellowships (T & F series)

F awards are individual fellowship awards for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral scientists seeking institutional research training opportunities. F series includes:

  • International Research Fellowships (F05): for foreigner postdoctoral investigators.
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral NRSA for MD/Ph.D. and other Dual Degree Fellowships (F30): for predoctoral students with dual doctor degree who are seeking physician-scientist or clinician-scientist career.
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31): provides mentored research training to promising predoctoral students.
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32): for aspiring and promising postdoctoral candidates.
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Senior Fellows (F33): for veterans to redirect their career or broaden their scientific background.
  • Individual Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/K00): facilitates the transition of brilliant graduate students into successful postdoctoral candidates.

T grants, or Training Grants, provide institutional support to groom predoctoral and postdoctoral research candidates. The purpose of these grants is to develop and enhance research at institutes. It provides an opportunity to trainees to join forces with the research team and gain experience and expertise before venturing into an independent career. Normally senior candidates at research institutes apply for these grants.

4. Program Project/Center Grants (P series)

These are large, multi-project grants that include a spectrum of research activities such as collaborative efforts and multi-institutional research projects investigating disease entity or biomedical tools. Through P-grant series, the NIH ICs support broadly-based studies involving numerous independent investigators sharing a common research theme and working toward a well-defined goal. P grants, together with R series, are the most frequently used NIH awards.

P-series includes:

  • (P01) Research Program Projects: for multi-project research plans involving many researchers
  • (P20) Exploratory Grant: for exploratory search investigating new clinical paradigms
  • (P30) Center Core Grants: support shared research projects by investigators from different disciplines
  • (P50) Specialized Center: provides monetary and supportive services to any part of the full-range R&D project
5. Resource Grants (various series)

Resource grants provide research-related support to investigators or institutes. These are used frequently and include:

  • Resource-Related Research Projects (R24): to enhance research infrastructure
  • Education Projects (R25): for biomedical research
  • Resource Access Program (X01): invites institutes to seek access to NIH sources
6. Trans-NIH Programs

These are broad-reaching research grants that support different clinical and biomedical studies such as neuroscience research (Blueprint), stem cell information (Stem cells), social sciences (OppNet), and countermeasures against chemical threats (CounterACT), etc.

7. Inactive Programs (Archive)

NIH has inactive grant programs that serve to provide information and background only. These include:

  • Clinical Research Curriculum Award (CRCA) (K30)
  • First Independent Research Support and Transition (FIRST) (R29)
  • Short-Term Courses in Research Ethics (T15)

The funding schedule of all grants, including application due dates, project start, and end dates, and cycles, can be found here.

  1. Hendriks, T.C., & Viergevercorresponding, R.F. (2016, February 18). The 10 largest public and philanthropic funders of health research in the world: what they fund and how they distribute their funds. Health Res Policy Syst, 14, 12.
  2. McGovern, V. (2012, January 1). Getting grants. Virulence, 3(1), 1–11.