The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (N C C A M): Part of the National Institutes of Health

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Tips for New NIH Research Grant Applicants

On this page:

In the Beginning

  1. Learn about the institutional support that is available to you (e.g., a startup package).
  2. Consider other potential funding sources (e.g., private foundations).
  3. Seek mentoring. Ask three senior colleagues to act as your "grant committee." Write one page of three to five specific aims and discuss these with the committee before beginning to write the application.
  4. Check NCCAM's current research interests and priorities.
  5. Know the literature, issues, questions, and controversies in your area.
  6. Avoid overlap with already funded research. RePORTER is a searchable database of federally (including NCCAM-) funded biomedical research projects.
  7. Discuss your ideas with the NCCAM Program Officer responsible for your area of scientific interest.



  1. Establish your independence as an investigator through publishing articles.
  2. Generate and collect preliminary data.
  3. Enlist collaborators and include letters of commitment that clearly spell out the collaborations in your proposal.
  4. Look at successful proposals of colleagues in your field (preferable) or review a successful application.


Starting to Write

  1. Prepare your proposal early—well before the deadline. Do not rush! The standard NIH receipt dates apply for most applications. If you are responding to an initiative (Request for Applications (RFA) or Program Announcement (PA, PAR or PAS), it may have different deadlines—read the text of the initiative carefully. Review NCCAM-sponsored initiatives.
  2. Place your work in perspective. Cite others. If there are two camps, cite both sides.
  3. Be focused. Use a clear and concise writing style.
  4. Explain your rationale for hypothesis, design, and methods. Does your literature review lead logically to the hypotheses and design of your research proposal? Are the specific aims and research plan you propose the best way to test your hypotheses?
  5. Discuss potential problems and pitfalls. Describe alternate strategies.
  6. Provide a timeline.
  7. Carefully consider your funding needs. Start with personnel—explain fully the role of each person on the grant. Review the NIH modular grant rules for budgets less than $250,000 direct costs. These specify that you must request funds in $25,000 modules. They do not permit increments for inflation in the "out-years." Reviewers will judge your competence, in part, by how well your funding request matches the scope of the project.
  8. Proofread! Have zero tolerance for typographical errors, misspellings, or sloppy formatting. Make sure you've followed the format specifications in the application instructions.
  9. Critique your own proposal.
  10. Have others not involved in writing your proposal critique and proofread it.


After Submitting Your Application

  1. You should receive notification of receipt, and of the Scientific Review Administrator (SRA) assignment and contact information within a month of the receipt date. Once you have submitted an application, questions should be directed to the assigned SRA.
  2. Scientific review groups meet to discuss and score applications within six months of the receipt date. Priority scores are sent to applicants within two weeks of the review group meeting and summary statements (including reviewers' critiques) are sent within ten weeks. You can also read the summary statement through eCommons.
  3. If you are not funded the first time around, read the reviewers' critiques and revise your application carefully. Consult your mentors and Program Officer for advice.



Links to general information on biomedical and CAM research and on the NIH awards process: