Program helps researchers prepare grants proposals for NIH

Starting with the National Institutes for Health, project’s goal is to increase chances of research funding through centralized support.

University of Texas at Austin researchers are getting a hand in seeking grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from the Office of the Vice President for Research’s NIH Initiative.

The ultimate aim of two-year project is to shorten the time it takes for junior faculty to obtain their first extramural grants. While NIH is the current focus, the project might be expanded to a more general grant-writing program. Dr. Sharon A. Brown, associate vice president for research, is heading the project, which is to demonstrate the value of centralized support for faculty seeking NIH grants..

The initiative is a boot camp for grant-seeking researchers. It sponsors proposal-writing workshops, mentor groups and speakers and serves as a resource on funding techniques and practices. In addition, a program coordinator provides technical assistance to researchers when they put proposals together.

The NIH, comprising 27 separate institutes and centers, is the federal government’s focal point for medical research in the United States. Over the past five years, its research and development budget has nearly doubled to $26.2 billion in fiscal 2003. In fiscal 2002, 184 University of Texas at Austin researchers received $41.3 million from the NIH. That was up from 165 researchers receiving $34 million the previous year. The NIH accounted for 17 percent of the university’s $255 million R&D funding from federal sources in fiscal 2002.

The NIH Initiative focuses on faculty new to the university, but it’s also open to faculty new to the process of seeking NIH funding. “They’re getting expert assistance for their proposals,” said Elena Mota, NIH Initiative program coordinator.

One aspect of the initiative illustrates the kind of help it offers. Over the past five months, a group researchers led by Brown has learned about the NIH funding process, and budgetary matters. Each member of the group has begun writing an NIH research plan for a future submission. The group pitches into edit each proposal and identify where it could be improved. Then the proposals will get another round of review from Elizabeth Tornquist, a technical writer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and who is considered an expert in the NIH funding process. Also, each proposal will get a content review by experts in that field.

In April, Tornquist headlined a campus workshop on proposal writing. She’s also helped some faculty members improve their chances by providing professional technical editing services.

Coming June 25, Dr. Anthony Coelho, Review Policy Officer in the Office of Extramural Research Office of the Director at NIH, will speak to university faculty members about different NIH funding mechanisms available. He’ll also provide general tips to help faculty navigate the NIH maze.

Those interested in receiving e-mails regarding upcoming NIH Initiative events or publications, can contact Elena V. Mota at