Contacting NIH Program Directors

Before submitting a research application to an NIH Agency or Center, the Principal Investigator is advised to speak with an NIH Program Director (PD). The PD is primarily responsible for supporting extramural grants, contracts and training with the goal of improving national health.

The PD advises grant applicants, attends the scientific review meeting and makes funding recommendations. The PD may also advise investigators on the need for additional training or career development. It is always a good idea to contact the PD prior to submitting a grant to the NIH and as early as possible before the submission deadline.

For more information or to request a consultation, please contact us online at gao@seton.org. We can answer any specific questions you may have, as well as offer general guidance throughout the grant and project development process.

PD names are listed on every Program Announcement (funding opportunity announcement). Once you have identified the director responsible for your program, compose a brief email to introduce yourself and your research proposal and to request a time for a formal discussion—most likely via telephone.

Email allows them time to respond thoughtfully and thoroughly. A phone call may interrupt their current work and cause them to be rushed or unfocused. The following are five steps even new researchers can follow to ensure you get the PD’s immediate attention:

  1. Identify the grant program whose objectives most closely align with your proposed research and familiarize yourself with the mission of the agency to which you are applying.
  2. Write a brief pre-abstract summarizing your proposed research and be sure to clarify how your research will help them to achieve their mission.
  3. Write a brief email that summarizes your proposed research, your professional interests and background and that stresses the importance of the project to your field.
  4. Schedule the call once there is interest and be sure to provide your Specific Aims ahead of time to guide your discussion.
  5. During the call, ask if your research is appropriately aligned with their current funding priorities or if you can alter your objectives or study design or apply to an alternate program to improve my chances of funding. Ask about common reasons for proposal rejection (e.g. inappropriate methods, experience, or strength of collaboration).

Listen carefully throughout your discussion, use this time wisely and take notes. Afterwards, incorporate the suggested changes into your proposed research as feasible. Then, send a follow up email to thank the PD and describe any changes you made to your study design, based on their recommendations. Ask if you may contact them with follow up questions or for further discussion of the proposed changes. Doing this will help you keep the lines of communication open.

Sample Email Template to NIH Program Director

 

Dear Dr. Adams,

My name is Jane M. Doe, MD and I hold and academic position as [title] in the [Department] at [Institution]. My research is in the general area of [therapeutic area] and my specific focus is on [factors]. I am currently an [early stage/new] investigator and I am planning to submit my first [type of] grant application to the NIH on [date].

The primary reason I am writing is to request and opportunity to speak with you within the framework of an NIH grant application. I am particularly interested in discussing with you the potential programmatic relevance of the research project I am planning to pursue.

Is there a time within the next week or so when I could call you to discuss my planned proposal? I have already completed a draft of the Specific Aims section and would be happy to send this to you to guide our phone conversation, if that would be helpful.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

Jane M. Doe, MD, Assistant Professor

[signature]

 

This template letter is also available in the GAO NIH Toolkit.

Resources:

Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Directors, Robert Porter University of Tennessee Research Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 Fall/Winter 2009

NIH Resources:

When to Contact an NIAID Program Director
Top Questions Investigators Ask Program Directors
Program Directors SOP