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.

Obtaining Funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

By David P. Wacker, Ph.D.


The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is one of the National Institutes of Health. As with the other institutes, NICHD reviews research proposals three times per year (with application receipt dates for new submissions being February 1, June 1, and October 1). The first step in the review process is the Scientific Merit Review, which occurs three to four months after the submission deadline. It is at this stage that the scientific merits of the proposal are evaluated. The second step is the Advisory Council Review, which occurs about two months after the scientific review. It is at this step that funding decisions are made regarding individual proposals that have been evaluated as having high scientific merit.


The two most common funding mechanisms are the R01 and R03 applications for funding. The R01 is an individual research proposal and comprises the majority of NIH-funded research projects. For an R01 application, you will need a very strong rationale or conceptual model, pilot data (including publications) that provide empirical support for your proposed investigation, and some indication of feasibility (including letters of commitment from participating agencies). Contrary to popular belief, single-case designs are acceptable (I have had three R01s funded, and all were single-case designs), but it is clear that group designs are preferred by most reviewers. In the analysis section, it is important to justify the design selected (e.g., importance of internal validity), and, if a group design is used, an estimate of power is needed. Projects can be funded for up to five years and can be continued as competitive renewals for several more five-year periods. Competitive renewals are a good way to support programmatic research but are subject to the same type of review process as new R01 proposals. Having served on a review panel for the previous four years, I can state firmly that competitive renewals are reviewed just as critically as new proposals.


An under-utilized funding mechanism is the R03. This is a small grants program that is used by investigators to collect needed pilot data. The projects are limited to two years ($50,000 per year), and their purpose is to develop or demonstrate the organizational capacity needed to conduct a larger version of the project, to obtain data that support the research hypotheses, and to show feasibility. The proposal length is also reduced, which makes this mechanism more "user friendly" than the R01.


All submitted proposals are assigned to two to four reviewers, with the modal number being three. Each reviewer prepares a detailed written review that is posted for the other reviewers to read and is presented orally at the scientific review meetings. The three reviewers each indicate a score for the proposal, with the lower and upper scores forming the range. Following a group discussion with the entire panel, all committee members (approximately 25) anonymously score the proposal, with the mean of those scores being sent to the principal investigator with the written critique by the three reviewers. If a proposal is judged by the three reviewers as being in the lower half of the proposals, then no score is provided and no discussion occurs. In this case, the investigator is notified of this outcome but still receives the three written critiques. Approximately 70 proposals are reviewed each funding cycle over a two-day period.


If a proposal is not funded, regardless of the score and even if it is unscored, the investigators have the option to revise and resubmit the proposal. They can revise and resubmit twice. It is not uncommon for a proposal that was unscored during the first review to receive a good score on a revised application. This outcome occurs, for example, when a significant design or analysis problem is noted in the first review and is successfully (and sometimes easily) addressed in a revision. Although it is difficult to receive an "unscored" rating, do not let this stop you from revising the application, especially if the reviewers view the idea as being innovative or significant. Remember that unscored simply means that the proposal appears to be in the lower half of the current proposals, not that it is poorly conceived.


Most funded proposals go thorough at least one revision. Of the three R01s that we have had funded, one was revised once and the other twice. We always expect to revise a proposal, and view the first submission as a probe to find out what revisions are needed. It is critical that the revised proposal directly address every concern raised by the reviewers, and a section in the proposal is designated for that purpose.


We have found the review process to be generally scientific and objective. One advantage of the NICHD review process is that the review panel remains mostly constant from one review cycle to the next. Reviewers serve for up to five years on the panel, and so there is a good chance that the same reviewers will receive the revisions. Thus, if you can address the reviewers' concerns, there is a good probability that the score will improve. Scores range from 100 - 500, with 100 being perfect. Scores over 300 are rare because they are usually in the lower half. Reviewers do not make funding decisions, but review scores in the 120 - 170 range are correlated with funding.


The review panel is large and quite diverse. There are usually fewer than three behavioral analysts serving on the panel, and so most proposals will be assigned to at least one reviewer who is a psychiatrist or a neuropsychologist. It is very important to define terms and to write in a descriptive fashion. If possible, show how the behavioral mechanism being studied ties into other conceptual models or clinical concerns better understood by more typical reviewers.




Modifed by Eddie Soh