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NIH Director’s Emergency Early Independence Awards

FOA#: RFA-RM-20-021

This FOA solicits applications responsive only to the COVID-19 public health emergency. All other Early Independence Award applications must be submitted in response to RFA-RM-20-014.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Early Independence Award provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists to accelerate their entry into an independent research career by forgoing the traditional post-doctoral training period. Though most newly graduated doctoral-level researchers would benefit from post-doctoral training, a small number of outstanding junior investigators are capable of launching directly into an independent research career. For those select junior investigators who have already established a record of scientific innovation and research productivity and have demonstrated unusual scientific vision and maturity, typical post-doctoral training would unnecessarily delay their entry into independent research. The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award also provides an opportunity for institutions to invigorate their research programs by bringing in fresh scientific perspectives of the awardees they host. 

The Common Fund will dedicate funds provided by the CARES Act to support a total of 5-10 Early Independence Awards that bring new, innovative perspectives and approaches to the prevention of, preparation for, or response to coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, domestically or internationally. Any relevant area of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 research is welcome, including behavioral/social science research, research on health disparities, novel therapeutics, and other related topics. As with all High-Risk, High-Reward Research program applications, innovation may be technological or conceptual. 

To be eligible, investigators, at the time of application, must have received their most recent doctoral degree or completed clinical training within the previous fifteen months or expect to do so within the following twelve months. To be consistent with the updated NIH definition of Early Stage Investigators, eligible clinical training includes clinical residency and clinical fellowship. By the end of the award period, Early Independence Award investigators are expected to be competitive for continued funding of their research program through other NIH funding activities and for permanent research-oriented positions. Talented researchers from diverse backgrounds, including those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities, and women are strongly encouraged to work with their institutions to develop applications.

Prospective PDs/PIs should contact appropriate Institutional leaders to seek an appointment in an independent research position.  

Awards will be for up to $250,000 in direct costs per year. The project period is limited to five years.

Eligibility

  • The receipt date of the terminal doctoral degree or end of post-graduate clinical training of the PD/PI must be between June 1, 2019 and September 30, 2021. The degree receipt date is that which appears on the official transcript for the degree. The end of post-graduate clinical training includes residency and fellowship periods.
  • At the time of application, the PD/PI must not have served as a post-doctoral fellow following a previous (not the most recent) doctoral degree for more than twelve months.
  • At the time of award, either 1) the Early Independence investigator must have received terminal doctoral degree from an accredited domestic or foreign institution or 2) an authorized official of the degree-granting or training institution must certify that all degree requirements have been met and that the receipt date of the degree (as will appear on the transcript) will be before September 30, 2021; in addition, an authorized official of the host institution must certify that the PD/PI will be eligible to conduct independent research at the institution at the time of the project start date.
  • At the time of award, either 1) the Early Independence investigator must have received a terminal doctoral degree from an accredited domestic or foreign institution or 2) an authorized official of the degree-granting institution must certify that all degree requirements have been met and that the date of degree receipt as appearing on the transcript will be before September 30, 2021.
  • Individuals are eligible only if they, at the time of application submission, do not have research independence. Lack of research independence is defined functionally rather than by position title. Eligible individuals must have all the following characteristics:
    • The PD/PI's current research agenda is set through concurrence with mentors.
    • The PD/PI's research is funded primarily through support to other investigators (mentored fellowships such as NIH F31 or F32 Fellowships or NSF Graduate Research Fellowships do not preclude eligibility).
    • The PD/PI does not have any space assigned directly by the institution for the conduct of his/her research.
    • The PD/PI, according to institutional policy, cannot apply for an NIH R01 grant without special waiver or exemption from the institution.
  • Though the PD/PI must not be functionally independent at the time of application submission, s/he may become functionally independent prior to time of award and still retain eligibility for the award.
  • Only single PD/PI applications will be accepted.
  • Individuals must commit at least 9.6 person-months each year (i.e., 80% effort of a 12-month appointment) to the Early Independence Award project in years 1-2 of the project period. In years 3-5, awardees may reduce effort towards the Early Independence Award project but must commit at least 9.6 person-months each year (i.e., 80% effort of a 12-month appointment) to independent research in general.

Limit on Number of Proposals Per Organization

Each institution, as defined by having a unique DUNS number or NIH IPF number, may submit only up to two applications to this FOA.

Key Dates

  • Internal Letter of Intent, including a Department Chair Letter Due: Wednesday, July 1 (by 11:59 PM)
  • Sponsor Letter of Intent Due (Optional): Tuesday, August 4
  • Sponsor Proposal Due: Friday, September 4

Submitting a Mandatory Letter of Intent

Candidates interested in applying are required to submit a letter of intent (LOI) that includes a Department Chair letter by the deadline specified above. If interest exceeds the number of submissions the university is allowed, an internal competition will be held.  

  1. Click here to access the letter of intent form. 
  2. Obtain a signed Department Chair letter that is responsive to Section IV.2, as described in the full solicitation, that includes the following components:
    1. ​Position details
    2. Institutional resources commitment
    3. Institutional career development commitment.
  3. ​Compile the letter of intent and Department Chair letter as a single PDF file.
  4. Name the file as follows:  “LastName-FirstInitial-NIH-DP5-CARES-2020”, replacing “LastName” with your last name and “First Initial” with your first initial.
  5. Submit your LOI by completing this web form.  Note: Supplemental documents are not accepted.
  6. To receive a confirmation email and copy of your submission, check the box (“Send me a copy of my responses”) and enter your email address.
  7. Click “Submit”.

Contact and Additional Information

Karen Cielo, Interim Director, 847-467-0043, k-cielo@northwestern.edu
Limited Submissions website

Please visit the Office of Research Development (RD) website for up-to-date information on research funding opportunities and resources. Also, follow ORD on Twitter.  

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