Let’s talk about NIH Equipment Grants

By Bouvier Grant Group

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Guest Post by Dr. David Widmer​

A Q&A with David Widmer,.PhD, founder and CEO of Vidmar-DAJ Consulting, LLC.  email: [email protected], website: www.vidmardaj.com

MB: What are NIH Equipment Grants?

NIH equipment grants (S10s) have the purpose of providing funds to institutions and investigators performing NIH-supported research for the purchase or upgrade of specialized instruments for shared use. NIH just celebrated 40 years of the S10 program, which is overseen by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP).

MB: Are there many mechanisms for these types of grants, or just the S10?

DW: NIH codes instrumentation grants under the S10 mechanism as Biomedical Research Support Shared Instrumentation Grants. There are three main types of S10s. 

Recently NIH added a Special Instrumentation Grant Program for Resource-Limited Institutions (RLI-S10) to enhance the research and educational missions of such institutions.

PIs should also look for NOSIs (Notice of Special Interest) targeting other research types or focus.

CDMRP, DOE, and NSF also have instrumentation grant programs that may be of interest.

MB: What is a typical range of money offered on these grants?

DW: Of the three mentioned above the BIG Program funds grant awards in the $25,000 to $350,000 range. The SIG Program funds grant awards in the $50,000 to $750,000 range, and the HEI Program funds grant awards in the $750,001 to $2,000,000 range. The new RLI-S10s only offer $25,000-$250,000 awards.

MB: What types of equipment are requested?

DW: Due to the vast array of research-specific equipment available, NIH does not provide lists of instrument types, but the instrument must cost more than $25,000. NOFOs do include lists of unallowable equipment, such as software, etc. PIs should be aware that these prohibitions may differ by IC, so pay attention to the Notices in each NOFO. 

MB: What is the structure of the application?

DW: In general, S10s are structured with the following required sections or attachments:

  • Justification of need
  • Technical expertise
  • Research Projects
  • Major/Minor Users
  • Administration Plans
  • Institutional commitment
  • Overall benefit
  • Letters of Support
  • Project summaries, abstracts, narratives, and references
  • Instrument Details

The required content for each section will be provided in each NOFO.

MB: What can an applicant do to best prepare to write a competitive application?

DW: First and foremost, PIs must confirm whether there is an internal competition or pre-screening at your institution. Since institutions must house, manage, and service the instrument, the majority of universities and research centers have an internal process to vet and approve which applications they will support.

Another important preparatory step is to identify and collect the large amount of information required to be submitted in tables that form part of the grant. This includes the NIH grant support of the major and minor users, as well as their research focus, usage percentages, and training experience as specified by the IC and/or NOFO.

MB: How are S10s reviewed?

DW: CSR convenes SEPs (Special Emphasis Panels) within certain IRGs. The baseline scored review criteria are Justification of Need, Technical Expertise, Research and Education Projects, Administration Plans, and Institutional Commitment.

MB: Are there tips or tricks for writing a competitive equipment grant application that you can share?

DW: The IC mission match is extremely important – many NOFOs have targeted mission interests associated with an IC that must be well-highlighted in the application.

Also PIs should note that strategically choosing the members of the user groups, both major and minor, is paramount since S10s have a required number of NIH-supported major users, a limit to the percentage of non-NIH-funded PIs who make up the groups, and as mentioned above, the research focus of each user, and their included projects must correspond to the IC’s mission.

Finally, the level of the institutional commitment can bolster or sink the grant’s fundability. If the institution appears less than enthusiastic regarding the provided space, staff number, and expertise, and in its demonstrated experience of equipment management, servicing, and the organized scheduling and tracking of use, it will be reflected in the scores of a number of the review criteria.

MB: Are the funding lines competitive?

DW: The most recent reports show an 18-20% success rate across NIH. NIH does not provide IC-specific success rates, but that information is sometimes shared by certain ICs on their webpages.

MB: Are there restrictions concerning whom may submit an S10?

DW: Unless otherwise noted, S10s are limited to domestic institutions only.

Dr. David Widmer​

This guest post was written by Dr. David Widmer​, CEO at Vimar-DAJ Consulting.

Vidmar-DAJ Consulting LLC provides training in RD initiatives, grants acquisition, and faculty mentoring to support US and foreign institutions enhance researcher career development. CEO Dr. David Widmer [email protected] supported 100s of researchers (pre-docs to faculty) in his 24-year RD/RA career. A Fulbright Scholar, he holds an MS in Cell Biology, an MA in History of Medicine, a PhD in Neuroscience, and was a Swiss Confederation Fellow. He was a Memorial Sloan Kettering post-doc before moving to roles as an MSK Sr. Grants Mgr., Mgr. of Sponsored Projects, and Mgr. of Research Development Outreach. In 2009, he founded the MSK Funding Development Team, an early proponent of the new RD field.

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