Finding out what your IC is interested in funding.

Apr 05 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

In a comment Brain said:

Yup, NIMH is (in)famous for this. Some topics just are not considered “mental health” and if that is what you want to study your are SOL with them. I have not figured out who picks the in and out topics. However, I have lucked my way in to working on “in” topics and this can get you funded with what would appear to be unfundable score.

Actually, its usually NIH staff who picks the topics, often in consultation with Important People in the Field.

But! Finding this out is not too difficult. Every IC publishes statements about interests. They usually have multiple statements in multiple places.

So to pick a small, and obscure IC: National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). There is a reason I'm picking NIDCR, which I will make clear to you. Promise.

Here is the overall statement of the NIDCR mission. If one searches for "mission" and the name of the IC, one can almost always find something.

The mission of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is to improve dental, oral, and craniofacial health through research, research training, and the dissemination of health information.  We accomplish our mission by:
  • Performing and supporting basic, translational, and clinical research;
  • Conducting and funding research training and career development programs to ensure an adequate number of talented, well-prepared, and diverse investigators;
  • Coordinating and assisting relevant research and research-related activities among all sectors of the research community;
  • Promoting the timely transfer of knowledge gained from research and its implications for health to the public, health professionals, researchers, and policy-makers.

Admittedly, this is kind of vague, if you are asking "do they fund what I do?". In fact, this could be the mission of any IC as it has little that is specific to this Institute. So go further.

Here is the link to their Strategic Plan. Note the strategic plan is 2014-2019. Thus, if one is looking in 2016, one might also wish to look for updates. The specific goals are also kind of vague, but now include the words "dental" "oral" and "craniofacial health". For example:

GOAL 1: Support the best science to improve dental, oral, and craniofacial health.

Luckily each goal has a link to a number of objectives. If you follow the first one, there are a couple of objectives that are still rather vague:

Objective 1.1: Enable basic research to advance knowledge of dental, oral, and craniofacial health.

This may do little for you, but the 6-8 paragraphs that follow this statement are a veritable gold mine, nay platinum mine, of information. To wit,  there are lots of specific words, including:

  • salivary gland research
  • the role and formation of viral reservoirs in oral cells and tissues,
  • fundamental oropharyngeal cancer research
  • basic mechanisms of cell biology such as growth and development, differentiation, stem-cell function, and regeneration

Further, on the NIDCR grants and funding page is a link for "Funding Opportunity Announcements" with a link to "by topic". This is a list of 21 subsidiary links, including "health disparities", "small business" "career development" "AIDS" and "training". Lots of good stuff. When you follow any of these links, you arrive at a page of PARs, and, importantly, a PO person with the responsibility for those particular PA's.

This is important, and part of my point here (if you've read this far). Say you work on viral replication and can't get funded at infectious diseases. Does your virus show up in the mouth? Have you searched to see if anyone thinks your virus, your viral mechanism, your whatever is relevant in the mouth? You may not have thought of that, but, if it does, can you envision a particular set of experiments, that at the bench, in the system you know, will tell you something that people who care about this virus in the mouth will want to know? Do you work on the cellular basis of pain, and are getting little love from NINDS? One of those 21 links is Orofacial Pain, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder & Neurobiology.

The reason I picked NIDCR is because most of my loyal readers have probably not given one whiff of a thought about dental research. In fact, most probably get a clenching feeling in their gut when the word "dental" shows up. Yet, one does not have to be a dentist, or working in a dental school, to do work that is of interest to NIDCR.

If you look at funding levels and paylines in this valuable table, you can see that success rate at NIDCR is 21.5% as compared to NCI which is 14.1% or 24.8% at NIGMS. Here is an NIH link to even more data where funding rates are broken down by mechanism. Looking by mechanism is maybe even more important if you are doing a training mechanism to discover what and who a particular IC funds.

Of course there is a cost to doing this. If your virus is mainly a respiratory virus, and rare in the mouth, the PO will know it. You need to do enough work to make sure your project is viable and of interest. It will take time to make this transition. Time in thinking and time in reading and time in writing.

There is an important caveat to all this. If you go at this research with a "they would be lucky to have me and my project" you will not get funded. Funding is still competitive at NIDCR. You cannot just go through your proposal and everywhere it says "lung" change it to "mouth". You need to read and learn the interests of a new IC. You need to think about transitioning your project. And you must talk to the PO at the IC and make sure they are interested in you. They might not be. You may have to do more transitioning.

A final word to the my-work-is-perfect-the-way-it-is type. If you're funded, and you keep getting funded, ahf mir gezogt. One hears a lot of ranting and raving and railing about the unfairness of it all. The horribleness of BSDs who take all the monez. That they don't like me because I'm female, of color, physically challenged. These things may, and in some cases are quite likely true. You can decide to leave, and that's a hard, but honorable decision. If, however, you want to stay, and you want to play, and you are not getting funded with what you do right now, its time to think about an alternate NIH strategy. Here is one.


5 responses so far

  • ecologist says:

    That's a great post.

    I think there's a typo: "Yet, one does have to be a dentist, or working in a dental school, to do work that is of interest to NIDCR."

    Should that not be "one does not have to be a dentist..."?

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    I was trained as a crystallographer, but since becoming a medical writer, I have written up A LOT of dentistry manuscripts and grants. My advice, which applies to any change in IC, is to look at the literature in the field you are going into; see how they write it and what things they prioritize. For example, dentistry is obsessed with esthetics to a truly stupid degree. For dentists, it is equivalent to function, and good function with poor esthetics is considered a failure. Basically, any outcome that relates to soft or hard tissue health needs to discuss esthetics as an endpoint. The review panel will be looking for this, and if you skip it, they will ding you. This is another reason why you can't find and replace "lung" with "mouth" in your old proposal.

    Sorry to interject, I just thought it might be relevant to the discussion.

  • Brain says:

    Also interesting is that institutes often agree how to carve up boundaries. Some of the developmental disorders are carved up between NIMH and NICHD. You would think there would be projects on something like autism that could be co-funded by the two institutes but instead there appear to be agreements at program level that some topics are funded by NIMH others by NICHD. You won't know without talking to program officer. Good call on mission statements especially if you are not a known entity with program staff.

  • drugmonkey says:


    Once upon a time the NIH tried very hard to merge NIAAA with NIDA. They were unable to do so, presumably because of influential outside interest groups (mediated via Congress Critters). Then they tried to bring the addiction portfolios of NIAAA, NCI (tobacco, duh) and NIDA together in a formal initiative. So far as I can tell that lasted for exactly one round of grant supplements before SQUIRREL!!!!!!

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