Bridges Programs Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about the Bridges to the Future Program (Bridges to the Baccalaureate and Bridges to the Doctorate) generally relate to the following topics:
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Applying for a Bridges Grant
Q. What types of institutions are eligible to apply for a Bridges grant?
A. Eligible organizations include domestic, private and public institutions of higher education. State and local systems of higher education may also apply. Community colleges and other 2-year post-secondary educational institutions that offer associate degree programs with an emphasis on the biomedical/behavioral sciences and that have a high enrollment, as determined by the applicant institution, of program-eligible students are eligible to apply for the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program.
The participating bachelor’s degree-granting institutions must have strong science curricula and a track record of enrolling, retaining and graduating students who pursue advanced degrees in biomedical and behavioral research fields.
The master’s degree-granting institutions in the Bridges to the Doctorate program must offer a terminal master’s degree in biomedical or behavioral sciences as their highest degree and have a high enrollment, as determined by the applicant institution, of program-eligible master’s degree-seeking students.
The Ph.D. degree-granting institutions must be research institutions that have a significant number of mentors with NIH or other extramural research support and that award the doctoral degree in biomedical or behavioral science fields.
See Section III.1 of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate (PAR-12-277), and Bridges to the Doctorate (PAR-12-276) program announcements for other details of the eligibility requirements.
Q. Can an institution with a Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant also apply for a Bridges to the Doctorate program? Similarly, can an institution with a Bridges to the Doctorate grant also apply for a Bridges to the Baccalaureate program?
A. Yes, an institution that submits an application for the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program (PAR-12-277) may submit a separate application for support of a Bridges to the Doctorate program (PAR-12-276), if they meet the eligibility requirements.
Similarly, an institution that submits an application for the Bridges to the Doctorate program may submit a separate application for support of a Bridges to the Baccalaureate program, if they meet the eligibility requirements.
Q. How many applications or awards per institution are allowed?
A. For each Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), only one application or one award per institution is allowed.
Q. Who is eligible to participate in the Bridges to the Future program?
A. For the purpose of this FOA, individuals underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences include the following classes of participants:
I. Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis (see data at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showpub.cfm?TopID=2&SubID=27 and the most recent report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering ). The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Hawaiian Natives, and natives of the US Pacific Islands. In addition, it is recognized that underrepresentation can vary from setting to setting; individuals from racial or ethnic groups that can be convincingly demonstrated to be underrepresented by the grantee institution should be encouraged to participate in this program
II. Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
III. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who are defined as:
- Individuals who come from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds. These thresholds are based on family size; published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; adjusted annually for changes in the Consumer Price Index; and adjusted by the Secretary for use in all health professions programs. The Secretary periodically publishes these income levels at HHS - Poverty Guidelines, Research, and Measurement . For individuals from low income backgrounds, the institution must be able to demonstrate that such participants have qualified for Federal disadvantaged assistance or they have received any of the following student loans: Health Professions Student Loans (HPSL), Loans for Disadvantaged Student Program or they have received scholarships from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Scholarship for Individuals with Exceptional Financial Need.
- Individuals who come from a social, cultural or educational environment such as that found in certain rural or inner-city environments that have demonstrably and recently directly inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.
Recruitment and retention plans related to a disadvantaged background (C1 and C2) are most applicable to high school and perhaps to undergraduate candidates, but would be more difficult to justify for individuals beyond that level of academic achievement. Under extraordinary circumstances the PHS may, at its discretion, consider an individual beyond the undergraduate level to be from a disadvantaged background. Such decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, based on appropriate documentation.
Q. Where can I find the most recent Bridges to the Future Program Announcement?
A. The most recent Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program Announcement (PAR-12-277) is available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-12-277.html.
The most recent Bridges to the Doctorate Program Announcement (PAR-12-276) is available at http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-12-276.html.
Q. What application form should I use to prepare my new or competing renewal application, and where do I find it?
A. Applicants must download the SF424 (R&R) application forms and SF424 (R&R) Application Guide for this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) through Grants.gov (http://www.grants.gov/applicants/apply_for_grants.jsp). Only the forms package directly attached to the Bridges FOA (PAR-12-277 or PAR-12-276, as applicable) can be used. You will not be able to use any other SF424 (R&R) forms (e.g., sample forms, forms from another FOA) although some of the "Attachment" files may be useable for more than one FOA. Applications may not be submitted in paper format.
A registration process is necessary before submission and applicants are highly encouraged to start the process at least 4 weeks prior to the grant submission date. See Section IV of the Bridges FOA.
Q. What is the application receipt date for the Bridges application?
A. The application submission/receipt date is October 26, 2012. Applications must be successfully received by Grants.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. local time (of the applicant institution/organization) on the application submission/receipt date.
Q. What is the duration of Bridges grants?
A. The application may request funds for a maximum of 5 years.
Q. What should I put down on my application as a start date?
A. The earliest anticipated start date is July 1, 2013.
Q. What are the elements of a good application?
A. A good application should contain all the essential elements and should be organized following the instructions in the Bridges FOAs, as applicable, including:
- A brief description of and rationale for selecting the participating institutions (the lead applicant as well as partners). This should include the academic environments and geographic locations in the context of the lead applicant institution.
- Baseline data (averaged over the previous 5-year period) on students from each participating associate’s or master’s degree institution, including: a) the number and percent of students enrolled full-time in biomedical and behavioral sciences; b) the number and percent of underrepresented students who transfer to a baccalaureate or Ph.D. program in biomedical and behavioral sciences; and (for renewal applications only); c) the number and percent of Bridges students in the program who transferred to and completed a baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree in biomedical and behavioral sciences.
- A clear statement of program goals and specific aims relative to the institutional baseline.
- A Progress Report (for renewal applications only) that includes program outcome data in the context of the Bridges program’s goals, metrics and expectations and institutional baseline data. Applications with more than one previous funding cycle must provide information on the past two consecutive funding cycles.
- A detailed description of Bridges developmental activities that would move the institution from baseline to the program’s expectations.
- A clear description of the training and experience of proposed Program Director(s)/Principal Investigator(s) (PDs/PIs), coordinator(s), and program faculty and staff, as well as their roles and responsibilities in the administration of the Bridges to the Doctorate program.
- A plan for training in responsible conduct of research.
- An evaluation plan (with timeline) to assess the effectiveness of the program in achieving its goals and objectives.
- A dissemination plan.
- Evidence of strong institutional commitment for the proposed program from all participating institutions.
- Consortium agreement letter(s).
Q. What can be placed in the Appendix?
A. Information directly relevant to the grant application, such as tracking data for individual students supported by the Bridges program over the past 10 years (if applicable), Bridges-specific student curriculum (do not include entire university catalogs), sample (blank) copies of survey forms and other assessment instruments, abstracts of student presentations/URLs for peer-reviewed publications by students published during the immediate past funding cycle and consortium agreements and letters of support may be included in the Appendix. The Appendix should not be used to provide completed surveys, summary of survey results, or program evaluation reports.
Do not use the Appendix to circumvent the page limitations of the Research Plan component. An application that does not observe these limitations may be delayed in the review process or not reviewed.
Q. Where are the sample data tables uploaded?
A. Applicants are encouraged to use the suggested table formats available at the NIGMS Bridges Web site, to provide the data required in the Research Education Program. These data tables should be included in the Other Attachments section of the Other Project Information Form.
Q. Is there a cap on the amount of funds that can be requested?
A. There are no caps. However, the size of award will vary with the scope of the research education program proposed. The requested budget must be reasonable, well documented, and fully justified and commensurate with the scope of the proposed program. The applicants should also note the NIH policy (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-02-004.html) on $500,000 or more in direct costs for any year, and must carry out the following steps:
- Contact the NIGMS TWD program staff at least 6 weeks before submitting the application, i.e., as you are developing plans for the study.
- Obtain agreement from the TWD program staff that NIGMS will accept your application for consideration for award.
- Include a cover letter with the application that identifies the NIGMS TWD program staff who agreed to accept assignment of the application.
Q. Can we use funds for programs for high school students or to recruit students into the program?
A. No, costs supporting activities aimed at high school students are not allowed. Similarly, costs for recruiting high school students into the Bridges to Baccalaureate program or college students into the master’s program under the Bridges to Doctorate program are NOT allowed.
Q. Is tuition remission allowed in the Bridges program?
A. The tuition costs for students in the Bridges to Baccalaureate program is NOT allowed.
Master’s students in the Bridges to the Doctorate program are allowed tuition remission as part of the compensation package at the master’s institution. Limited tuition costs of Bridges students for taking one or two courses per year at the partner doctoral degree institution may also be requested.
Q. Can we provide any funds to students after they transfer to the second-level institution?
A. No, the second-level institution has the responsibility for providing support for students after they transfer.
Q. What are the most common reasons why an application is found to be non-responsive to the Bridges program announcements?
A. The most common reasons why Bridges applications are found to be non-responsive include, but are not limited to:
- Applications principally for financial aid, without a well thought-out institutional program designed to increase the overall transfer of students going into the baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree programs (as applicable) in biomedical/behavioral research fields.
- Applications that exceed specified page limits (do not use the Appendix to circumvent the page limitations), or exceed the limitations on partnerships.
- Applications that lack the required institutional baseline data, measurable goals and objectives.
- Competing applications that lack a clearly identified detailed progress report.
- Applications that lack a detailed evaluation plan.
- Applications that lack consortium agreements.
Q. What happens if an application is not responsive to a program announcement?
A. Generally, the application is withdrawn without review.
Q. How is my Bridges application reviewed?
A. Bridges applications that are complete are evaluated for scientific and technical merit by an appropriate review group convened by the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review in accordance with the review criteria stated in the program announcement (see Section V). Within a few days after the meeting you can access your priority score, and in about 6 weeks, you can access your summary statement electronically by logging on to your eRA Commons account. The summary statement generally includes: the Scientific Review Officer's (SRO) summary of the study section’s discussion, the written critiques produced by the assigned reviewers, the study section’s recommendations and administrative notes. The National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council provides the second level of review.
Q. What is a fundable priority score and how are the funding decisions made for a Bridges application?
A. There is no predetermined fundable score for a Bridges application. Applications compete for available funds with all other recommended applications from eligible institutions.
The recommendations of the peer review group and the Advisory Council are major factors in determining which grants will actually be awarded. The following are considered in making funding decisions:
- Merit: The primary measures of merit are an application's priority score and the summary statement prepared by the scientific review group.
- Availability of funds: NIGMS contributes each year to the budget for the Bridges to the Future programs. The number of awards that can be made is based on the number of meritorious applications received and the total budget available for the Bridges program.
- Programmatic considerations: NIGMS may have additional priorities (e.g., achieving a balance between baccalaureate and doctoral programs, ensuring regional diversity and supporting programs that offer unique opportunities) that will affect funding decisions.
- For renewal applications, past performance of the Bridges program is weighted heavily in making funding decisions. This includes the track record in: a) increasing the overall transfer of underrepresented students to baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree programs, as applicable, in the biomedical/behavioral sciences, and b) increasing the transfer of Bridges students to and graduation from, baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree programs, as applicable, in the biomedical/behavioral sciences.
Q. Where do I respond to the reviewers’ comments in my revised application?
A. The applicant should acknowledge the reviewer's concerns and issues in the Introduction section (see Form PHS 398 instructions), and explain how the revised application is different from the previous application. Changes to the application in response to the critiques should be highlighted by change in font or indentation as outlined in the PHS 398 instructions. The concerns and issues are noted in the Resume and Summary of Discussion section and/or under each reviewer's critique of the summary statement. If the applicant does not agree with a reviewer's comments, the rationale for disagreeing with the reviewer should be explained.
Q. What happens if there is money left over at the end of the year? Can I request a carryover of funds?
A.The funds awarded for any year must be spent in that grant year. The Bridges Programs now have expanded authority so unobligated and unspent funds can be carried over into the new budget period (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2011/nihgps_ch8.htm#_Toc271264924). These funds can be rebudgeted within the scope of the Bridges program; however, the PI/PD must contact their Bridges program official to rebudget any funds originally requested for program-supported participants.
Q. What should be included in the progress report section of a competing-renewal Bridges application, and how is the progress on outcomes evaluated?
A. For renewal applications, an explicitly identified, detailed progress report (in place of Preliminary Studies) must be included. The following information must be included, in narrative and/or tabular form, as part of the progress report:
- Provide a summary of the overall progress made during the previous grant period relative to the institutional baseline and in the context of Bridges program’s expectations, including: 1. the total number and percent of underrepresented and non-underrepresented students (associate degree or master's degree students, as applicable) who transferred (institutional transfer) from each participating community college/ master’s degree institution to a baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree program (as applicable) in biomedical and/behavioral research fields, 2. the number and percent of Bridges students who transferred (Bridges transfer) from each participating community college/master’s degree institution to a baccalaureate or Ph.D. degree program (as applicable) in biomedical and behavioral research sciences, and 3. the number and percent of transferring Bridges students who completed their bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical and behavioral research sciences (see Sample Format Table 4 http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/Bridges/sampletables.htm).
- Briefly describe the major student development activities implemented, the number of students served, the faculty member introducing/conducting the activity and the progress made in relation to the original goals and objectives.
- Provide in a tabular form the career trajectory of Bridges students over a 10-year period (if applicable). List each student anonymously, and include the underrepresented groups/populations [e.g., African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Hawaiian Natives and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands, individual with disabilities, and/or disadvantaged individual he/she belongs to, type and year of degree earned (including the major) and current plans or status. (see Sample Format Table 5. http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/Bridges/sampletables.htm).
- Describe what has been learned through the program evaluation and any changes made in the program as a result of the evaluation.
- Describe any previously funded Bridges activities that are now continuing (or will continue) on institutional funds.
The competitive renewal application is treated like any new application except that the progress on the present program is also evaluated based on the goals and objectives outlined in the original application. Applications without a detailed progress report will be considered non-responsive, and may not be reviewed.
Q. What should I (as PD) include in my annual progress report (noncompeting continuation application)? What is the page limit for the progress report?
A. Program directors must submit progress reports 2 months before the beginning date of the next budget period using the electronic Streamlined Noncompeting Award Process (e-SNAP) http://era.nih.gov/services_for_applicants/reports_and_closeout/esnap.cfm and following specific Bridges Supplemental Instructions. In general, the Progress Report should summarize the progress achieved in the reporting period with respect to the Bridges Program goals. The narrative part is limited to three pages, and numerical and other data may be presented in tabular form (tables and figures are not counted in the three-page limit). The appendix, if any, should be limited to reprints acknowledging TWD support, and the summary of evaluation report.
Q. How is the budget for the continuing year presented?
A. Under the Streamlined Noncompeting Award Process (SNAP) the details of the budget have been worked out in the original Notice of Grant Award communication. Budget details are required only if there are major changes, as reflected by positive answers to any of the SNAP questions.
Q. When and where do I submit my annual progress report (noncompeting continuation application)?
A. The progress report due information is available in the Commons status system (http://era.nih.gov/userreports/pr_due.cfm).
Progress reports must be submitted 2 months before the beginning date of the next budget period following the Streamlined Noncompeting Award Process (SNAP). Information about e-SNAP is available on the eRA Commons Web site. If your institution has never used e-SNAP before, please review the e-SNAP User Guide as it has information on how to enable the e-SNAP feature for your institution as well as step-by-step instructions on how to submit your annual progress reports electronically.
After the signing official clicks the Submit button, the system will verify that the e-SNAP contains all the required data in the correct format. The PI will receive an e-mail indicating either there is a missing/invalid data or that the e-SNAP has been accepted for submission. Once accepted, the status of the submitted e-SNAP is set to "Submitted."
Roles of Participants
Q. What are the roles of the Program Director/Principal Investigator, and Program Coordinators?
A. Bridges applications are institutional in nature and therefore they must reflect the plans and priorities of the participating institutions as well as the collective plans and priorities of the partnerships/consortia. The PD/PI and Coordinators work together to design collaborative agreements to best fit the needs and situations of the institutions involved. They create a partnership program, or enhance an existing program, that focuses attention and adequate resources on the institution(s) granting associate or master’s degrees, as applicable, and enhance competitiveness of their science graduates and science programs. The PD/PI serves as the spokesperson to NIGMS for any grant-related issues, and the coordinators represent their respective institutions in the Bridges partnership, and implement Bridges activities at their institution.
Q. What should the evaluation tell me?
A. Evaluation should provide information useful to the PD and the partner institutions for improving the program, and for institutionalizing the most effective activities supported by the Bridges program. An evaluation plan should be able to answer the following questions:
- What are the metrics or milestones of success?
- How will you monitor progress during the grant period?
- How will you know if you need to make programmatic changes?
- How will you measure impact towards the end of the grant period?
- What are the tools for data collection and analysis?
- Who is the evaluator? What are his/her credentials?
Policies and Procedures
Q. Can we add or delete institutions from the program?
A. You can request permission to add or delete partner institutions by sending a letter through your institutional business office (by hard copy or e-mail) to your NIGMS program director. Your letter should include the grant number, name(s) of the institutions, the name(s) of the program coordinator, an explanation of why the change is being made and a statement of the impact of the change on your budget. The principal investigator and an official from the grantee institution must sign the letter. If an institution is being added to the program, an official from that institution must also sign and you must submit a consortium agreement.
Q. Can the grantee institution change the principal investigator or program coordinators?
A. A grantee institution can request to change the principal investigator by sending a letter through the institutional business official to the NIGMS program director explaining why the change is requested. Both the institutional official and the proposed principal investigator must sign the letter, and you must attach curriculum vitae for the proposed principal investigator and documentation of other support. NIGMS staff will evaluate the request to confirm that the proposed principal investigator is well qualified to guide the program and advise your institution.
Q. How do I apply for a no-cost extension if this is the last year of my grant?
A. Your institution can extend the period of your project using eRA Commons (https://commons.era.nih.gov/commons/) for up to 1 year if the request is submitted on or before the anniversary date of the parent grant, provided you do not change the scope of the program.
Please note that only students already in the program can be supported while a grant is on no-cost extension.
Q. Whom do I contact for additional questions regarding the Bridges to the Baccalaureate and Bridges to the Doctorate program policies, review process and budget and grants issues?
A. For program policies regarding application and submission that are not related to existing grants:
Michelle Hamlet, Ph.D.
Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity
National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH
45 Center Drive, MSC 6200
Bethesda, MD 20892-6200
For questions on the review of applications:
Helen R. Sunshine, Ph.D.
Chief, Office of Scientific Review
National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH
45 Center Drive, MSC 6200
Bethesda, MD 20892-6200
For questions on grants management and fiscal matters:
Grants Management Specialist
Grants Management Branch
Division of Extramural Activities
National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH
45 Center Drive, MSC 6200
Bethesda, MD 20892-6200