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This document is a transcript of a Technical Assistance teleconference call that took place on August 28, 2007, among Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) staff and potential applicants for the National Research Service Award (NRSA) institutional training programs (T32) funded by AHRQ.
Coordinator: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question and answer session, please press star 1 on your touchtone phone. Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I would now like to turn the meeting over to Miss Shelley Benjamin. Ma'am, you may begin.
Shelley Benjamin: Thank you. Good afternoon. This is Shelley Benjamin at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Good afternoon for those of you on the Eastern seaboard. I know we do have folks on the west, so good morning to you.
I do want to start quickly by introducing folks in the room. There are quite a number of people in the room with me who have different roles as far as this particular grant solicitation is concerned.
Again, I'm Shelley Benjamin and I'm one of the program officials in the Agency and work closely with the NRSA program and in particular, I'm the program officer for this T32 solicitation.
Karen Rudzinski: I work with Shelley in the Division of Research Education, which I direct, and have experience in administering this program in the past.
Al Deal: I'm Al Deal from the Grants Management Office.
Gretta Drott:I work in the Division of Research Education.
Brenda Harding: I work with the T32 Program with Shelley.
Kishena Wadhwani: Kishena Wadhwani, Director of the Division of Scientific Review, where the review of the applications will be taking place.
Jerry Calderone: I'm the AHRQ Receipt and Referral Officer.
Shelley Benjamin: Thank you. I've asked all these other folks to join because as you see with program, referral, review, and grants management, there are a number of different offices at the Agency that are associated with the pre-competition as well as the competition itself and what happens after grants are awarded.
I thought I'd take a few minutes by just quickly going over the session, providing a quick overview of the program, its history, what we're looking for, the timeline and next steps.
After that, we will proceed with the question and answer portion of this session. We will begin with providing responses to questions received in advance, followed by questions from participants on the phone call.
Overview and History
AHRQ has sponsored institutional training grants since 1986. At present we support 27 programs, which are a mix of predoctoral, postdoctoral and combined programs. A listing and description of the 27 current funded programs are available on our Web site at http://www.ahrq.gov/fund/training/t32.htm.
The NRSA program provides student stipends and tuition offsets for students. No faculty support is provided.
In terms of eligibility requirements for the students, they have to be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Students need to be full time in their research training.
AHRQ solicits institutional training grant applications only once every five years; each funded grant is supported for a five-year period. Current funded programs are in their fifth and final year of this cycle.
In terms of program balance, what we hope to achieve in the new cycle is a mix of programs which include:
The Requests for Application (RFA) states that:
" Applicant organizations are encouraged to collaborate across Departments, Divisions, Schools and affiliated organizations within their larger institution in submitting applications to this announcement. AHRQ will generally support no more than one meritorious grant per academic-degree granting institution and its affiliate organizations. Support for two grants per applicant organization and/or its affiliates will be considered when this arrangement is fully justified and achieves programmatic balance across AHRQ priorities."
Institutions may submit more than one application, however, it is only in rare cases, with supporting justification, and if complementary to AHRQ programmatic interests, that the Agency will make more than one award to the same academic-degree institution and affiliate organizations.
Timeline and Next Steps
Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers have been synthesized into two sections. The first deal with issues specific to grant application preparation and differences between competing continuation and new application requirements. The second includes additional issues raised either during the teleconference call or in advance of the meeting.
Question: What forms do I use and where do I find them?
Answer: This information is provided in Section IV. of the announcement. Applications must be prepared using the research grant applications instructions found in the PHS 398 and the specific NRSA institutional grant application instructions that begin on page 61 of the PHS 398. The PHS 398 application instructions are available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/phs398/phs398.html.
Question: Does AHRQ allow for Co-PI's?
Answer: AHRQ is not following the NIH policy regarding multiple principal investigators (PIs). Officially, AHRQ will only recognize one Principal Investigator/Program Director who has overall responsibility and authority for the grant. However, programs may exercise internal flexibility in how they manage their grants, including the use of an informal, unofficial co-director.
Question: Are there any formatting preferences within the text, headers, sections and numbering?
Answer: There are no additional formatting requirements beyond those required specifically within the PHS 398.
Question: For faculty, should CV's or biosketches be submitted?
Question: Our program will involve a large number of faculty across the institution. How many is too many? Should we provide information about all of them? Should faculty who serve as mentors to our trainees and have other involvements in the program, but may not be "key" be listed as "other significant contributors?" What information, if any, do we need to submit about these faculty in addition to their NIH 4-page biosketch? The section on 'other significant contributors' suggests that 'other support information' will not be required if an award is made, but is it necessary to submit it in the initial application?
Answer: On page 63 of the instructions to be used when applying for a competing Institutional NRSA grant, Section 2 Specific Instructions includes the following:
The number and type of faculty proposed for the training program is up to the applicant. Provide the detailed information requested in the PHS 398 for faculty that would be key personnel. If you have faculty that you do not consider to be key personnel, by the definition in the PHS instructions, but choose to include because of the nature of their participation, indicate in your application that the program may draw upon other faculty and note the relationship to the program, the nature of their participation the types of research expertise that would be available to the fellows by their involvement with the training program.
Question: What is included in the page limitations?
Answer: Page limitations should include all relevant information necessary that describes background, program plan (administration, faculty, proposed training, evaluation, and candidates), minority recruitment and retention plan and plans for instruction in responsible conduct of research. This includes descriptions of faculty research interests. Tables, faculty biosketches, letters of support and supporting materials (such as course syllabi (if one chooses to include it) as opposed to description of curriculum requirements and core competencies are not included in the limitation. Programs applying for both predoctoral and postdoctoral components must fit their descriptions of both components within the 25-page limit. References to Web sites at applicant institutions can be included but not in lieu of content contained within the 25 pages. Some information provided within this section can be presented in tabular format for ease of presentation.
Question: The NIGMS Web site offers samples of table templates that have different numbering from those in the NRSA section of the PHS 398. Can they be used in lieu of required tables specified in the PHS 398 instructions?
Question: We plan to draw trainees from a wide variety of disciplines from across the university as well as outside. Should we fill out the required tables for all of the potential applicant pools?
Answer: Provide the detail information requested for the main participating components, but indicate there may be participating entities and describe the nature and depth of their participation.
Question: Table 1 calls for the total number of current predoctoral students and postdoctoral trainees. For the predocs, it seems to be asking for the total number of students, trainees as well as non-trainees.
Answer: Table 1 should include the total number of all predoctoral and postdoctoral students at the major participating entities in the grant application—not only those who are NRSA supported.
Question: Table 4 requests calls for information on all past and current students for whom faculty members are/were the thesis advisor or sponsor for the past 10 years. Should we list all mentees or just ones related to training in our field, as proposed in the training grant application?
Answer: Table 4 should include all the mentees, not just those in the field proposed in the training grant application.
Question: Should the students listed in Table 4 include Masters-level students or only doctoral and postdoctoral students?
Answer: Only doctoral and postdoctoral students should be included.
Question: Is Table 5 asking for detail regarding the application/acceptance/enrollment history for the 5-6 fellowship slots enrolled every year, or more generally, beyond just this particular T32 grant mechanism, about all of the applicants to the half dozen or so academic divisions that participate in the AHRQ fellowship here? The latter is a very broad set of applicants of all types, whereas the former would be focused specifically on the interest in, and use of, the funds from this grant mechanism.
Answer: Table 5 should include all individuals who apply to the major participating departments/units.
Question: Is Table 8 asking about minority recruitment/application/enrollment for this T32 fellowship, or instead more broadly, about recruitment to the participating departments within the university as a whole?
Answer: Table 8 should include all individuals who apply to the major participating departments/unit; indicate those who were AHRQ supported by an asterisk(*)
Question: In Table 10, subpart 4: "source of support during each year of training". Does this mean other salary support? Would it include funding in their PI's name for a project that the fellow participating in? Does "each year of training" mean each year of participation in the AHRQ T32 training grant, or every year of their training, including time before and after participation in this particular fellowship?
Answer: This would include the total of duration of research training—for some this may be limited to the participation on the AHRQ grant, for others it may include time before and after this particular fellowship.
Question: What additional tables are allowed outside of the 25 page limitation noted above?
Question: Should letters of support from internal and external partners, as well as required tables, be included in the appendix?
Answer: Applicants are encouraged to include these materials in the main body of the application, following Section J. (Consortium/Contractual Arrangements) and prior to the Checklist, as opposed to placing them in appendices.
Competing Continuations vs. New Grant Applications
Question: Do all competing continuation grant applications need to complete Section E (Progress Report)?
Answer: Yes. All currently-funded projects are considered to be competing continuations, even if they propose expansions in their currently-funded programs (in terms of topical areas, partnerships and level of student supported). They must complete the progress report. There is no page limitation, but the information should be complete and as concise as possible.
Question: Can programs which were previously funded by AHRQ, but are not being funded at present, submit competing continuations or do they have to submit new applications?
Answer: In the past, such programs had to submit new applications. At present, they can choose to submit new or competing continuation applications.
Question: Are continuing versus new applications evaluated or considered differently in any respect during the review or funding process?
Answer: No prioritization will be given to either. However, competing continuations will be evaluated based on their progress reports and proposed plans, whereas new applications will not be evaluated on the merits of their progress reports (since they will not have any included in the application).
Question: If a currently-funded AHRQ T32 program has a subcontract with another institution are both eligible to submit competing continuations vs. new applications?
Answer: All applications coming from the current grantee must be in the format of a competing continuation, even if the subcontractor is no longer a partner. If the subcontracting institution wishes to submit independently, it can do so in the format of a new or competing continuation application. If the two institutions wish to continue their partnership, but have the subcontractor be the prime grantee institution on the application to be submitted in October 2007, the application submitted must be in the format of a competing continuation.
Additional Questions and Answers
Question: How many fellowships slots can we request?
Answer: The number of fellowship positions requested varies by program. Applicants should include a rationale for their request and demonstrate that the program can satisfactorily accommodate the number of positions requested. However, the number of positions awarded for a successful applicant will be determined by the review process and the availability of funds. The proposed scope of the program (both in initial and outlying years) is up to the applicant based on the nature of the program (e.g., pre, post, or pre and post) and its capacity. There is no set standard. However, to provide a framework, our current range of program slots is between 4 and 11. The median is 5-6 and new programs are often started at a lower level than approved. All programs can request out-year growth, but the final support determination depends on availability of and future growth in program funds.
Also, note that slots do not mean people. They include new and returning students for out years.
Question: Should applicants interested in supporting both predoctoral and postdoctoral students submit separate applications for each?
Answer: Applicants are encouraged to combine both components in one application. Reviewers will discuss and implement an approach, with guidance provided by the review staff, to evaluating these programs, particularly in situations where one component is substantially stronger than the other.
Question: What is the percent effort required for the program director?
Answer: NRSA funds do not provide salary support for the Program Director or faculty. There is no pre-set level of effort required of faculty and the Program Director. The amount varies and the expectation is that the faculty and Program Director are available for the amount which is specified and justified. Reviewers will determine if the request is in line with the scope of the program proposed.
Question: Do clinical fellows need to devote 100% time to research or are they allowed to see patients?
Answer: Fellows are required to pursue their research training program full time, normally defined as 40 hours per week or as specified by the sponsoring institution in accordance with its own policies.
Within the full time training period, fellows in clinical areas must confine clinical duties to those that are an integral part of the research training experience.
Compensated services may occur on a limited, part-time basis apart from the normal full-time research training activities. Training Program Directors must approve all instances of employment to verify that the circumstances will not interfere with, detract from, or prolong the approved NRSA research training program.
A full description of the policy for stipend supplementation and compensation is located in the NIH Grants Policy Statement at: http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2003/NIHGPS_Part11.htm.
Question: Do reviewers/AHRQ weight each objective equally?
AHRQ does not weight all objectives equally. Note that an application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have major scientific impact and thus deserve a high priority score.
Question: Does AHRQ have a set of "core competencies" it endorses for programs?
AHRQ does not have an officially-sanctioned set of core competencies. Each program is expected to elucidate its own based on what its curriculum emphasizes. AHRQ did provide financial support to a small conference grant application which focused on the development of core competencies for predoctoral education. These set of competencies has not been officially endorsed by AHRQ, but the product can be accessed at Health Services Research Core Competencies.
Question: In the description of core competencies in the FOA, what is meant by "past partnerships?"
The word "past" is an editorial error and should be deleted.
Question: Previously, the tuition formula was used for award calculation purposes only, and grantees have not been required to use the same formula for actual expenditures. Funds were awarded in a lump sum and grantees had latitude to rebudget the tuition across students. Will this continue under the new policy for reimbursement? Can tuition and related expense funds be rebudgeted across trainees?
With the new NIH policy, tuition can still be rebudgeted as in the past, including across trainees. Note that tuition requests in the budget for predocs as well as postdocs should be based on historical trend data, actual expectations, and the nature of the program proposed in the application (e.g., if graduate degrees are not mandatory or are not provided in the postdoc program, then the tuition requests noted in the budget section should align with the nature of the program). The rebudgeting is not intended to exceed the maximum allowed per student under the NRSA policy guidelines. Also, note that funding is contingent on budget availability and not solely requested amounts. NIH will be actively monitoring rebudgeting in tuition and fees given the new pilot policy in place. AHRQ may opt to request more detailed information from grantees on rebudgeting.
Question: Can support be requested for administrative staff?
Applicants cannot directly request support for administrative staff. The grant primarily supports stipends for students and offsets for tuition and fees. However, training-related expenses (TREs) are also provided, based on the number of slots supported in a program and NRSA guideline levels. Some programs opt to use some of these funds to partially-offset administrative expenses.
Current as of August 2007
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