NORDP 2015 Conference Report: Building an NIH Portfolio Without a Local Medical School

By Karen Markin, PhD, Director of Research Development, University of Rhode Island
To build a portfolio of grants from the National Institutes of Health at an institution without a medical school, it is essential to understand the agency’s mission, according to Janet E. Nelson, associate vice chancellor for research development at the University of Tennessee. That mission is to seek knowledge that enhances health, lengthens life and reduces illness and disability.

Nelson was one of three panelists who discussed strategic planning for successful grant-seeking from NIH in an increasingly competitive environment. The panel was part of NORDP’s annual Research Development Conference in Bethesda, MD.

Award rates at NIH are falling, noted Jennifer L. Webster, manager of strategic research initiatives at the University of Tennessee. However, it is still making grants focused on certain initiatives, including precision medicine, antibiotic resistance, cancer, brain research, Alzheimer’s disease and new vaccines.

Institutions without medical schools can compete by focusing on their strengths relative to other institutions. Panelists urged participants to think about the unique strengths of their institutions. For example, panelists Meredith Murr said the University of California at Santa Barbara has a top engineering department with talents it can leverage into NIH awards. The institution also hires strategically, focusing on medical researchers, and buildings collaborations outside the university.

Other tips from the panelists:

  • Invite an NIH program officer to speak at your campus.
  • Organize quarterly networking events and involve off-campus groups
  • Conduct red-team reviews on grant proposals.
  • Offer proposal development workshops.
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Author: Julie Rogers

Research Development Associate, Oregon Health & Science University

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