Tools to Develop Your Research Idea
For experienced and newer investigators alike, it can be difficult to keep up with the wealth of information that is available for identifying and applying for NIH and NCI grant funding. Below are key resources and advice for investigators developing a research idea for a grant application.
Building on Past and Current Projects
It is a good idea to determine if, and the extent to which, research projects have addressed or are addressing your research question. To supplement your literature reviews, NIH has resources to learn about funded research.
The RePORT Expenditures and Results (RePORTER) system allows users to search a repository of both intramural and extramural NIH-funded research projects and the Matchmaker tool lets you search for similar projects (and their associated NIH Program Directors). The Research Portfolios section on the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) website offers information about currently funded grants, published Requests for Applications and Program Announcements, funding history since 1998, and more. Program Directors (PDs) in DCCPS’ Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP) can also point you to information on what EGRP has funded.
Considering the Scientific Priorities of the NIH and NCI
Becoming familiar with key reports and announcements is one way to keep abreast of scientific areas of interest to NCI, other NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), and NIH broadly. The "Reports" section on the RePORT website provides links to frequently requested reports; strategic plans for NIH ICs and specific research topics, e.g., obesity research; National Academies reports funded by NIH; and many other special reports, such as NCI's Annual Plan and Budget Proposal.
Investigators can get a preview of potential upcoming NCI funding opportunities by reviewing the minutes of the Board of Scientific Advisors meetings, which list new and re-issued concepts for NIH Requests for Applications (RFAs).
Our EGRP Program Directors have knowledge of specific research gaps and can talk with you about how your research interests fit within the strategic priorities of EGRP, DCCPS, and the NCI. Subscribing to NCI email updates or Twitter accounts can also help you stay abreast of important developments.
Assessing Available Resources
One important component of choosing a topic is ensuring that you have the appropriate resources, expertise, and training to address the research question. Here are a few points to consider as you begin:
- Is my expertise and experience appropriate to lead the project?
- Have I assembled a team that has the appropriate skills and background to carry out the research plan?
- Do I and members of the team have adequate time to devote to the project?
- Is the project’s timeline reasonable?
- What specific resources are needed to conduct a successful research project, and are they available?
- What evidence can I provide that my project is likely to be successful (such as preliminary data for an R01 application)?
It is good to write a concept paper (a brief description of the research idea, including specific aims) early on, and use it as you talk to colleagues and NIH PDs about your idea. Getting feedback from others early and often will help you refine and shape your ideas and make your grant more competitive. In particular, EGRP PDs can help you identify funding opportunities that may be relevant to your area of interest.
How Can a Program Director Help?
EGRP PDs support both the scientific priorities of the NCI and extramural researchers. Providing guidance to investigators before a grant application is submitted is an important part of their role. (See the DCCPS New Grantees page for more information on the scope of PDs’ responsibilities [PDF].) A PD has knowledge of research gaps, scientific advances, NIH/NCI priorities, and NIH/NCI policies; and can help you identify pertinent funding opportunities and position your research idea within the strategic priorities of EGRP, DCCPS, and the NCI. Here are a few tips for having a conversation with a PD:
- First, identify a PD who can help you by searching for your area of interest on our Staff List or Research Interest Areas page.
- Email the PD to set up an appointment to discuss specific aims or questions.
- Provide key points you would like to discuss in advance; outlining specific aims and potential public health impact can also be helpful.
- Identify the best way to communicate (e.g., email, phone).
- Be persistent – PDs have many competing demands on their time.
General Grantsmanship Resources for Investigators
Of course there are also many resources related to other stages in the NIH funding process:
- The NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts (NIH Guide) is the official publication for NIH biomedical and behavioral research grant policies, guidelines, and funding opportunities. Subscribe to receive the NIH Guide weekly updates.
- The NIH Office of Extramural Research has a helpful guide to the steps required for an application to proceed from planning and submission through to award and closeout.
- NCI provides a comprehensive overview of the grants process.