Grant Application and Review

The particular set of forms used to apply for an NIH grant depends on which grant mechanism is to be used. Complete information regarding forms, deadlines and other NIH policies is available on the NIH Web site. NIH grant applications are now submitted electronically; information on this process is available at How to Apply - Application Guide. For more on writing your application, see the Tips for New NIH Grant Applicants or the video "Inside the NIH Grant Review Process."

Once prepared, electronic applications are submitted to NIH through portal.

Your grant proposal then goes through an initial peer review process. On average, it takes at least 9 months from the time an application is received until the time a grant award is made.

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) assigns each application to an initial review group as well as to an NIH institute or center for potential funding. The review group, managed by a scientific review officer (SRO), is composed of scientists with expertise in a given discipline--such as molecular biology, neurology or biochemistry—or an organ or disease area. Most review groups meet 3 times a year to evaluate the scientific merit of each application assigned to them. The products of a review group's deliberations are an evaluative statement, called a summary statement; a priority score for each application that is found to have significant and substantial merit; and a percentile ranking of each application against all applications reviewed by a given review group at its last three meetings. Review groups also make recommendations on the budget and length of support requested. View more information on the peer review process.

All of the review group's products are provided to the principal investigator, who submits the application, as well as to a program director in the NIH institute/center (IC) to which the application has been assigned. The program director is a scientist who tracks the application during the review process and is part of the team that administers it if it is funded.

Applications with scientific merit ratings (for NIGMS, in the top two-thirds of all applications) then receive a second level of review from the national advisory council associated with each NIH IC. In an effort to streamline the initial review stage, review groups score the most competitive applications (approximately the top half), although reviewers' written comments are sent to applicants whose applications are not scored.

The advisory councils are composed of leaders in the basic sciences, medical sciences, education or public affairs. Council recommendations are based not only on an application's scientific merit, but also on its importance to the IC’s mission. After the council approves an application, the institute or center may fund it.

Due to budget constraints, not all scored applications can be funded. In fact, NIH as a whole is currently only able to fund about one in four of the grant applications it receives. However, there are certain things you can do to improve your likelihood of being funded.

Tips and Information Sources

  1. Talk to your program director about IC’s priorities and scientific matters related to your grant application before you submit your application. If you are unsure which IC is most appropriate, contact the one that seems most closely aligned with your project. New investigators might start by contacting the program directors of their thesis or postdoctoral advisors or other mentors.

    Program directors are a valuable source of information and guidance on how to improve an application before submission or resubmission. They can also advise you on regulations involving the use of human subjects or laboratory animals, as well as research using hazardous materials.

    Phone numbers and e-mail addresses of NIGMS Staff Contacts, including program directors, are available online.

    After CSR receives your application and begins its referral process, you can look in the Commons to find information about your application, including the application number, the assigned IC responsible for the application, the initial review group assignment, the contact information of the SRO, and the program director. If you have questions about the review assignment or process, contact the SRO.
  2. Consider applying for special programs if you meet their eligibility criteria. These programs include small grants offered by some ICs to support the development of preliminary data and various programs for members of diverse groups that are underrepresented in biomedical research. The success rates of applications in many special programs are generally higher than those of regular research grant applications.
  3. Read the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. This publication is a week-by-week snapshot of new NIH policies, priorities and initiatives. The Guide contains program announcements, which remind investigators of an IC's continuing interest in a scientific area or extramural program but generally do not include set-aside funds. The Guide also includes requests for applications, which invite investigators to apply for money that has been set aside in areas of particular interest or need.
  4. Take advantage of the information postings from the Office of Extramural Research, which are designed to guide you through the application and review processes.

See additional tips compiled by NIGMS staff members.