The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a major source of funding for biomedical research at the College of Medicine. The NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. The NIH is made up of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems.
Parent announcements are arguably the most common funding mechanism used by the NIH. These omnibus funding announcements enable applicants to submit investigator-initiated grant applications to any participating Institute or Center (IC). The following screenshot shows the first page of a typical NIH parent announcement, in this case the K08 (Mentored Clinician Scientist Award). With any parent announcement, it would be a mistake to assume that all participating ICs use the mechanism in the same manner. Each participating IC may have unique goals or requirements that may very well impact your decision to pursue funding with that IC. Once you identify a funding mechanism that is right for you, review the latest parent announcement to identify which ICs participate, then follow-up by contacting the relevant ICs to discuss how they utilize the mechanism to see if it is a good fit.
Paylines, Percentiles, and Success Rates
Paylines are used by a number of institutes and centers (ICs) to establish a cutoff point beyond which they will not fund applications. Some ICs establish paylines at the beginning of the fiscal year, while others do not calculate paylines until they have a clear idea of their budget capacity. Having a score less than or equal to the payline is a good indication, but not a guarantee of funding. For example, some ICs may reach beyond the payline to fund an application to maintain mission focus, balance portfolios, or to limit redundancy.
The NIH uses percentiles to adjust for scoring discrepancies. Each application is ranked by impact score relative to other applications reviewed by the same study section in the current and previous 2 meetings. An application that was ranked in the 5th percentile is considered more meritorious than 95% of the applications reviewed by that committee. This kind of ranking permits comparison across committees that may have different scoring behaviors. Not all applications are percentiled. Whether an application is percentiled depends on the grant mechanism, the institute, and the funding opportunity. For example, applications submitted in response to a request for applications (RFA) are never percentiled.
Success rates represent the percentage of applications an IC funded as compared to the number referred to it. The NIH RePORT website provides a wealth of information on current success rates by Institute and Center:
Some Institutes and Centers post their current paylines and success rates; some do not. For a discussion on how to interpret paylines and success rates, refer to this 2011 blog post from Dr. Sally Rockey, the Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the NIH: