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Student and Trainee Perspectives
Matthew Worley

From Matt:

Mathew WorleyWhile many graduate students may not consider obtaining independent funding until after obtaining their degree, there are several good reasons for searching and applying for student-focused funding pportunities. Student grants can provide funding for dissertation research and money for travel and other resources, and may enhance one’s appeal for future job opportunities. In addition, the process of creating and submitting the application provides valuable grant writing experience, especially for those interested in pursuing a research career. This article is intended to provide an initial orientation to the process of submitting an application for one relatively popular funding opportunity, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) pre-doctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA), also commonly referred to as an F31. I hope to assist students who could be interested insubmitting an NRSA application, but who are currently unaware of the requirements and expectations. I will also provide a few helpful hints, based mostly on advice I received from faculty
members and advanced students while completing my own NRSA application last year. While the application as a whole was intimidating at first, I found it very helpful to break it down into smaller components, and to frequently consult with others who had previously completed the process.

Purpose/Scope of the Fellowship

As stated in the current NRSA program announcement (see resource list below), the fellowship is designed to provide support for dissertation research and training to promising doctoral candidates in a field of study relevant to the mission of participating NIH institutes and centers. Participating institutes are listed in the program announcement and currently include the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Mental Health. Once an applicant has a general idea of their proposed research aims, a phone call to staff members at the relevant institute may be helpful, to ensure that the research fits within the institute’s mission and interest. Timeline Deadlines for the NRSA applications currently occur three times per year (April, August, and December). Students should start developing their research plan and training goals several months ahead of the due date. The process of writing the documents is lengthy, and ideally your mentors will have time to provide feedback in one or more rounds of revisions before submission of the final product.

Key Components

Some of the individual components of the application, along with current maximum page lengths, include:

Specific Aims (1 page): The applicant succinctly describes the rationale and goals of the proposed research (similar to an abstract), and states their hypotheses for the proposed study.

Research strategy (6 pages): Comprised of two sections, Significance and Approach. By reviewing relevant literature, the applicant uses the Significance section to describe the scope of the problem and develop a rationale for the proposed aims and their hypotheses. The Approach section is used to describe the research design and methods including recruitment, participants, measures, and data analysis.

Sponsor information (6 pages): The applicant’s mentor provides information regarding their own current grant support, former students, and current trainees. The bulk of the section is used to describe training activities that are
tailored specifically to meet the applicant’s training goals, explain the overall training environment, and to provide a description of the applicant’s current qualifications and potential for a research career. Ideally, the training activities
discussed here link directly to the research aims and the applicant’s training goals.

Goals for Fellowship Training and Career (1 page): The applicant lists specific goals for their training and describes how these short-term training goals propel them further towards their long-term career goals.

Activities Planned Under This Award (1 page): The applicant lays out an annual timeline of specific activities planned within each relevant category (e.g., coursework, research, clinical practicum), including estimates of the percentage of time devoted to each of these activities. Addi t ional component s of the application include but aren’t limited to: letters of reference, description of prior research experience, and biosketches for the applicant and sponsor. The downloadable NIH guide for fellowship applications (see resource list below) covers all of the necessary components and is a good resource for getting started. Prior to starting any grant submission it is crucial to get the most up to date instructions and forms. Finally, remember that the NRSA is only one of many opportunities to seek dissertation funding or funding for other research.

Additional Resources:

Search for active NIH funding opportunities, including the NRSA: index.html

Current NIH program announcement for pre-doctoral NRSA: pa-files/PA-10-108.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse Information on pre-doctoral research training Predocfaqs.html

NIH Guide for completing the application: funding/424/index.htm#inst