NIH Funding Tips

Tips for writing a grant application in Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology (BICB).
  • Since NIH no longer accepts more than one resubmission of a grant application, make sure the first version of your grant gets ‘reviewed’ by your colleagues before you send it to the NIH. Tell them to not hold back.
  • The Project Summary should state: what is the research; why is it important; and what are you going to do about it.
  • A lot of computational projects can be thought of as: what is the input data; what is the computational machine; and what is the output data and information. But don’t forget about the previous bullet.
  • Be aware that reviewers have limited time. Every word should count.
  • The abstract and project summary should be instantly comprehensible to a Biomedical Reviewer who understands your area of research, and clear for a reviewer outside of your area of expertise.
  • Do not start the project summary “In the last ten years there has been a deluge of…”. Try to engage the reviewers with your ideas, and tell them something they don’t know.
  • Confusion is the enemy of a successful grant application. Try not to confuse reviewers.
  • Reviewers are not perfect, admittedly, but it is critical to take responsibility for negative reviews and plan for changes you can make. There is no opportunity to change a reviewer’s mind after a review except for well-written resubmission.
  • After a first submission, take time to think beyond the content in the summary statement. In general, it is not sufficient to simply respond to the critiques on a point-by-point basis and resubmit. Make the resubmission substantially better.
  • Consider diversifying your potential sources of funding to multiple ICs and other agencies.
  • Know your competition and set your project apart. Check out (RePORT), in particular the RePORTer tool for Expenditures and Results, and examine closely the literature related to your project. Your application should clearly describe how your proposed work is distinguished from other work in field. Don’t assume it will be obvious to the reviewer.
  • If you are a young faculty member, or otherwise new to grant writing, find a mentor who has been funded by NIH and ask for help. Getting multiple viewpoints is even more helpful, since it can help you anticipate questions a diverse review panel might raise.
  • A lot of good programs start by like-minded investigators getting together on a regular basis and mulling the research problems. Take advantage of opportunities within your department or institution to talk with your colleagues about areas of mutual interest. 
  • I have seen applicants successfully use the method of Use Cases. For example, a Use Case can demonstrate how a tool you plan to develop will be useful in a clinical research setting.
  • Write in such a way that reviewers won’t have to read things twice.
  • Good luck!


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