Getting Started with Your Initial NIH R01 Grant Application (Part 1)


Your academic research has been going well and is getting recognition, as demonstrated by publications and speaker invitations. It’s finally time to take on the challenge of applying for an R01 grant, the research project grant mechanism that is the oldest and most important avenue to access NIH funds. As the NIH R01 grant process is highly competitive, and the funding levels are relatively generous, an award carries a good amount of prestige. It’s an important demonstration of a researcher’s capability for independent work and can be a critical research career milestone. An R01 grant application can take many months to prepare, and here are some strategies and key initial steps to get started.


Start Early

NIH grant applications are always submitted under a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), and they can be either unsolicited or in response to requested research (see Table below). There are 24 Institutes/Centers (ICs) that make grant awards, and applications are funded by a specific entity. The majority of R01 applications are unsolicited, and referred to as ‘investigator-initiated’ since the research topic and IC designation is chosen by the investigator. They are submitted under the current R01 ‘parent’ announcement that is renewed every three years. Alternatively, submissions can be in response to a Request for Application (RFA) or a Program Announcement (PA, PAR and PAS) from one or more ICs. Request for Application announcements define a narrow research need while Program Announcements identify more broad areas of emphasis for an IC. There are generally three deadlines each year for new investigator-initiated and Program Announcement submissions (February 5, June 5, and October 5). RFAs tend to have a shortened window for applications (it can be less than 1 year from the notice release date) and will usually have only one deadline. Note that R01 renewal, resubmission and revision applications have distinct submission dates of March 5, July 5 and November 5. AIDS and AIDS-Related applications have separate deadlines of May 7, September 7 and January 7. Working backwards from the deadline, a good time to begin preparing the R01 application is 6-8 months before the due date.


NIH R01 Grant Application Options


Funding Opportunity



Investigator  Initiated (Unsolicited)

Parent Announcement

PA-20-183 Clinical Trial Required

PA-20-184 Basic Experimental Studies with

                  Humans Required

PA-20-185 Clinical Trial Not Allowed

Feb 5, Jun 5, Oct 5


Request for Application (RFA)


Variable, but usually a single date specified


PA-    Program Announcement

PAR- PA that has special receipt, referral

          and/or review considerations

PAS- PA that has set aside funds

Feb 5, Jun 5, Oct 5


Solicited Applications- Search for Funding Opportunities

To find solicited requests for proposals, the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts provides a searchable list of funding opportunities. Keyword searches can be narrowed to one or more funding Institute/Center(s), activity code (specify R01), and the type of funding opportunity (PA, PAR, PAS, RFA, or Parent). The last category also includes a search option for ‘Notice of Special Interest’ (NOSI), which brings up documents from an Institute/Center highlighting interest in a particular research area, and a list of relevant funding opportunity announcements. NOSI statements are in effect for variable times from 1-5 years, and relating your application to these Institute/Center priority interests can make it more impactful. Funding opportunity search results can be exported to a spreadsheet and saved to your computer for future reference, or shared by email with a computer link. The search parameters can be saved with options for automatic daily/weekly/monthly email updates. Researchers can subscribe to updates from the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts for access to the latest funding opportunity announcements through a weekly listserv email, RSS Feed, or Twitter. 


Special Timing Considerations

It can be difficult to know when is the right time to apply for an R01 grant, but there are advantages to submitting at an early career stage. In order to facilitate the transition of early career researchers to independence, the NIH R01 review process allows the applicant’s career stage and grant history to be considered. New Investigators are those who have not received substantial independent funding from NIH. An Early Stage Investigator (ESI) is a New Investigator within 10 years of completing a terminal research degree or completing a medical residency or equivalent. As R01 applications from Early Stage Investigators may receive special review treatment and those with meritorious scores can have priority consideration for funding, it can be beneficial to make a submission under the ESI designation. The specific funding strategy for ESI submissions varies among individual NIH Institutes/Centers and is described here. Additional information about ESI policies, including extension of ESI status due to training lapses can be found here.


Whether considering an investigator initiated or solicited R01 submission, read through the entire Funding Opportunity Announcement to check the Institutes/Centers that are participating, eligibility requirements, specific funding guidance or budget constraints, and review criteria.  Make sure these are not in conflict with any research plans. A subsequent post will address how to engage NIH Program Officials and begin writing the grant application.  


Should you need help with your R01, ScienceDocs can provide you with any level of support you may need.  To get started, fill out a quote sheet!


Useful Websites


Guide to Plan Your NIH Application


Parent Announcements for Investigator-Initiated R01 Applications


NIH Searchable Guide for Grants and Contracts


NIH Institute and Center Funding Strategies


Early Stage Investigator Status Policies and FAQ list – /early-investigators.htm



NIH Early Stage Investigator, NIH New Investigator, NIH grant, R01 grant, grant preparation expert



NIH SBIR Grant Reviewer

Learn more about NIH SBIR Grant Editor Dr. Marcy


Grant Proposals – The Process


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