Heads up: new required attachment for NIH F series applications

If you are a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow who is planning to apply for an F30, F31, or F32 (otherwise known as NRSAs), you should be aware of a new required attachment, “Description of Institutional Environment and CommitmeNIH_Master_Logo_Vertical_2Colornt to Training.”  This new requirement as of May 25, 2016 calls for a new 2-page attachment that documents the institutional resources devoted to career enhancement and the overall intellectual environment. This new attachment also encompasses the “Additional Educational Information” required for F30 and F31 applications.

Here’s what the instructions say:

The sponsoring institution must document a strong, well-established research program related to the candidate’s area of interest, including the names of key faculty members relevant to the candidate’s proposed developmental plan. Referring to the resources description (Section F.220 – R&R Other Project Information Form, Facilities and Other Resources), indicate how the necessary facilities and other resources will be made available for career enhancement as well as the research proposed in this application. Describe opportunities for intellectual interactions with other investigators, including courses offered, journal clubs, seminars, and presentations. This information should be coordinated with information provided under Sponsor and Co-Sponsor Statements, Training Plan, Environment, Research Facilities.

Additional Educational Information (required for F30 and F31 applications):
Describe the institution’s dual-degree (F30) or graduate (F31) program in which the applicant is enrolled, e.g. the structure of the program, required milestones and their usual timing (number of courses, any teaching commitments, qualifying exams, etc.) and the average time to degree over the past 10 years. Describe the progress/status of the applicant in relation to the program’s timeline, and the frequency and method by which the program formally monitors and evaluates a student’s progress. This information is typically provided by the director of the graduate program or the department chair. Include the name of the individual providing this information at the end of the description.

Note that a listing of the applicant’s courses and grades must be included in the Fellowship Applicant Biographical Sketch, and NOT in this attachment.

Attach this information as a PDF file.

This attachment is required. Follow the page limits for Fellowship Applications in the Table of Page Limits at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms_page_limits.htm, unless specified otherwise in the FOA.

These instructions leave some room for interpretation, so here are some initial suggestions until we get more clarity or the instructions are updated. Essentially, this attachment seems to be asking you to distill information that will also be elsewhere in the application, perhaps to aid review. This attachment may feel a bit redundant–just make sure you don’t use exactly the same wording (which reviewers tend to find irritating) and that the information is consistent with other parts of the application.

For graduate (F30, F31) applications, your program director or department chair will supply the “Additional Educational Information,” as before. That leaves you about a page to describe the overall intellectual environment, list the key faculty members and their titles, the major journal clubs and seminars that you’ll participate in, and additional professional development resources available to you.

For postdoctoral (F32) applications, you should contact our Office of Postdoctoral Affairs for help with filling out this attachment. Mike Matrone, the postdoctoral affairs officer, can supply you with text about all the professional development resources that this office provides. Otherwise, the advice is similar: start out with a description of the intellectual environment, list the key faculty members you’ll interact with (whether they are mentors or not), the journal clubs and seminars, and any other important details. If you have access to special instrumentation, you may want to note that here as well.

For all applications: a couple of suggestions. First, you don’t need to put this on letterhead to ‘document the commitment.’ Our Office of Proposal and Award Management indicates that simply including the attachment is documentation, since when we submit the application, we are certifying that everything in it is true.

Second, in the Facilities and Resources section, you may want to refer to the attachment and vice versa. The Facilities and Resources section does not have a formal page limit, so you may want to include additional detail there if the page limits of the attachment don’t allow you to provide all the information you think is relevant (although don’t abuse the lack of page limits here, either–you don’t want to go on and on).  Conversely, especially for postdoctoral applications, you may want to mostly refer to the attachment when you’re describing the professional and career development resources and spend the bulk of Facilities and Resources detailing the facilities you need to accomplish the work–the laboratory, animal, clinical, computer and office, and core facilities.

In our experience, general boilerplate about OHSU and our scope and funding of research is not particularly useful for fellowship applications. It’s better to describe the department or institute where you’ll be carrying out your work. The reviewers want to know what it’s like to be a trainee in the particular intellectual milieu, not that OHSU overall had $376 million dollars in research in FY2015. Reviewers tend to like specificity. They want to know how the environment will help you become a productive scientist.

Guidelines for this section may change again when information addressing rigor and reproducibility will be required beginning in 2017. We will keep you posted.