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 login.gov for eRA Commons, Commons Mobile, IAR, and ASSIST. This change will allow users to log into four grants systems (eRA, Grants.gov, 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!

How to Use Emphasis in a Grant Abstract…and Beyond

Recently, the question arose as to whether it is appropriate to use emphasis (bold, italic, underline) in an NIH grant project summary/abstract. After all, the person pointed out, this section is posted in NIH RePORTER in plain text, without any emphasis. Here is my reply to that query:

Emphasis is a strategy targeting the reviewer audience. More specifically, it assists the reviewers who were not assigned the proposal for primary or secondary review and may be looking at the package for the first time in real time in the review session.

With that audience in mind, my strategy is to emphasize key terms to visually ‘index’ the paragraph to provide multiple easy access points to the material, since usually it’s solid text. You can emphasize the key structural elements of the proposal, like ‘long-term goal,’ ‘rationale,’ ‘specific aims,’ etc. But you can also sparingly emphasize other key words, ‘innovative’ or ‘novel,’ for example, to draw the reader’s eye to that key information.

Just like elsewhere in the application, emphasis should be used sparingly in this section. If everything’s important, nothing’s important. In such a constricted space, restricting emphasis to the key words or phrases creates that ‘indexing’—emphasizing whole sentences as one might in a longer section muddies the waters and undermines the value of the emphasis. (Also, I am more familiar with using underlined italics [rather than, say bold], for this purpose. I tend to reserve bold for section headings and the specific aims.)

So yes, when writing or editing the project summary/abstract section (hereafter let’s use simply “abstract” to keep things succinct) of an NIH grant, it is not only appropriate but strategic to use emphasis to assist reviewers in understanding your proposed project. A fellow editor who agreed with this approach also suggested that sometimes you can take strategic use of emphasis to focus a reader’s attention a step further. If your project is wildly transformative and the other elements of your proposal are not unusual, she advocates limiting the application of emphasis to only the description of the transformative element(s) of the proposal.

Emphasis plays an important role in strategic grantsmanship, not only in the abstract but throughout the proposal. When used consistently and conservatively, emphasis helps the reader distinguish the main points of the proposal. As I alluded to in my initial response, there is an expectation that certain elements of proposals will be emphasized. To elaborate, not meeting those formatting expectations can distract experienced reviewers. Why make it hard for people to give you funding? Meet expectations and let your innovative ideas be what captures their attention.

While most grant writers would prefer to think readers and reviewers are soaking up every word of their proposal, it is important to acknowledge that each proposal has multiple audiences to which the writer must appeal. Strategic use of emphasis provides one of the most useful tools for mastering that complicated task.