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What Does NIH Look For?

NIH funds grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts that support the advancement of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems to meet the NIH mission of extending healthy life and reducing the burdens of illness and disability. While NIH awards many grants specifically for research, we also provide grant opportunities that support research-related activities, including: construction, training, career development, conferences, resource grants and more

We encourage:

  1. Projects of High Scientific Caliber

    NIH looks for grant proposals of high scientific caliber that are relevant to public health needs and are within NIH Institute and Center (IC) priorities. ICs highlight their research priorities on their Web sites. Applicants may want to contact the appropriate Institute or Center to discuss the relevancy and/or focus of the proposed research before submitting an application. NIH also has a number of broad NIH-wide initiatives that may be of interest.

  2. Investigator-Initiated Research

    NIH strongly encourages investigator-initiated research across the spectrum of our mission. We issue hundreds of funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) in the form of Program Announcements (PAs) and requests for applications (RFAs) to stimulate research in particular areas of science.  Some PAs, called “Parent Announcements,” span the breadth of the NIH mission in order to ensure we have a way to capture “unsolicited” applications that do not fall within the scope of targeted announcements.  The majority of NIH applications are submitted in response to parent announcements.

  3. Unique Research Projects

    Projects must be unique. By law, NIH cannot support a project already funded or pay for research that has already been done. Although you may not send the same application to more than one Public Health Service (PHS) agency at the same time, you can apply to an organization outside the PHS with the same application. If the project gets funded by another organization, however, it cannot be funded by NIH as well.

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Who Is Eligible for an NIH Grant?

Each type of NIH grant program has its own set of eligibility requirements.  Applicants can find eligibility information in section III of each funding opportunity announcement (FOA).  While the principal investigator (PI) conceives and writes the application, NIH recognizes the applicant institution as the grantee for most grant types.

Individual Eligibility

NIH supports scientists at various stages in their careers, from pre-doctoral students on research training grants to investigators with extensive experience who run large research centers. NIH is committed to supporting new and early stage investigators (ESI).  Reviewers give new and early stage investigators special consideration, and NIH has programs targeted specifically for these populations.

Generally, PIs and other personnel supported by NIH research grants are not required to be U.S. citizens; however, some NIH programs/mechanisms have a citizenship requirement. Any citizenship requirement will be stated in the program announcement (PA) or request for applications (RFA).

Institutional Eligibility

In general, domestic or foreign, public or private, non-profit or for-profit organizations are eligible to receive NIH grants. NIH may limit eligibility for certain types of programs, such as limitations on the participation of foreign entities or programs for which only small businesses are eligible applicants.

Foreign Eligibility

In general, foreign institutions and international organizations, including public or private non-profit or for-profit organizations, are eligible to apply for research project grants. Foreign institutions and international organizations are not eligible to apply for Kirschstein-NRSA institutional research training grants, program project grants, center grants, resource grants, SBIR/STTR grants, or construction grants. However, some activity codes, such as program project grants (P01), may support projects awarded to a domestic institution with a foreign component. For purposes of this policy, a “foreign component” is defined as performance of any significant element or segment of the project outside the United States (U.S.) either by the grantee or by a researcher employed by a foreign institution, whether or not grant funds are expended. Proposed research should provide special opportunities for furthering research programs through the use of unusual talent, resources, populations, or environmental conditions in other countries that are not readily available in the U.S. or that augment existing U.S. resources.

Foreign applicants are strongly encouraged to review the Eligibility section of the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to determine whether their non-domestic (non-U.S.) entity (foreign organization) is eligible to respond to that particular FOA. Additional information on grants to foreign institutions, international organizations and domestic grants with foreign components is found in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

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Finding a Funding Opportunity

NIH announces availability of funds for grant programs by issuing funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts and on Grants.govParent announcements, program announcements (PAs), and requests for applications (RFAs) are all types of FOA.


Receipt Date

Money Set Aside

Peer Review

Specificity of Topic

Advantage to Applicant

Parent Announcement

Standard receipt dates, usually open for three years


In Center for Scientific Review (CSR) or in an IC, by one of many review committees

Non-specific, investigator-initiated. Not all ICs participate in all parent FOAs.

May submit any topic within the breadth of the NIH mission.  Competition tied mainly to an IC's overall payline

IC- specific Program Announcements (PA)

Standard receipt dates, usually open for three years

No set asides (unless PAS); high-priority applications may be funded beyond the payline

In CSR or in an IC, by one of many review committees (unless PAR)

Often broadly defined or a reminder of a scientific need; investigator-initiated

Competition tied mainly to the IC's overall payline

Request for Applications (RFA)


Specifies funds and targets number of awards

Usually in and IC, but sometimes in CSR. Same review committee for all applications. Usually reviewed by a Scientific Review Group, called a Special Emphasis Panel, that is convened on a one-time basis

Well-defined scientific area

Competition depends on number of applicants and dollars set aside

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