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Translating NIH’s Alphabet Soup

Kimberly Kramer
Kimberly KRAMER,
Health Specialist,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

When voyaging abroad, many travelers bring along a book of phrases to help them navigate new languages. While NIH isn’t a country unto itself, we’ve certainly developed enough jargon to confuse even the most intrepid explorers! Here’s an explanation of a few commonly used terms to make your next journey through the grant application process go a little more smoothly.

What are the differences between an SRO and a PO?

Both your Scientific Review Officer (SRO) and your Program Officer (PO) can be great resources in answering grant-related questions. However, the types of issues they can help you with are quite different.

SROs are the NIH officials who have the legal responsibility for managing peer review meetings. They serve as an applicant’s point of contact after you submit your application and before your application is reviewed. You can ask your SRO questions about scientific review such as:

  • The completeness of your application and allowable post-submission materials
  • General questions about the review process and timeline

Please don’t ask your SRO what your score means or whether your application will get funded — they’re not allowed to discuss any aspects of scores or final funding decisions with applicants.

POs are the NIH officials who guide the programmatic and scientific aspects of grants and grant programs. They’re who you should contact before you submit your application and after your application is reviewed. POs can answer questions about issues including:

  • Appropriate topics for an application
  • Programmatic interest in supporting specific research
  • Activity codes and mechanisms for funding
  • Your score and summary statement from an application that has undergone peer review

You can ask your PO questions about funding decisions for your individual application — each PO has a portfolio of grantees and has some input on which applications ultimately receive funding.

Application types: New, revision, renewal, or resubmission?

If you’re interested in applying to one of NIA’s Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) — or really any NIH FOA for that matter — you’ll need to know whether your application will be considered new, a renewal, a revision, and/or a resubmission. Some FOAs allow all these types of applications, but most only allow a subset of them (be sure to look in Part 2, Section II, “Application Types Allowed” of the FOA, as the choices are specific for each FOA).

New applications are fairly easy to identify. Your application is new if you’re proposing research that you haven’t previously submitted to NIH, or if you previously submitted it, NIH did not fund it or return it for resubmission.

A revision application is an application proposing changes to a project (out of scope) that has already been funded. In most cases, you only need to submit a revision application if you’re requesting an increase in support in a current budget period to expand a funded project’s approved scope or research protocol. For example, if you’re running a clinical trial and come up with a new intervention that you want to add to your current protocols, you may need to submit a revision application.

A renewal application is one that requests additional funding for an existing project for a budget period after the one provided by the current award. So, if your current R01 is for fiscal year (FY) 2017-2022 but you want to continue its research after FY 2022, you’ll likely be submitting a renewal application.

A resubmission application (sometimes referred to as an A1 application) is one that was previously submitted and reviewed but not selected for funding and has now been modified and sent in again for reconsideration. The application “resubmission” modifies the other application types — you can have a resubmitted new application, a resubmitted revision, or a resubmitted renewal.

What are ESIs?

An Early Stage Investigator (ESI) is a Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) who has completed their terminal research degree or the end of their post-graduate clinical training (whichever date is later) within the past 10 years and who has not previously served as a PD/PI for a substantial NIH independent research award. At NIH, meritorious applications from ESIs can sometimes be given priority consideration for funding — and NIA has some career awards that are only available to ESIs — so it’s important to know your ESI status (PDF, 787K) and how your role in research grants may affect that status. Also, be careful not to confuse the term ESI with the term New Investigator (NI). Like ESIs, NIs are applicants who have not yet competed successfully for a substantial, competing NIH research grant, but NIs can have finished their degree or training outside of the past decade.

Additional Resources

Since this is a blog post and not a dictionary, we’ll stop our trip through NIH jargon here. But if you’d like to learn more about the terms we covered or are searching for a definition for something we didn’t mention, be sure to check out the NIH Glossary and Acronym List or leave a comment below!

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