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Three steps to training grant success

Dr. Sharooz Vahedi
Shahrooz VAHEDI,
Training Officer (Health Science Administrator) ,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

As the number of older people increases worldwide, the need for scientists and clinicians in aging research is greater than ever. To fulfill our mission of enhancing the pool of researchers in aging, NIA participates in a broad span of training programs. Some are sponsored by the NIH, others are specific to NIA. Our fellowship and career development awards are available through many award mechanisms, and each one has its own eligibility requirements and benefits. It can sometimes be a bit overwhelming to figure out which program is best for you.

I’d like to offer some help in the form of three key steps to finding and applying for NIA training awards.

1. Know what NIA is interested in

As with any funder—private, nonprofit, state, federal, or other—that you approach for support, it’s vitally important to know what the agency or organization is interested in funding. Here at NIA, we are interested in a wide range of aging-related research, from basic science to clinical investigations to social and economic systems studies. You can get funding for training in many areas, as long as it clearly relates to aging.

In recent years, we’ve received a substantial influx of funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. So, research in Alzheimer’s is one of our high-priority areas. As you know from one of Dr. Robin Barr’s recent posts, we have a separate budget and pay line for training and career development awards related to Alzheimer’s. Consider how to align NIA’s interests and your application.

2. Find the right training opportunity

The training award mechanism you choose depends on where you are in your career trajectory. NIA has training for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students; however, most of our awards go to predoctoral and postdoctoral students. The F31 funding mechanism is the primary training award for predoctoral students. After you receive your Ph.D. (or M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D.) the options open up a little. The mechanism provides training for newly minted Ph.D.s.

Then, there’s also the K series Mentored Career Development Awards, which provide many opportunities for postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty to secure research funds. These include the K99/R00, K01, K08, K23, and K25 awards. The recently established K76 and K18 awards also offer interesting training opportunities. The K76 is for research and career advancement toward leadership roles for rising clinician-scientists in aging, and the K18 is for training in Alzheimer’s drug discovery and data science. Take a look at the various opportunities to determine which is the best fit for you and reach out to program staff if you have questions.

3. Try and try again

NIA’s analyses of our training and research project grants show that it’s rare for applicants to receive a competitive score at first submission. While this is undoubtedly disappointing, we urge you to submit a second application once you’ve addressed those pesky critiques. Don’t get discouraged by less-than-kind reviewer comments. Take a moment and read the review carefully. Then read it again. Wait for a few days and then contact your program officer. If your score is very close to the pay line or if you feel your application was misunderstood by the reviewers, NIA staff can give you suggestions to address the shortcomings and prepare a more competitive application.

We’re here to help!

Along with NIA’s specific training information, the NIH Research Training and Career Development homepage also has extensive information about training opportunities. Contact NIA program staff to discuss options for training and for identifying the right opportunity for you. Contact me for general information on training and fellowship programs. Or, feel free to comment below.