Grant Strategies for 2020

Have you turned your energies toward writing grants and articles while quarantined at home during the past few months? That’s wonderful—an efficient use of your valuable, limited time! After all, undisturbed writing time will be hard for you to find once your office or lab opens again. But, by that time, you will have articles and grants ready to submit, so you are ahead of the game!

Or are you? Because it is a safe bet that pretty much every other researcher has been spending their time the same way.

More articles and grants are likely to be submitted to publishers and funders over the coming months. While e-publishing and preprint servers will provide outlets for article publication, grants are another matter. Available grant funding has not increased, unless you work in a COVID-related area, so more grant applications will be in competition for funding in the coming months.

[The week’s new funding opportunities from the NIH can be found here every Friday.]

In America, a recession began in February, and all indications are that businesses and academic institutions in many countries face some tough financial times in the coming months. Non-dilutive (grant) funding may be the lifeline for many small businesses that otherwise would have relied on venture capital, increasing the competition for funding sources on which academic researchers typically rely (e.g., R01s). Similarly, SBIR/STTR funding for small businesses and tech transfer collaborations between academic labs and small businesses, will likely receive more applications. Likewise, programs in Ireland, the Netherlands, and other EU countries with vigorous small business R&D support programs are likely to see an uptick in interest.

[New to finding funding? Here are five easy ways to get started!]


Now that the pool of competitors has increased, grant seekers will find that the enlarged pool of applications will make the already competitive pursuit of grant funding more fiercely competitive. Grants have always been competitive, and simply crossing the finish line of providing all of the information required by a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) does not necessarily put an applicant in the running for a grant, let alone in competition for one.

Competition can be fierce and success rates low, but that doesn’t mean researchers and small businesses shouldn’t compete for funding. It means applicants should approach the process with solid strategy.

Focus your efforts on research ideas you think will be the most competitive and pick the funding sources with which your research best aligns. Take advantage of the resources your institution provides, including statisticians, data specialists, and, of course, medical and scientific writers and editors who can help you refine your proposal. And, of course, stay current with changes being made to programs and the application process.

Take the time to communicate with the personnel of the agency or foundation to which you are applying. They can provide you with insights into how the award process within the agency has changed, the funding available, timelines, and what to expect overall.

Last, but not least, if you are working on tech transfer to develop a startup, think about how the supply chain and work restrictions of the academic institution and business may impact the balance of work required by the STTR program. And, while we cannot predict a second wave of COVID-19, do realize that funders will require you to provide them with a thoughtful plan outlining how your proposed project will move forward should that second wave happen.

A Super-Quick Summary of Changes: NIH and NIH’s eRA Commons

The widespread postponement of clinical trials at institutions across the country and the acceptance of late applications at the NIH due to the general upheaval of COVID-19 may lead some to believe initiatives have been generally postponed…but they have not. Below we share some you should be aware of now.

Orchids Are Lovely! ORCIDs Are Mandatory

I have an atrium full of orchids. It’s very Nero Wolfe, I suppose. But that’s not the point. (Also beside the point: for the record, I look nothing like William Conrad.)

Alright, PDs, PIs, fellows, and career development funding hopefuls: The Open Research and Contributor Identifier (ORCID) has moved into the mandatory zone. It’s a persistent identification for you, kind of like a research social security number. It’s easy to get, but things are a bit topsy-turvy these days, so don’t wait until the hour before your application deadline to try to figure this out. Check out this post by Tricia Callahan at Colorado State University, How to Register for an ORCID ID.

The Transition to FORMS-F

Is the due date for your application on or after May 25th? Use FORMS-F, the latest set of forms.

Note that the biosketch, data table, and other format pages have been updated as part of this overhaul (NOT-OD-20-026, NOT-OD-20-077). BUT don’t fret if your biosketch is on an old FORMS-E—only that date up at the top has changed. So relax. The NIH says: “Since there were no changes to the [biosketch] format itself, either version can be used for FORMS-E and FORMS-F applications.”

Unfortunately, that’s the only break you’re getting. They made “substantive” changes to the other forms, so use the appropriate set:

  • Non-parent funding FOAs should have the correct set of forms associated with them depending on their due date—double-check the site if you haven’t visited in a while to make sure you have everything you need.
  • Parent announcements have not necessarily been updated. They will be reissued 30-60 days before the due date. So yes, if you are at an institution that uses system-to-system submission, there is a handy-dandy copy function that can port your data from one form set to another. BUT, the forms are different, as are the instructions. So best practice is to review the instructions for the set of forms that applies to your due date, prepare your written parts that aren’t form-dependent (“the science”), then complete the appropriate form set when it is posted for the opportunity to which you are responding.

Did all of that make you cross your eyes and sigh? Gotcha. Check out Do I Have the Right Form Version For My Application?

Did you already fill out FORMS-E and want to scream? Gotcha. Check out: “Review the Significant Changes section of the Version F instructions to familiarize yourself with major instruction changes between Versions E and F.”

Stranded at home with no one to help you? Well, you can contact us for help or you can review the Annotated Form Set for NIH Grant Applications. Either way.

eRA Commons Changes

As you may know, eRA Commons will go offline from this Friday (04/17/2020) through Monday (04/20/2020) during the system’s transition to the cloud. So just like that, the NIH freed up your weekend, you working-from-home warriors!

Some of you may have noticed the implementation of 2-factor authentication (2FA) via for eRA Commons, Commons Mobile, IAR, and ASSIST. This change will allow users to log into four grants systems (eRA,, GrantSolutions and Payment Management Systems) securely with one set of credentials. It’s a part of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Reinvent Grants Management initiative, designed to make life easier for PIs and research administrators. More information and resources to help you transition to this option can be found here.

An aside: 2FA implementation was rolled out as an option, but indications are strong that it will become mandatory. Why wait for that? Using 2FA (in this case, sending a code to a phone or other device to confirm a login is legit) just makes sense. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a sensible safeguard to implement in this case.

Did you find this post helpful? Informative? I hope you’ll like and share it…and maybe leave a comment below!