September 13, 2011

From GRC GrantWeek: New AREA Program Director Shares News, Advice

Erika Brown, the dynamic new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) program, met with attendees at the GRC 2011 External Funding Conference on August 23, 2011.

Historically, the AREA program has been overseen by an NIH-designated coordinator, with leadership turning over every couple of years. With the establishment of the program director position, NIH has acknowledged the importance of AREA in the agency’s overall research portfolio. Backing NIH’s goal to broaden its applicant pool, AREA, or R15, awards support small-scale biomedical and behavioral research projects conducted by faculty and students at colleges and universities that have not been major recipients of NIH grant funds.

Brown intends to rewrite the AREA program announcement to include a game-changing new feature. Currently, all types of NIH grant proposals, including AREA requests, are reviewed together in regular study sections. With the new program announcement, NIH will begin clustering AREA grant proposals separately within study section reviews.

The success rate for AREA proposals is less than one in five under the existing review system. Brown provides this advice for developing more competitive, error-free proposals:
  • Describe the special institutional characteristics that make the request appropriate for the AREA program, and provide a profile of current and former students, focusing on the number who go on to advanced degrees (this should be submitted in the “Facilities and Other Resources” section of the application).
  • Describe how the project will expose students to research, and how the NIH support will strengthen the research environment on your campus.
  • Include the total budget in budget period one. Unlike most NIH grants, AREA funding for all years, the entire grant term, is awarded up-front at the project start date.
  • Use a modular budget if your total budget is $250,000 or less. If larger budget is proposed, use the R&R Detailed Budget form.
  • Find an NIH institute or center that could support your area of research, make contact in advance, and then include a cover letter with the application to suggest an appropriate institute and up to three appropriate study sections.
The next AREA deadline is set for October 25, 2011. Annual deadlines include February 25, June 25, and October 25. Full guidelines can be found:

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