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How to find the best parts of our Council minutes

Dr. Robin Barr
Robin BARR,
Director, DEA,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

Our National Advisory Council on Aging meets three times a year to consider grant applications and programs and make recommendations, as do the Advisory Councils for the other NIH Institutes. If you’re like most people, you have never bothered to look at the meeting materials available online. Meeting minutes? That sounds terribly boring – like what you’d read when you have trouble sleeping, right?

But Council materials contain critical information about research priorities and future directions for NIA. If you never look at them, you are missing out on information that might be useful for your next grant application. So, here is my crib sheet describing where to look and when, so you can get the details you need, and quickly.

Director’s Status Report

One part of the Council materials that you’re likely to find interesting: the Director’s Status Report. Here’s the most recent status report, prepared for the September 2013 Council meeting. And here are the kinds of questions it can answer:

  • What is going to happen with the NIA budget for research in 2014 or 2015? We put everything we know about future years in the Budget and Appropriations document.
  • Why is there a new contact person for my application or grant? What happened to that program staff member I used to talk to? NIA Staff Changes are described as well.

Minutes from the previous meeting

At each Council session, we approve the minutes from the previous meeting, and these minutes contain more information you might find valuable. Here are the most recent minutes, from June 2013, and here are the kinds of questions they can answer:

  • Is the NIA planning to fund any new areas of research, or new kinds of grants? The Council discusses and recommends (or advises against) new Concept Clearances. These are special pots of money that NIA staff propose be set aside for high priority areas of research. If you are active in one of these areas of research, you might want to get in touch with us about upcoming funding opportunities.
  • What is going on with the really big, longstanding NIA grants—is the organization going to keep funding those activities or will the money be freed up for new grants? The minutes often contain reports on NIA Divisions and their programs. For example, scroll down for a program report on the Division of Neuroscience, which funds longstanding large grants like those to the Alzheimer’s disease research centers. You’ll see that the Council is recommending specific tweaks to a number of activities.
  • What’s some of the most exciting research that the NIA is funding? Every meeting, Program Highlights spotlight grantees making breakthroughs and moving our science forward.

Did you know you can watch the Council meeting, even if you’re not in Bethesda?

Some parts of Council meetings are open to the public. You can attend in person, if you happen in be in the area. Check the agenda to find out what parts are open to the public. And this year, for the first time, we will start videocasting Council meetings. You can watch the sessions live or archived.

NACA = Council = Advisory Council

The National Advisory Council on Aging goes by a number of names. At NIA we affectionately call it NACA. At other NIH Institutes the more common abbreviation for their advisory councils may be Council or Advisory Council. They all mean the same thing.

Who sits on NACA and what does it do?

Leaders in aging research, Alzheimer’s disease research, and public advocacy for aging research issues form NACA. Our Director, Richard Hodes, chairs it. I am the Executive Secretary and a number of others from the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH are members as a result of the offices they hold there (ex-officio members). Check out the membership roster.

The NACA advises program staff and the NIA Director on activities and funding. They don’t make final approvals, but their advice and direction is very closely heeded. Council meetings are an important opportunity for our staff to document and justify their proposals and activities to an extremely well-informed, external, independent group.

NACA activities and reports are one of the best ways to keep in touch with what’s happening at NIA. I hope you’ll consider spending a few minutes with the meeting materials. If you have questions on those materials, you can always reach me by submitting a comment.


Read next:

About NIA: National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA)

Meetings NACA Review