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NIH Grants

Organization Of NIH

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is a major source of funding for social work research. It consists of more than 27 Institutes and components. Read a description of the different Institutes and the organization of NIH. When submitting a grant proposal, you should strategize by keeping in mind an Institute within NIH who will fund or sponsor it. It is important to "know your institutes."

Most of the Institutes within NIH have web pages with extensive resources and advice for proposal preparation. We highly recommend you visit those web pages, which are accessible from the above resource.

NIH Grant Mechanisms

NIH has different grant mechanisms.

R-series grants are research grants. The most common R-series grants are R-03 grants (small grants restricted to $50,000 in direct costs), R-21 grants (exploratory projects restricted to two years and $275,000 in direct costs), R-34 grants (feasibility studies for clinical trials, restricted to 3 years and $375,000 in direct costs) and R-01 grants (major studies for up to five years and $2.5 million in direct costs).

K-series grants are mentoring grants. A K-01 (Mentored Research Scientist Development Award) grant provides support and “protected time” (three, four, or five years) for an intensive, supervised career development experience in the biomedical, behavioral, or clinical sciences leading to research independence. Some Institutes within NIH use the K-01 award for individuals who propose to train in a new field, but this is not true of all Institutes. Other Institutes use the K01 award to increase research workforce diversity by providing enhanced research career development opportunities. A K-08 (Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award) is similar to a K-01 but is focused on individuals.

P-Series grants are to develop centers. The P-20 grant supports planning for a new center, expansion or modification of existing center resources, and feasibility studies to explore center-based approaches to the development of interdisciplinary programs. P-30 grants support a center with shared resources and facilities for research by multiple investigators who represent a multidisciplinary team for joint research efforts. P-30 grants often follow from P-20 grants.

Read more detailed descriptions of all the above mechanisms.

NIH Grant Submission Deadlines

NIH allows for unsolicited proposal submission three times a year, with each submission date referred to as a “cycle.” There are four month intervals between cycles. Different types of grants have different due dates. For example, R01 grant proposals are due at the beginning of a month and R21 grants are due in mid month. Download a chart of the NIH due dates by submission cycle. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a useful link discussing issues in the timing of application submissions. Although technically it applies only to that Institute, many of the issues apply to other Institutes in NIH. This is a web page worth studying.

NIH New Funding Opportunities

NIH issues requests for applications and proposals to encourage researchers to submit proposals on specific topics. The most common are RFAs (Request for Applications) and RFPs (Request for Proposals). Some RFAs and RFPs have set aside funds for their funding. Others simply represent pleas by NIH for research in areas critical to the NIH mission that have been understudied. The latter proposals are submitted as part of the normal review cycle. The former often have specialized review cycles. The announcement for an RFA or RFP will indicate if there are set aside monies for the program and how much money has been set aside.  

View a list of current RFAs and RFPs.

NIH Reviews

NIH proposals are reviewed by panels of scientists called scientific review groups (also known as "study sections"). There are many scientific review panels, organized by area of expertise. They are housed within the Center for Scientific Review. You can request NIH to assign your proposal to a given review group in a cover letter when you submit a grant. It is smart to do your homework and to select a review panel to submit your proposal to rather than let it be assigned by a non-expert in the NIH routing office who bases assignment largely on the title, abstract, and a cursory reading of the specific aims section.

Download an example of a cover letter

Members of a standing review panel are appointed for a fixed period of time. All review panels have an administrative officer assigned to them, called a scientific review officer (SRO). If you have questions about the panel and the formal processing of your proposal, contact this individual. Their email addresses are available on links to membership rosters provided below. The year a member rotates off a committee is indicated by a two digit designation in parentheses after their name on the committee roster (e.g., (14) means the person rotates off the committee in 2014).

View a list of standing review groups, descriptions of them, and their membership rosters.

In addition to the standing review groups in the Center for Scientific Review, many Institutes within NIH have their own review panels (called Awarding Institute Standing Committees). You also can request in your cover letter that your proposal be reviewed by one of these panels instead of a panel in the Center for Scientific Research. View a list of these more specialized review groups, descriptions of them, and their membership rosters.

NIH also has special emphasis panels that consist of one-time temporary members that review proposals from review panel members and one time RFAs. It generally is not possible to obtain a list of reviewers of these panels prior to proposal submission. See the current list of special emphasis panels. For RFAs and RFPs that have their own set aside money, usually a special review panel is chosen by an Institute to review proposals and it is not possible to obtain the membership roster of the reviewers prior to submission.


Within NIH, there are several sub-institutes that are of special interest to faculty at SSSW, including the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute on Aging. Each of these Institutes has review groups that are part of the Awarding Institute Standing Committees.

The National Institute of Mental Health has three review groups. They are: 

The National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse has four review groups, two of which faculty at the SSSW often work with. See a description of the four committees. The two committees of most relevance to the SSSW faculty are:

The National Institute of Drug Abuse previously had four review groups that were part of the Awarding Institute Standing Committees, but they have been eliminated. All reviews are conducted by the Standing Review Groups.

The National Institute of Child Health and Development has eight review groups. The three groups of most relevance to SSSW faculty are:

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has nine review groups. However, NCI is in the process of revising its review structure, with many of these committees now inactive. See a description of the review committees for NCI

The National Institute on Aging has four review groups. The two groups of most relevance to SSSW faculty are:


To assist you in gaining information about the research background and orientations of review panel members, we provide links below (created by our office) to selected review panels of interest to faculty in SSSW and the research backgrounds of their members. Click on a panel name to see a description of the panel, followed by a list of the current members of that panel. For the list of members on a panel, click on their name and you will automatically get the results of a PubMed search for that person so you can see the research the reviewer engages in. This will help you “know your audience.” The panels are:

NIH Review Criteria and Review Process

Proposals are evaluated by a panel in a face-to-face meeting of the panel (although reviews are occurring with greater frequency by phone or video conferencing to save money). Download a description of the formal process by which reviewers assign scores, how the scores of individual reviewers are combined during the reviewer meeting, and how decisions are made to discuss or not discuss proposals. 

Download the formal review criteria used by reviewers for R-series grants, a copy of the rating scale that reviewers use to rate these grants, and the formal template the reviewers are asked to complete for each R grant.

Download a list of the most common reasons R grants are given poor ratings by reviewers.

Download the formal review criteria used by reviewers for K-series grants, a copy of the rating scale that reviewers use to rate these grants, and the formal template the reviewers are asked to complete for each K grant. 

Download a list of the most common reasons K grants are given poor ratings by reviewers. 

Grants receive scores on a 1 to 10 scale, with higher numbers reflecting a worse score. About 60% of the grants are scored as “Not Discussed,” which means that they are in the lower 60% of proposals reviewed. Such grants are not discussed at the face-to-face review meeting. You are provided a summary sheet of reviewer evaluations of the proposal, whether or not it was discussed in the reviewer meeting. These are made available about two to four weeks after the review panel meets. The summary sheets are made available on the government website called “eRAcommons.” Contact the Office for Research staff to obtain an account for eRAcommons (

Although it varies by Institute within NIH and budget cuts imposed on NIH by Congress, grants that receive scores in the top 10% are typically funded. If your grant is discussed, you will receive a percentile ranking of your proposal. Otherwise, you will receive a score of ND (not discussed).

You are allowed one re-submission of a proposal. Some researchers decide they should not bother resubmitting if their proposal was not discussed. The decision to resubmit should be based on the content of the summary sheet of reviews and whether you think the criticisms can be addressed. Sometimes the difference between being discussed and not being discussed is determined by a fraction of a point on the rating scale, so it is better to base resubmission decisions on the summary sheet comments rather than the ratings of the proposal per se.

When you submit a resubmission, you write a one page response to the reviews and physically flag changes in the main grant by italicizing or right-lining in the margin the new text. You should approach reviewer comments as constructive criticism. Do not fight with reviewers, but stand up for what you believe is right. Usually, fighting with reviewers is a losing battle.

Download an example of a one page response to reviewers.

Only 8% of grants are funded on their first submission. Resubmissions are the norm.

As of April 2014, NIH now allows proposals that have gone through the submission and resubmission process without being funded to be submitted as a new grant that makes no reference to the original submission. Prior to April 2014, the mandated delay before submitting a previously submitted proposal as a new proposal was three years. There is no longer a waiting period.

NIH Successful Grant Examples

See a list of the titles of all grants recently funded by NIH.

The Office for Research in the SSSW has secured copies of successful grant proposals for our faculty to use as models for crafting their own proposals. Some of these proposals were written when the page limits at NIH were longer (but they are still useful for seeing how grants are structured) and others meet the current page limits. The documents should be treated as confidential and not circulated. They are for your personal use only. You are required to enter a password to access each document. These documents are password protected. If you require the password please contact the Office for Reseach at Example of a R03; Example of a R21; Example of a R34; Example 1 of a R01; Example 2 of a R01; Example 1 of a K; Example 2 of a K.

NIH Grant Proposal Development

R03 and R21 proposals include a Specific Aims page (1 page limit) followed by a 6 page Research Strategy section. R34 and R01 proposals include a Specific Aims page (1 page limit) followed by a 12 page Research Strategy section. For all re-submissions, there is a one page Introduction section where one responds to the prior reviews.

Download brief guidelines for structuring proposals with the 6 page limit for the Research Strategy section. 

Download brief guidelines for structuring proposals with the 12 page limit for the Research Strategy section. 

View the official NIH guidelines for completing the main form (called the SF424 form) for grant proposals. 

Download a helpful guide to proposal writing written by Professor Stewart Tolnay at the University of Washington. Although this guide was written for sociologists and is a bit dated, it is very relevant for social work research.

A useful book for proposal development is How to Write a Successful Grant Application: A Guide for Behavioral and Social Scientists by Willo Pequegnat, Ellen Stover and Cheryl Anne Boyce (make sure to get the most recent edition), published by Springer. A copy of the book is available for loan from the Office for Research. Contact us at

The Associate Dean for Research will work closely with you to develop your research idea and put it in a form suitable for NIH submission. An internal review group will be created, if you so desire, to also provide you with feedback. Contact us at

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has written a useful resource page for investigators. Technically, it applies only to NIAID, but many of the principles discussed apply to other Institutes as well. It is worth checking out. 

As noted above, most Institutes within NIH have extensive resource links for proposal development. Consult the Institute web pages, accordingly (see above for how to access these pages).

NIH Budget Preparation

R21 and R34 grants use what is called a modular budget. This is a brief, simple budget format. R01 grants use a detailed budget format. View a brief guide to budget preparation.

Read a complete explanation of modular budgets

Read a complete explanation of non-modular budgets.

Download an example modular budget

Download an example detailed budget

nih submission proposals