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Finding NIH Opportunities for New and Early-Stage Investigators

Looking to jumpstart your career or maybe add a little “oomph” to your growing momentum as a researcher? NIH offers several opportunities from training grants and fellowships to specialized programs for burgeoning scientists such as becoming a Scientific Reviewer at NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR).

Fellowships and Training Grants

NIH has more than 20 award types designed specifically for investigators in the early stages of their careers. Identifying the differences of these programs is the first step to zeroing-in on the most appropriate funding to support your developing career goals.

Fellowships: “F” type awards support predoctoral (F30, F31) or postdoctoral students (F32). “F” awards require Responsible Conduct of Research training and involvement of mentors. Most individual fellowship programs are funded under National Research Service Awards (NRSA), but non-NRSA programs (e.g., F05, F37) also exist that vary in applicant eligibility requirements, funding amounts, and programmatics (see the NIH F Kiosk website for details). Each NIH fellowship program is announced as a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)—be sure to review eligibility requirements, application directions, and funding restrictions thoroughly with your mentor and department.

Institutional Research Training Grants: “T” type awards are formal training grants designed to enhance predoctoral and postdoctoral research training. These awards can be specific to individual NIH institutes (e.g., T32), include short-term research (T35), or focus on fostering interdisciplinary workforce for undergraduate, pre-doctoral and postdoctoral students (T90). They also fall under NRSA. More details can be found on the T Kiosk website.

Career Development Awards: Also formal training grants, “K” type awards provide support to scientists committed to research in need of advanced research training and experience (e.g., K01), additional experience (e.g., K02), can involve emphasis on curriculum development (e.g., K07, KM1), or offer support during transitional stages or even midcareer (e.g., K99, K24). Visit the K Kiosk website for more information.

You might also find the NIH “Career Award Wizard” useful, a quick and easy online tool designed to explore your options while finding the most suitable Individual NIH Career Award. Please visit the NIH Extramural Training Mechanisms website for more details and links to various training and fellowship awards.

Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program at the NIH Center for Scientific Review

Even if you have not yet achieved an NIH award, you might be eligible to enhance your career through NIH’s Early Career Reviewer Program. The ECR Program trains and educates qualified scientists without prior CSR review experience to develop into critical, well-trained reviewers. This program can help these researchers become more competitive applicants through exposure to peer review experiences. The ECR program also strengthens the pool of existing NIH reviewers by including scientists from less research-intensive institutions as well as those from traditionally research-intensive institutions.

Benefits of the ECR Program obviously extend beyond serving the scientific community by participating in NIH peer review.   Early Career Reviewers (ECRs) work with some of the most accomplished researchers to identify NIH grant applications with the greatest promise. Participants learn firsthand how more-senior reviewers determine overall impact scores and can improve their own grant writing skills with an insider’s view of application evaluation.

Qualifications to become an ECR include two years of experience as a full-time faculty member or researcher in a similar role. Postdoctoral Fellows are not eligible, but may become eligible following completion of their training. Candidates must show evidence of an active independent program of research (e.g., publications, patents, supervisor of student project, etc.). They must also have a minimum of two senior authored research publications in peer-reviewed journals in the last two years (in-press publications qualify). Although candidates should not yet have served on a CSR study section, review committee service at other agencies and NIH institutions and centers (other than CSR) is permitted.

Applying to the ECR Program can be done in one stop via the ECR Application and Vetting System (EAVS). Once you create a username and password to access EAVS you can apply for the ECR Program, update your information, or make a referral. To apply, you will need to have a current CV (do not submit an NIH biosketch); list of key words or phrases that describe your scientific expertise, technical skills, and interests; and an NIH Commons ID. Select up to four CSR study sections that match your areas of research interest and expertise.

ECR Quick Facts

  • If you choose not to create an EAVS account, you can apply to the ECR Program by submitting required information to CSRearlyCareerReviewer@mail.nih.gov.
  • ECRs remain in the program until they have had a chance to serve on a study section
  • Prior NIH funding is not required to qualify
  • Applicants do not need research funding to qualify for the ECR Program

Applications are evaluated by one or more Scientific Review Officers (SRO) at CSR. Notification is sent by email regarding your eligibility. If accepted, your name and areas of expertise are added to the ECR database. SROs may select one ECR to participate in each study section they conduct. If selected for consideration, you will be contacted directly by the SRO to discuss. Once assigned to a study section, an SRO provides training on review procedures including how to write and upload critiques. ECRs are assigned two to four grant applications, and attend a study section meeting to discuss and vote for all applications. The ECR Program limits participation to one study section per year and no more than two total.

If you have questions or comments, please contact Betsy Saylor at 974-3863 or bsaylor@utk.edu.