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NIH Says Electronic Grant Submission Works for MacIntosh and Windows Users
On February 5, 2007, all who apply for NIH's individual project grants (R01s) will be required to apply electronically. NIH already requires electronic submission for most other funding mechanisms. Curious about how MacIntosh users are faring with the electronic submission process, we checked with NIH to see how the process is going. Although scientists have largely welcomed the shift to electronic grant submission, those who use MacIntosh computers have been concerned by news reports that the grants submission software is less compatible with Mac than with Windows' operating system. Megan Columbus, the point person for NIH's transition to electronic grant submission in NIH's Office of Extramural Research, answered the APA Science Policy Office's questions about the transition.
(APA) There have been press reports that the electronic grant submission system is not yet fully operational for MacIntosh users. Can you give an update on the status of the system?
(NIH) The Grants.gov and eRA Commons systems for accepting and processing grant applications are fully operational. NIH has received a total of over 18,000 electronic applications to date. This number includes submissions from both PC and MacIntosh computers.
The issue that has been discussed in the press is the IBM Workplace Forms (PureEdge) Viewer software that is required for applicants who use Grants.gov's forms-based solution. This software allows an applicant to open, manipulate and submit application packages. The original version of the viewer worked only with windows-based machines or on Macs using PC emulation, so NIH partnered with Grants.gov to provide free access to an NIH-hosted Citrix service that allows Mac users to manipulate the forms. This Citrix service has allowed many Mac users to use the Pure Edge software. The Citrix server has had many thousands of hits, so we know the solution is being used by the community.
IBM is developing Mac-compatible PureEdge viewer software. We have been tracking this progress eagerly. An early release version is available on the Grants.gov website. The viewer, in its current state, has significant limitations but we have been told that a new version that addresses many of those limitations is expected soon.
The Pure Edge Form Viewer is a short term solution. Grants.gov is moving to an Adobe forms solution that will be completely platform independent this spring. We expect NIH funding opportunities to transition from using Pure Edge application forms to Adobe forms in the summer/early fall of 2007.
(APA) What has been NIH's experience so far with applications via MacIntosh for the NIH funding mechanisms that have already moved to electronic submission?
(NIH) Neither NIH nor Grants.gov have a way to tell what type of computer submits the application. The data that is transmitted to NIH via Grants.gov is the same regardless of platform. Although we understand that Mac users would prefer not to have to emulate a PC to manipulate the form, the temporary Citrix solution seems to be working. Grants.gov has received few calls for assistance and we can track that the server is being used.
(APA) What can Mac users do to help get ready for the February 5 electronic grant submission deadline?
(NIH) I would encourage all applicants to become familiar with the new process. See http://era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/files/PI_Advice.pdf for tips for investigators or http://era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/ for much more detailed information on electronic submission and the new application forms.
Mac users should know that the research plan and any other text documents, which comprise the majority of the application, are prepared using any word processing software. The applicant then converts the text documents to PDF format for attaching to the application. Only after the text documents have been developed does an applicant need to use the form viewer software to attach the PDF documents and complete the actual form fields.
(APA) Does NIH have a contingency plan if there are Mac users who try and fail to navigate electronic submission successfully?
(NIH) NIH has contingency plans in place for any user who experiences problems with Grants.gov or NIH systems to ensure we do not penalize them for Grants.gov or eRA Commons system issues. If Mac users have problems with the form viewer using the Citrix server, they should contact the Grants.gov customer care center for assistance. If this problem threatens to jeopardize on-time submission of their grant application they should immediately contact the eRA Commons Help Desk to report the issue. As soon as the eRA help desk staff confirms a system issue, they will document the issue and continue to work with the applicant until the problem is resolved.
(APA) Has NIH estimated the percentage of its grantees who work on MacIntosh computers?
(NIH) We estimate roughly 30%.