Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2


Getting Funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Mark P. Reilly, Ph.D., Central Michigan University


With increasing costs of research, dwindling state coffers for universities, and increasing pressures to succeed in the academic environment, securing funding for research is fast becoming a necessary part of the existence of the behavioral scientist. However, it need not be our bane. There are many positive aspects to grant writing besides the possibility of getting money to do something you want to do, and fortunately, numerous opportunities for funding exist. One such source has been the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA. NIDA was established in 1974; its mission is to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction. Support from NIDA has long fostered behavior analysis and behavioral pharmacology (Charles R. Schuster, who coauthored one of the first textbooks in the fledgling field of behavioral pharmacology, was once the Director of NIDA) and continues to provide a source of funding for behavioral research and support for postdoctoral positions. So what does one do to receive a NIDA-sponsored grant?


Times have changed considerably from when Skinner could write a 4.5 page letter to the National Science Foundation soliciting financial support for his research program (see Catania, 2004). Now days, there are many pages of instructions and many forms that have to be filled out exactly as instructed. Grant writing is sometimes a painful and arduous experience with delayed, probabilistic consequences that are not always positive. In 2003, there were 1,038 new grant submissions of which only 333 were funded (success rate of 32%) and more than 104 million dollars were distributed. I have had more than my share of rejected submissions. My Career Development Award (called a K-Award), titled Toward a General Theory of Drug Behavior Dynamics, was unscored upon its first submission, which means it was not going to be considered for funding. The score indicates how likely it is that the grant will be funded, the lower the better. My first pass was not even scored! Nevertheless, I addressed most if not all of the readers' criticisms, resubmitted it, and it was funded. This brings me to my most important lesson learned I have learned in the grant game: be persistent.


Through the years, I have learned other lessons about the grant-writing process, mainly through observing my highly successful mentors but also through my few successes. This is the advice I can offer for other behavioral scientists seeking funding from NIDA:


If possible, surround yourself by successful people who have a demonstrated track record of obtaining grants…pay close attention to their grant-related behavior.


Review successful grant proposals (these are public domain and are available for review).


Attend grant-writing workshops such as the one offered by ABA in 2005.


Generate an idea that addresses the needs of NIDA's mission or a Request for Applications (RFAs) or other calls for proposals.


Determine the best mechanism for your proposal (e.g., R01, R03, R21, B-STARTs, K award).


Dedicate a substantial amount of time developing that idea and writing the proposal.


Have one or two colleagues outside and inside your area review it.


Edit, Edit, Edit.


Take advantage of services your university may provide, such as budgetary assistance (Central Michigan University's Office of Research and Sponsored Projects offers terrific assistance in preparing grants for submission).


Learn to accept criticism and rejection (remember only a small percentage of grants are funded); be resistant to extinction and punishment. If your proposal receives a score that will not likely be funded, resubmit and thoroughly address each issue raised by the readers.


As mentors, we need to do a better job training the skills required for successful grant writing. We can start by shaping grant writing and the collateral skills as part of our graduate training (predoctoral and postdoctoral students can apply for training grants and National Research Service Awards or NRSAs. My postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan was supported by a NIDA training grant and the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center). Of course, the ability for NIDA to fund research is critically linked to their budget. Let us hope that NIDA's budget will not be slashed in these economically difficult times, and it will continue to be a source of funding for behavior analysts/behavioral pharmacologists in the near and distant future.


For more information, go to the link Here you will find FAQ, downloadable forms, instructions, lists of previously awarded grants, and descriptions of the various funding mechanisms. Two other fine links are: Resources for New Investigators at and the Research Assistant at These links offer advice and other resources for grant writing.



Catania, A. C. (2002). The watershed years of 1958-1962 in the Harvard Pigeon Lab. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 77, 327-345.




Modifed by Eddie Soh