For any researcher that relies on grant funding to maintain operations, as well as growth in activities for new scientific breakthroughs, National Institutes of Health funding is a primary target. However, the hurdles to obtaining NIH funding are well-known, with only the most professional and ready projects receiving attention. Add in the fact that maintaining NIH funding then becomes an immediate secondary priority right after a grant is first approved, and the grant-seeking activity can become a full-time job, as Dr. Joel Lavine knows well.
From experience, Lavine points out that the first criteria for any successful grant management in the NIH world is understanding carefully how the process works, what it requires from applicants, and what needs to be delivered to maintain ongoing funding. Remember, the primary focus of the NIH grant program is to help support viable and significant health breakthroughs in scientific research. So, that means there are a lot of competitors as well as a high level of scrutiny for projects to pass and be approved.
Strategies Vary Depending on a Project Phase & Approach
Obviously, the first strategy is basic, to successfully apply and be approved for initial funding. However, once approved, there are different ways of going about maintaining funding to continue project work. Those can include re-applying for the same project offering, applying for a new one that the research can fit into, or applying in a partnership with a bigger project and multiple players. Keep in mind, that Joel Lavine MD warns that the NIH doesn’t favor applications that already address research being funded elsewhere, trying to avoid duplication of effort. So, the goal is to present an application in a novel form as much as possible or partner with a novel venture as part of a team science application.
The NIH is also not interested in funding projects that are funded by outside entities. While a project can apply to both the NIH and outside supporters, once accepted, the NIH application is expected to be withdrawn.
Staying on Track
The key factor in program longevity, per Columbia University Professor Joel Lavine’s past projects, is not to rest on one’s laurels. Too often, projects leave the re-application for renewal funding or subsequent cycle support until the last minute, wanting to put all attention back on the research component. The fact is, NIH funding maintenance is a team effort. He advises that some staff need to be dedicated to focusing on grant renewal while the others focus on producing the research target deliverables. If a project is becoming overwhelmed with insufficient time to handle both, then it’s time to bring in additional help and hands on deck.
Don’t Forget the Deliverables
Finally, the fundamental purpose of the grant was the deliverables agreed to and promised. Joel Lavine reminds project managers, don’t forget to provide results! It’s amazing how often this critical step gets missed at the last second. NIH funding needs to see results for the support provided. That entails published research in peer review journals, which has its own time cycles and windows that should be built into planning and budget projections. Publishing is a key element of project success, especially when supported by peer review, and it’s oftentimes a primary factor in funding renewal.
Joel Lavine MD has spent decades running research projects at Columbia with great success and repeat NIH funding support, but even with his experience and reputation, project renewal is not guaranteed. It’s a constant effort and dedication to helping research projects receive the financial support needed for full completion.