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Misused and misunderstood terms: NIH is a foreign language

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NIA Blog Team

Work jargon is not riveting conversation. Government acronyms? Even worse.

But knowing the language does come in handy when you are trying to navigate an organization and its culture. Familiarity with NIH concepts and lingo can be useful when you need to discuss your A1 R01 application with your PO or SRO… the NIH has a language all its own.

So, here are some key NIH terms, as well as some links to lists of NIH acronyms and definitions. You may know them all, or you may think you know them all. Some have changed recently. Some are routinely used incorrectly.

1. SRO versus PO

First, something close to home. While many of you will be familiar with the difference between these two people, we field regular calls from applicants and grantees who aren’t.

The Scientific Review Officer (SRO), formerly Scientific Review Administrator (SRA), is the Designated Federal Official for peer review meetings at the NIH. The SRO is the applicant’s point of contact from the time you submit your application until the time of the review meeting. You can address review-related questions or concerns to your SRO, including:

  • completeness of your application and allowable post-submission materials
  • roster of attendees for the meeting at which your application will be reviewed
  • general questions about the review process and timeline

The Program Officer (PO) is the NIH official who guides the programmatic and scientific aspects of grants and grant programs. This person is your point of contact before you submit an application and after your application is reviewed, including funding decisions. A PO has a portfolio of grantees, and has input on which applications ultimately receive funding. The PO is an applicant’s point of contact for questions about:

  • appropriate topics for an application
  • programmatic interest in funding specific research
  • activity codes and mechanisms for funding (see below)
  • your score and summary statement from an application that has undergone peer review

Read more about this in When should I contact an NIA program officer?

2. Mechanism versus Activity Code

This distinction is good to know when you are starting to explore what kind of funding to seek.

A funding mechanism is a type of financial assistance for extramural research.  There are three types commonly used at the NIH: grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts. For grants and cooperative agreements, you submit an application, while for contracts, you submit a proposal. Thus, the term proposal is reserved for contracts, if you want to be exact about it.

In contrast, an activity code is the alphanumeric code for different types of grant programs, such as R01, P30, K02, etc.  Even though in spoken language some of these include an “oh,” for example, “R-oh-one,” those are zeroes (not the letter O) in written text.

3. Resubmission versus Renewal versus Revision Applications

Here’s where it really starts to get complicated. 

A resubmission (formerly revision) is an amended or revised application that has been previously submitted, but was not funded, and is being resubmitted for new consideration. The application number ends with A1 because the initial submission is considered A0 (although just to make things interesting A0 is not included in the original number). Applicants must make significant changes to the application and can only resubmit after the summary statement from the first review is available.

A revision (formerly competing supplement) is a peer-reviewed application requesting additional funds during an existing grant’s period of support, to include new or additional aims and expanded scope. The application number starts with a 3 (Type 3) and differs from an administrative supplement, which does not undergo peer review.

A renewal (formerly competing continuation) is a peer-reviewed application requesting additional funding for an existing grant, in order to extend funding, and in most cases aims, beyond the current award period. The application number starts with a 2 (Type 2).

4. ND

Finally, while perhaps not a popular topic, you may receive a summary statement (formerly known as a pink sheet) where the score is listed as Not Discussed (formerly streamlined or triaged were used to describe this process).  During a peer review meeting, it is not always possible or practical to discuss all applications, and those applications that are not considered by reviewers to be in the more meritorious half are Not Discussed.  Applicants with ND applications will still receive criterion scores and reviewer critiques from the assigned reviewers.

More NIH acronym lists and glossaries

Not enough? Here are more references.

Still have questions about these or other terms? Get in touch by commenting below.

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