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Research Training & Career Development Pre-application Webinar Summary

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October 30, 2014
2:00 p.m. EDT to 3:00 p.m. EDT

Purpose of the Webinar:

On Thursday, October 30, 2014, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a pre–application webinar for potential applicants to provide valuable information to educate applicants and help prepare them for a variety of NIH research training and career development opportunities. This webinar provided technical assistance and amplified important information to prospective grant applicants, including an overview of the research grant submission process and an in–depth discussion of the funding opportunity. The webinar also addressed participant questions received by e–mail.

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Webinar Speakers

Anita McRae–Williams, M.A., NCCAM, Outreach Program Manager (Moderator)
Alberto Rivera–Rentas, Ph.D., NCCAM, Program Director and Training and Career Development Officer
Information provided about NCCAM and its research training and career development programs as well as questions and answers appear below.

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NCCAM and its Fellowship Programs

  • NCCAM’s mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.
  • NCCAM supports basic mechanistic and clinical research. Additional information about NCCAM, its resources, and its research is available at nccam.nih.gov.
  • The Center’s training page is available at nccam.nih.gov/training. Prospective applicants are encouraged to visit the page to learn more about the Center’s programs and review information that can help them navigate through the submission process.
  • NCCAM’s training philosophy is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of well–prepared and skilled investigators with knowledge and expertise in complementary and integrative health.
  • NCCAM has training programs beginning at the high school level and extending through the faculty level. Examples include training–related supplements, institutional programs, fellowships, and career development awards. These programs are intended to develop successful independent investigators in areas relevant to NCCAM’s mission.
  • Predoctoral fellowships offered by NCCAM include:
  • F31 Parent – Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (PA–14–147).
  • F31 Diversity – Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health–Related Research
    (PA–14–148).
  • F30 – Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD and Other Dual Doctoral Degree Fellows (PA–14–150).
  • NCCAM also offers a postdoctoral fellowship: F32 – Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (PA–14–149).

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Information for Applicants Before They Apply

  • Before applying, applicants are strongly encouraged to conduct a self assessment to identify their strengths and weaknesses, determine where they want to be in 5 years, understand whether they need additional mentored training, speak with mentors (e.g., discipline, technical, and career mentors), and create an individual development plan.
  • Applicants should also evaluate their available resources and think critically in terms of mentor(s), institution(s), track record, and collaborators/consultants.
  • Applicants should contact NCCAM with any questions.
  • Questions regarding Funding Opportunity Announcements and/or the application process should be submitted to Dr. Rivera–Rentas (his contact information appears at the end of this report).
  • Research–specific questions should be submitted to the NCCAM Program Director associated with that particular scientific area (additional information is available at nccam.nih.gov/grants/contact#area).
  • The NIH Reporter is a good resource with information on projects currently being funded by NCCAM.

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Research Training Program Policies

  • NCCAM does not accept applications to these programs proposing to conduct new, free–standing clinical trials or studies. Applicants to these programs are encouraged to include clinical research–training activities as part of the proposed plans, and to engage in the planning, design, and implementation of the mentor’s ongoing clinical trials and studies
    (NOT–AT–13–002).
  • The NIH has three submission dates per year: April 8, August 8, and December 8 (May 7, September 7, and January 7 for AIDS–related projects). By these dates, applications and accompanying reference letters must be received by the NIH.
  • For applications due April 8, the scientific merit review is conducted in June–July of that year and is followed by a second level of review by Institute/Center (IC) advisory councils in August or October. The earliest start dates for these projects is September–December. Applications due August 8 and December 8 have similar timelines.
  • Applicants’ Institutional Business Officials will need to be engaged so that the applicant can provide the NIH with information related to the Electronic Research Administration Commons, the Data Universal Numbering System, and Employer Identification Number. The Institutional Business Official has the final approval and submission of the application.

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Review of the Pre– and Postdoctoral Fellowships

Predoctoral Fellowships – F30, F31, and F31 Diversity

  • The goal of these programs is to enable promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research in scientific health–related fields relevant to the missions of the participating NIH ICs.
  • Eligibility requirements include:
    • Completion of a baccalaureate degree.
    • Current enrollment in a Ph.D. or equivalent research degree program.
    • By the time of award, the individual must be a citizen or a non–citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
  • Support for these fellowships includes a stipend, tuition/fees, and a training–related allowance. Additional information is available at grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm#stipends.
  • The proposed mentored research training must reflect the applicant’s dissertation research project and is expected to clearly enhance the individual’s potential to develop into a productive, independent research scientist.

Postdoctoral Fellowship – F32

  • The goal of this program is to enhance the research training of promising postdoctoral candidates who have the potential to become productive, independent investigators in scientific health–related research fields relevant to the missions of the participating NIH ICs.
  • Eligibility requirements include:
    • Completion of a research doctoral degree from an accredited domestic or foreign institution.
    • By the time of award, the individual must be a citizen or a non–citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
  • As is the case for the predoctoral fellowships, support for the F32 includes a stipend, tuition/fees, and a training–related allowance (additional information is available at grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm#stipends).
  • The integrated program of research and training should enhance the individual’s potential to develop into a productive, independent researcher. The training plan should also facilitate the fellow’s transition to the next stage of his/her career.

Common Elements of the Fellowship Programs

  • Applicants must include information on their academic background and previous research experience. They also need to provide clear justification for additional research training and describe their potential for becoming a successful independent investigator.
  • A research training plan and mentoring plan is required.
  • Mentors should have: (1) experience as well–established, funded investigators; (2) expertise pertinent to the applicant’s research interest; and (3) previous training and mentoring experience.
  • It should be demonstrated that the applicant’s institution is a success–conducive environment and can provide the appropriate facilities and resources.

Distinct Elements of the Fellowship Programs

  • F30:
    • Non–domestic (non–U.S.) entities (foreign institutions) are not eligible.
    • Applicant must be enrolled in a dual degree program.
    • Supports both dissertation research AND clinical training.
    • Provides a maximum of 6 years of support (at least 50% of the award will be devoted to graduate research training leading to the doctoral research degree).
  • F31:
    • Non–domestic (non–U.S.) entities (foreign institutions) are eligible.
    • Supports dissertation research only.
    • Provides a maximum of 5 years (usually 2–3 years) of support.
  • F31 – Diversity:
    • The institution must also submit an eligibility certification letter.
  • F32 – Postdoctoral:
    • Non–domestic (non–U.S.) entities (foreign institutions) are eligible.
    • Provides a maximum of 3 years of support.

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Submitting an Application

  • The F31 was used as an example to walk through the submission process.
  • All grants are submitted to the NIH electronically.

Application Forms

Submission Requirements

  • The application package consists of five sections:
    1. The SF424 (R&R). The information on this form must be certified by the Institutional Business Official.
    2. The PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form. Elements of the application are uploaded to this form as PDF files.
    3. Research and Related Senior/Key Personnel. These individuals are generally the applicant’s mentors/co–mentors. This section also requires an NIH Biosketches for the applicant and mentor(s) (maximum of 4 pages). The applicant’s NIH Biosketch should include a personal statement and briefly describe why their experience and qualifications make them particularly well–suited as a fellowship applicant. It should also discuss their future plans as an investigator and address potential weaknesses in their background as well as past training, if any. Grades, courses, and scores of exams (e.g., MCAT, GRE) should also be included.
    4. Research and Related Other Project Information. A summary of the research project must be provided, along with a narrative describing the public health relevance of the project.
    5. Project/Performance Site Location(s).
  • All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Individual Fellowship Application Guide for NIH and AHRQ must be followed, with the following additional instructions:

Application Type

  • Applications must indicate the application type (i.e., new, resubmission, renewal, revision) and the Research Training Plan.

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Research Training Plan

  • Introduction (for resubmissions only).
  • Specific aims (1 page maximum).
  • Research Strategy (6 pages maximum), including: (1) description of a hypothesis–driven, well defined research project appropriate to the applicant’s stage of career development; (2) background leading to the proposed research; (3) significance of the research; and (4) research approach (design and methods) for achieving the specific aims.
  • Research Sharing Plan.
  • Selection of Sponsor and Institution (1 page maximum), including an explanation of why the sponsor, co–sponsor (if any), and institution were selected to accomplish the research training goals.
  • Responsible Conduct of Research (1 page maximum), including format, subject matter, faculty participation, duration of instruction, and frequency of instruction. Per NOT–OD–10–019, applications without a Plan for Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research section will not be reviewed.

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Additional Information

  • Goals for Fellowship Training and Career (1 page maximum), to include descriptions of: (1) how the proposed project and activities will enhance the applicant’s career goals as a productive, independent investigator; and (2) how the plan will enhance his/her knowledge and technical and professional skills, and facilitate his/her transition to the next career stage.
  • Activities Planned Under This Award (1 page maximum), to include a description of the skills and techniques the applicant will develop as well as any planned, non–research activities as well as a timeline for the proposed research training and related activities.
  • Doctoral Dissertation and Other Research Experience (2 pages maximum). This section should include a summary of the applicant’s research experience in chronological order and include a narrative of the doctoral dissertation.

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Sponsor and Co–Sponsor Information (6 pages maximum)

  • Describe the sponsor (s) current research support and how this support relates to the applicant’s proposed research project.
  • Provide a contingency plan.
  • Describe the role of the sponsor(s).
  • Provide an assessment of the applicant’s qualifications and potential for a career as a productive, independent researcher.
  • Personalized training plan.
  • Research environment, research facilities, and resources.

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Letters of Reference

  • Three letters of reference are required.
  • Letters of reference should not be from sponsors/co–sponsors.
  • Letters of reference are due by the application submission due date and are submitted directly through the eRA Commons Submit Reference Letter link.

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F31 and F31 Diversity

  • F31 and F31 Diversity applicants must complete the “Additional Educational Information” attachment and describe:
  • The graduate program in which the applicant is enrolled. For example, the structure of the program, required milestones and their usual timing (number of courses, any teaching commitments, qualifying exams, etc.), and the average time to degree over the past 10 years.
  • The progress/status of the F31 applicant in relation to the program’s timeline.
  • The frequency and method by which the program formally monitors and evaluates a student’s progress. This information is typically provided by the Director of the graduate program or the Department Chair. Include the name of the individual providing this information at the end of the description.
  • F31 Diversity applicant institutions must also submit an eligibility certification letter as an additional separate attachment.

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F30

  • F30 applicants must complete the “Additional Educational Information” attachment and describe:
  • The institution's dual–degree program. Provide some background on the dual–degree program including general program outcomes, such as the completion rate and the percentage of program graduates who are in academic research positions post–training.
  • The structure of the dual–degree program and required milestones and their usual timing (e.g., number of courses, any teaching and clinical requirements, and qualifying exams).
  • The sequencing of the applicant's graduate research and medical (or other health professional) school years.
  • The progress and status of the F30 applicant in relation to the program’s timeline, indicating when the applicant matriculated into the program and when the applicant is likely to transition to clinical years of the dual–degree program.
  • Any clinical tutorials during the graduate research years and any activities to ease transition from the graduate to the clinical years of the dual–degree program.
  • Any research–associated activities during the clinical years of the dual–degree program.
  • The frequency and method by which the program formally monitors and evaluates a student’s progress.
  • Justification for the duration of support requested in terms of the research and clinical training proposed. Include the number of anticipated months of research training and of clinical training.

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F32

  • F32 applicants must complete the “Additional Educational Information” attachment and describe the resources available to the applicant including the availability of such resources as might be associated with an Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

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Putting an Application in Context

  • Fellowship applicants should consider the following:
  • Are the applicant’s academic record and research experience of high quality?
  • Does the applicant have the potential to develop into an independent and productive researcher in biomedical, behavioral or clinical science?
  • Does the applicant demonstrate commitment to a career as an independent researcher in the future?
  • With regard to sponsors, collaborators, and consultants:
  • Are the sponsor(s)’ research qualifications (including recent publications) and track record of mentoring individuals at a similar stage appropriate for the needs of the applicant?
  • Is there evidence of a match between the research interests of the applicant and the sponsor(s)? Do the sponsor(s) demonstrate an understanding of the applicant’s training needs as well as the ability and commitment to assist in meeting these needs?
  • Is there evidence of adequate research funds to support the applicant’s research project and training for the duration of the fellowship?
  • If a team of sponsors is proposed, is the team structure well justified for the mentored training plan, and are the roles of the individual members appropriate and clearly defined?
  • Are the qualifications of any collaborator(s) and/or consultant(s), including their complementary expertise and previous experience in fostering the training of fellows, appropriate for the proposed research project?
  • In terms of training potential:
  • Do the proposed research project and training plan have the potential to provide the applicant with the requisite individualized and mentored experiences that will develop his/her knowledge and research and professional development skills?
  • Does the training plan take advantage of the applicant’s strengths, and address gaps in needed skills? Does the training plan document a clear need for, and value of, the proposed training?
  • Does the proposed research training have the potential to serve as a sound foundation that will facilitate the applicant’s transition to the next career stage and enhance the applicant’s ability to develop into an independent and productive research scientist?
  • In terms of the institutional environment and commitment to training:
  • Are the research facilities, resources (e.g., equipment, laboratory space, computer time, subject populations), and training opportunities (e.g. seminars, workshops, professional development opportunities) adequate and appropriate?
  • Is the institutional environment for the applicant’s scientific development of high quality?
  • Is there appropriate institutional commitment to fostering the applicant’s mentored training toward his/her research career goals?

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Grantsmanship Tips

  • Tell a story.
  • Be evidenced–based and hypothesis–driven.
  • Write clearly and check your grammar!
  • Be concise, precise, and to the point.
  • Use active voice.
  • Sell yourself and your research ideas.
  • Read and Proofread.
  • Work with your mentor(s).
  • Keep your office of sponsored programs informed.
  • Do not submit at the last minute.
  • Ensure that the research project is hypothesis driven, has specific aims that are measurable and feasible, has a realistic timeframe that is not overly ambitious, and is appropriate for the applicant and clear on the skills the applicant will develop.
  • Make sure to present at well–known scientific meetings, and include a timeline and publication plan.
  • A mentorship plan must include clearly defined roles of sponsors/mentors as well as specific and strong statements from them. The mentorship plan should make it clear that the mentors/sponsors have committed time for the applicant and describe how they will contribute support and resources to the applicant’s development.
  • Include an institutional statement with a clear, specific narrative that explains the institution’s commitment to fostering the applicant’s development. Additional resources, programs, and developmental activities should be included.

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Resources

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Webinar Participants’ Questions and Answers

Question: I completed my Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) at Teachers College and am no longer affiliated with this institution. I am currently working in an independent outpatient dialysis center and would like to do an intervention to assess the impact of nutritional vitamin D supplementation on PTH levels. If I understand Dr. Rivera–Rentas correctly, the intervention that I would like to try would not be eligible for NCCAM support / funding. Is that correct?
Answer: Many NIH–funded PIs have a research doctorate degree. You may need to contact the Program Officer to discuss the potential for having a Doctor of Education degree to do such a project. In terms of the research you are proposing, NCCAM has supported vitamin D projects in the past and I’d encourage you to use NIH Reporter to review this research and possibly contact those investigators.
Question: What is the difference between institutional T32, T35, or R90/T90? Do you have another Webinar for the institutional training grant application?
Answer: These are programs that are given to institutions to create their own research training programs. They are the ones that manage and select the applicants. The T32 is the conventional research training program for long–term research at the predoctoral/postdoctoral level. The T35 is for short–term training—less than 3 months—and is usually done during the summer. The R90/T90 is a different program; it requires collaboration between a research–intensive institution and an institution that is focused on integrated health research. The R90/T90 provides support only at the postdoctoral level. NCCAM hosted teleconferences on its institutional training programs and on the R90/T90; transcripts from these teleconferences are available online at nccih.nih.gov/grants/resources#teleconferences.
Question: Are K awards involving alternative medicine also processed through NCCAM?
Answer: Yes, NCCAM has career development K awards. In the future, NCCAM will be hosting a webinar focused on the K awards.
Question: What is the funding and timeline for an application?
Answer: There are three submission dates during the year. The first one is April 8; the scientific merit review is conducted in the summer, followed by IC advisory council review in the fall. Because of budget and grants management processes, funding for a project would likely be available in January of the following year.
Question: How strong should the track record of the mentor be, and does the mentor need to have a strong funding record?
Answer: The answer is yes to both. When you have mentors that do not have a strong record but you want to include them, we encourage applicants to have a team of mentors and each mentor needs to provide specific information on what they will be providing to the applicant. There can be a mix of mentors on the team, but make sure that the application itself focuses on the applicant and his or her success.
Question: About how long should an applicant spend preparing his or her individual fellowship application?
Answer: It takes time. Putting together these applications is not an easy process. Applicants should take their time and plan for 1 year. They need to talk to their mentors, design their projects, engage with their Institutional Business Official, spend substantial time writing their application, and carefully review their application.
Question: You emphasized that the fellowship must engage trainees in the planning, design, and implementation of research related to mentors’ ongoing clinical or research studies and that they may not initiate research on their own. How do you qualify this? Does my sponsor need to have funding for my exact project, or can my research contribute to an area of research that is active in my sponsor’s lab while still asking novel questions?
Answer: NCCAM does not allow independent clinical studies in its fellowships. Applicants are encouraged to work with someone who has an ongoing research project in their mentor’s lab, so they should have the resources to complete that particular study. For example, fellows can do the secondary analysis of data, but they cannot start a new clinical study during their fellowship (fellows will not have the resources to do so). They can receive clinical research training related to their project, however.
Question: What do you mean by “dissertation research narrative?”
Answer: The dissertation research narrative is a 2–page description that includes previous experience as a researcher and a narrative describing the research project.
Question: With regards to documentation of courses on biosketches, I took university–level courses while in high school. These credits were at different institutions from where I attended college and were transferred and are reported on my college transcript; however, they did not count towards the credits needed for me to graduate. Should I report these, and if so, how?
Answer: Yes, all courses should be listed in the biosketch, regardless if they were outside additional courses that the applicant took. The biosketch should present all academic credentials that make the applicant stand out as an outstanding candidate for the program.
Question: How much preliminary data is needed to make an application competitive?
Answer: These fellowships support the last 3 years of an academic program. Applicants should have some preliminary data when applying for the fellowship, because it will help launch the research project. A good background and rationale for the research project should also be included. In terms of how much preliminary data is recommended, it is difficult to say; it has to be strong enough to support the hypothesis that the applicant is presenting.
Question: Could you give us the number of applications and a usual amount of grants accepted, in terms of the point systems?
Answer: NCCAM has a scoring system for the different components of the application. The reviewers will assign a score for the entire application as well as for each component. The scores range from 1–10; the smaller the number, the better.
Question: How do reviewers evaluate each application?
Answer: The criteria that reviewers use to assess each application are called the review criteria. These are included in the Funding Opportunity Announcement. Applicants are strongly encouraged to address each criterion very explicitly in their applications. Some applicants actually structure their applications around the review criteria. The reviewers are instructed to review applications based on the review criteria and will evaluate the scientific merit of each application based on the criteria and assign criterion scores. Reviewers are permitted to weigh the criteria as they see fit and will assign each application an overall impact score (i.e., the overall impact score is not an average of the individual criterion scores). For example, reviewers may regard the mentoring team included in one application as being very exceptional and may place a greater weight on the merit of the mentoring team in that application compared with a different application.
Question: Should an F32 postdoctoral fellowship “piggyback” on (i.e., add measures to) an existing study, or can I propose a new study “from scratch?”
Answer: The resources available for F32s are not extremely large. Applicants need to be creative, innovative, and be working on something related to the mentor’s research project. The mentor will be supporting the applicant from his funds to help the applicant with his/her project while helping them to develop their skills to become an independent investigator. With the limited resources available through the F32, it is very unlikely that a strong independent project will develop out of the fellowship.
Question: Can I “piggyback” on the a K award of a colleague?
Answer: The K award is another career development program at NCCAM. You can have a K awardee as part of your mentoring team, but applicants should not depend on the resources from the K award, because K award resources are also limited. Applicants should be working with individuals whose research programs are well funded through NIH mechanisms.
Question: Do you have career development grant opportunities for a faculty member engaging in a new area of CAM research?
Answer: Yes, in the future, NCCAM will have a webinar on the K awards. NCCAM uses the K1 career development award for those faculty members who are transitioning between fields. This is a good use of the K1 program.

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This page last modified October 26, 2015