Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15) FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions (PAR-18-714)

General Questions

What are the goals of this new R15 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) (PAR-18-714)?

The three objectives of this FOA are: (1) provide support for meritorious research at undergraduate-focused institutions or institutional components; (2) strengthen the research environment at these institutions/components; and (3) give undergraduate students an opportunity to gain significant biomedical research experience through active involvement in the research. For the purpose of this announcement, an undergraduate-focused institution/component is one in which the undergraduate enrollment is greater than the graduate enrollment. Institutions must have received less than $6 million in NIH funding in the last 4 of 7 years.

My research program has a strong focus on undergraduates; am I eligible to apply for the Academic Research Enhancement Award for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions?

This AREA FOA has three goals. Exposing undergraduate students to primary research opportunities fulfills only one of those goals. It is important to consider the scientific focus of your project. If your science lies outside the NIGMS mission, we recommend you consider applying to the Parent R15 FOA (PA-18-504), which allows support for various types of students, including undergraduates. Please refer to FAQs in this section for additional specifics regarding the research areas within the NIGMS mission.

What is the definition of an undergraduate-focused institution?

This is an institution or academic component within the institution that has a greater undergraduate student enrollment than its graduate student enrollment. However, this FOA is not limited to Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions (PUI) as defined by NSF.

"Undergraduate-focused institution" includes a large number and variety of universities, including ones that award advanced degrees. Eligible institutions can have Professional Schools, but those Colleges and Schools are ineligible for this FOA. If the institution has other academic components/colleges in which the undergraduate enrollment is emphasized, and they meet the other eligibility requirements specified in the FOA, they would be eligible to apply (e.g. the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts).

Will NIGMS accept applications for the NIH R15 Parent FOA (PA-18-504 or its reissuances)?

NIGMS will not accept applications in response to the NIH Parent FOA. NIGMS will continue to provide co-funding for meritorious AREA grant applications from institutions in IDeA states to other NIH institutes and centers that fall just outside of their normal funding range, regardless of which AREA FOA they come in under.

What research areas are within NIGMS' mission?

NIGMS supports fundamental research. NIGMS' research mission is aimed at understanding the principles, mechanisms, and processes that underlie living organisms, often using research models. NIGMS also supports the development of fundamental methods and new technologies to achieve its mission. NIGMS-supported research may utilize specific cells or organ systems if they serve as models for understanding general principles.

NIGMS also supports research in specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems: anesthesiology and peri-operative pain; sepsis; clinical pharmacology that is common to multiple drugs and treatments; trauma, burn injury, and wound healing.

What research areas are not within NIGMS' mission?

Research whose overall goal is to gain knowledge about a specific organ or organ system or the pathophysiology, treatment, or cure of a specific disease or condition will, in most cases, be more appropriate for another Institute or Center. See the NIH listing of Institutes, Centers, and Offices to learn more about their specific missions.

What should I put as my start date?

There are 3 cycles per fiscal year. The earliest project start date depends on when you submit your application.

Project Cycle Start Dates
Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Cycle 3
Scientific Merit ReviewJune - JulyOctober - NovemberFebruary - March
Advisory Council RoundAugust or OctoberJanuaryMay
Earliest Project Start DateSeptember or DecemberAprilJuly


Can I use the AREA Ineligibility List to determine if my institution is eligible?

The AREA Ineligibility List does not apply. A letter from the Provost must be included in an application under "Letters of Support" certifying that the applicant institution satisfies the requirements outlined in the FOA (PAR-18-714).

Are Health Professional Schools eligible to apply?

This FOA does not provide for support of research from Health Professional Schools, as defined in the FOA, regardless of student composition.

Can eligible applicants have other active NIH grants?

Applicants cannot be the PI of any active NIH research grant at the time of the award. The R15 is intended to be the PI's only NIH research grant. However, the PI can work on another PI's grant as a collaborator at the time the R15 is awarded.

When multiple PD/PIs are proposed, must all PD/PIs and institutions involved be AREA-eligible?

Yes, each PD/PI must have an appointment at an AREA-eligible institution, as defined by PAR-18-714. In addition, each PD/PI may not be the PD/PI of an active NIH grant at the time of award of an AREA grant.

Can a PD/PI have an active NIH research grant?

No, a PD/PI cannot have an active NIH research grant at the time of award. If Multiple PD/PIs are proposed, each of the PD/PIs must not have an active NIH research grant at the time of award.

Should subawards be included in the calculation for organization eligibility?

Funds issued as subawards to other entities where the R15 applicant organization is the primary grantee do count, as these funds have been awarded to the applicant on an NoA. Subawards in which the applicant is the subaward recipient should not be counted. The award is not made directly to the institution and can be changed or cut out by the primary grantee.

Preparing and Submitting an Application

Where can I get help preparing my application?

It is helpful to be proactive, talk to program staff and talk to successful applicants. In addition, the Office of Extramural Research publishes guides and tips on its Web site; some of which are listed here

Additional useful resources include:

Also, your school probably has an Office of Sponsored Programs or Office of Research Development that can assist you with developing your application.

Whom should I contact with questions about Institute/Center (IC) research interests?

A description of the research interest of NIGMS may be found at:

Contact information for the NIGMS AREA representative may be found at:

Should my Specific Aims focus on students?

This is a research grant, and the Specific Aims should focus on the scientific questions you want to pursue. The Research Strategy should describe how the proposed work plan can achieve the specific aims and objectives using a research team composed primarily of undergraduate students.

Should I include a collaborator or consultant?

Collaborators add needed skills to a project. If you do not have the appropriate expertise for your proposed Research Plan or access to needed equipment, facilities, reagents, or other resources, adding a collaborator or consultant can help you fill these gaps.

My students have generated preliminary data and helped design experiments. Where can I indicate this in my application?

You can describe this in the Research Strategy attachment of the Research Plan form and will count towards the 12-page limit.

This could include descriptions of how past students have participated in research activities like experimental planning, execution and analysis, how past students have contributed to data generation, and how future students will be involved in similar activities. The Biographical Sketch should specify if peer-reviewed publications or other research products have involved undergraduate students.

I would like to include a timeline that reflects my research plan and students' academic year schedules. Under which section of the application can I include the timeline?

This information should be included in the Research Strategy attachment of the Research Plan form and will count towards the 12-page limit.

Student Involvement

What type of student activities should would be considered appropriate involvement?

The AREA program aims to involve students in research a way that is intellectually stimulating, experience-driven, and significant to the research. Students may be involved in participation in the design of experiments and controls, collection and analysis of data, execution and troubleshooting of experiments, presentation at meetings, drafting journal articles, collaborative interactions, participation in lab meetings to discuss results and future experiments, etc.

Can I design a class to satisfy the inclusion of undergraduates in research? Is this responsive to the R15 FOA to expose undergraduates to meritorious research?

The goal of providing students with research opportunities refers to primary research. If the class setting is a means to do interesting primary research, then yes, it would be responsive to the FOA. If there is no discovery aspect to that research, then no, it is not responsive.

What information should the application include about the plans to include students?

The application should focus on plans to expose students to hands-on meritorious research and what activities undergraduate students will participate in. The application should also convey how the project will stimulate students' interest in biomedical sciences.

Since the R15 is a research grant, not a training or fellowship award, it should not include training or mentoring plans like professional development activities, coursework, seminars, etc.

Do I need to identify specific students in the application?

If it is not possible to name specific students in the application, then in the budget justification, an applicant should identify the number and level (for example, sophomore) of students. The applicant can describe the criteria that will be used to select students. For example, applicants might propose to choose from among those students who have completed particular classes or who are pursuing specific majors.

Can I support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows under this award?

Although graduate students and postdoctoral fellows may be supported under the new undergraduate-focused AREA FOA, the research team must be composed primarily of undergraduate students. Involvement of such graduate students and postdoctoral fellows does not fulfill the goal to expose undergraduate students in eligible environments to research or include undergraduates in the research team.

Can I support health professional students?

No. Health Professional Schools will not be eligible to apply for this FOA and likewise, students enrolled in these programs cannot be supported by this FOA.


Can I have a collaborator who is at an AREA-ineligible institution?

It is acceptable to have an AREA-ineligible collaborator, consultant, or subcontractor. Collaborators add needed skills to a project. If you do not have the appropriate expertise for your proposed Research Plan or access to needed equipment, facilities, reagents, or other resources, adding a collaborator or consultant can help you fill these gaps.

However, as the role of that AREA-ineligible collaborator is developed, it is important to keep in mind the goals and unique review criteria of the R15. These criteria include:

  • Availability of research opportunities to students
  • Potential to have a substantial effect on the institution/academic component by strengthening the research environment and exposing students to research
  • The PI's experience supervising students in research
  • Evidence the project can stimulate the interests of students to consider a career in biomedical science.

Review Process

What type of group will review my R15?

R15s may be reviewed either in a standing study section that also reviews other mechanisms like R01, R21, and R03 or in a Special Emphasis Panel assembled for one review meeting. For each review cycle, CSR Scientific Review Officers and Integrated Review Group chiefs decide which option will provide the most appropriate expertise for the current group of R15 applications.

In a standing study section, applications are clustered separately from other mechanisms; i.e., R15 are considered relative only to other R15s for streamlining and R15s are discussed one after another.

Where do I find the study section rosters?

Rosters of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) study sections are available at: Since Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs) are assembled for a specific meeting, there are no rosters of standing panels. Rosters are posted 30 days prior to a meeting and available on the CSR website or from your NIH Commons account, which lists information pertaining to your application.

The CSR website also has descriptions of the scientific areas covered by each Integrated Review Group at:

Can I request a study section in the Assignment Request Form?

You can request up to 3 study sections in your Assignment Request Form. You should also describe the expertise needed to review the application. You can list up to five types of expertise using 40 characters for each type. Scientific Review Officers and their Integrated Review Group chiefs decide whether review in a study section or a Special Emphasis Panel will bring the most appropriate expertise for R15s reviewed each cycle. However, the expertise terms and study section request are still helpful in referring applications to the appropriate Integrated Review Group.

Do reviewers use unique criteria for applications submitted in response to this R15 FOA?

Yes, these criteria are detailed in "Section V, Application Review Information" of the FOA (PAR-18-714). These criteria are unique to this announcement.


Do Modular Grant guidelines apply to this FOA?

It depends upon the total amount of direct costs requested for all years of the award.

If you are requesting $250,000 or less in direct costs for the entire (1, 2, or 3-year) budget period, use the PHS398 Modular Budget format. If you are requesting $250,001 - $300,000 in direct costs for the entire budget period, use the R&R Budget format. Please note that the budget amounts used to determine whether the PHS398 Modular Budget form or R&R Budget form should be used exclude the indirect costs on subcontracts (consortium F&A).

AREA grants are multi-year funded (MYF) awards, so the entire budget, for all years of the award, must be requested in the first budget year.

Can I include a subaward in my budget request?

Yes. There are no specific restrictions in what is requested in a budget, and applicants have a lot of leeway. However, keep these R15 criteria in mind: student involvement in primary research, improvement of the R15-eligible institution, and impact on the R15-eligible investigator. Dollars diverted to a subaward need to be well justified.

Do I need to request student salaries in my budget?

Students must comprise the majority of the research team, but inclusion of undergraduates does not mean they have to be paid from the grant if there are other resources at the university to pay them for their participation in the lab's research. This should be stated in your budget justification.

Grant Award and Management

​What reports are required once the application is awarded?

A Progress Report is required and is due annually on or before the anniversary of the budget/project period start date of the award. NIH will send an email notification to the PD/PI two months before the anniversary of the award requesting that the progress report be submitted electronically. See or NOT-OD-11-010 for more information.

Can an AREA grant be transferred to another institution?

AREA grants can only be transferred to another AREA-eligible institution. However, note that there are many other factors that must be considered in the geographic relocation of a grant. If you are considering such a transfer, please contact your Program Director early in the relocation process.

Can AREA grantees apply for supplement funds?

An AREA grantee may be eligible for an administrative supplement to improve the diversity of the research workforce by supporting and recruiting students from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented. The grantee must check with the Program Director before submitting an application for a supplement. There must be at least one year remaining on the AREA grant at the time the supplement is awarded and only one supplement at a time is allowed.

Additional information may be found on the NIGMS website regarding supplements.