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Grant Application and Review

The particular set of forms used to apply for an NIH grant depends on which grant mechanism is to be used and whether an electronic or paper application is required. Complete information regarding forms, deadlines and other NIH policies is available on the NIH Web site at For more on writing your application, see the Tips for New NIH Grant Applicants or the video "Inside the NIH Grant Review Process." 

Once you've written the application, submit it to the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). Currently, the application is submitted in paper format, but NIH is moving toward an electronic submission system.

Your grant proposal then goes through a peer review process. On average, it takes at least 9 months from the time an application is received until the time a grant award is made.

CSR assigns each application to an initial review group as well as to an NIH institute or center for potential funding. The review group is composed of scientists with expertise in a given discipline--such as molecular biology, neurology, or biochemistry--or an organ or disease area. Most review groups meet three times a year to evaluate the scientific merit of each application assigned to them. The products of a review group's deliberations are an evaluative statement, called a summary statement; a priority score for each application that is found to have significant and substantial merit; and a percentile ranking of each application against all applications reviewed by a given review group at its last three meetings. Review groups also make recommendations on the budget and length of support requested--although, as part of an effort to "reinvent" the NIH grant process, certain investigators would not have to submit detailed budget information or certain other supporting material until it is clear that their applications are being considered for funding. More information on the peer review process is available at

All of the review group's products are provided to the principal investigator who submits the application as well as to a program director in the NIH institute or center to which the application has been assigned. The program director is a scientist who tracks the application during the review process and is part of the team that administers it if it is funded.

Applications whose scientific merit ratings are in the top two-thirds of all applications then receive a second level of review, from the national advisory council associated with each NIH institute or center. In an effort to streamline the initial review stage, review groups score the most competitive applications (approximately the top half), although reviewers' written comments are sent to applicants whose proposals are not scored.

The advisory councils are composed of leaders in the basic sciences, medical sciences, education, or public affairs. Council recommendations are based not only on an application's scientific merit, but also on its importance to the mission of the institute or center. After the council approves an application, the institute or center may fund it.

Due to budget constraints, not all scored applications can be funded. In fact, NIH as a whole is currently only able to fund about one in four of the grant applications it receives. However, there are certain things you can do to improve your likelihood of being funded.

Tips and Information Sources

1. Talk to your program director about institute/center priorities and scientific matters related to your grant application. When CSR receives your application, it sends you a mailing giving you the application number, the dates of the review group meeting to which it has been assigned, the name and telephone number of the scientific review administrator of the review group, and the name and telephone number of the institute/center responsible for the application. Feel free to contact the scientific review administrator or institute/center at any time during the review process. The institute/center contact person can give you the name and telephone number of the program director who will administer your grant if it is funded. It is also a good idea to talk to a program director before or during the time you are preparing your grant application. CSR staff can help direct you to the institute or center that would most likely fund a grant in your area of interest, and you can call that institute or center to ask which program director would be able to advise you. New investigators could start by contacting the program directors of their thesis or postdoctoral advisors or other mentors.

Program directors can be a source of information and guidance on how to improve an application before submission or resubmission. They can also advise you on regulations involving the use of human subjects or laboratory animals, as well as research using hazardous materials.

Phone numbers and e-mail addresses of NIGMS Staff Contacts, including program directors, are available online.

2. Consider applying for special programs if you meet their eligibility criteria. These programs include small grants offered by some institutes and centers to support the development of preliminary data and various programs targeted to members of minority groups that are underrepresented in biomedical research. The success rates of applications in many special programs are generally higher than those of regular research grant applications.

3. Read the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. This publication is a week-by-week snapshot of new NIH policies, priorities, and initiatives. The Guide contains program announcements, which remind investigators of an institute or center's continuing interest in a scientific area or extramural program but generally do not include set-aside funds. The Guide also includes requests for applications, which invite investigators to apply for money that has been set aside in areas of particular interest or need.

4. Take advantage of the information services of the Office of Extramural Outreach and Information Resources, which has a variety of publications designed to guide you through the application and review processes, and the staff of the office can answer your questions or refer you to someone who can. The office's phone number is 301-435-0714, or e-mail

See additional Tips for New NIH Grant Applicants compiled by NIGMS staff members.

This page last updated November 19, 2008