Departmental Funding Key to Fostering Investigators’ Research Success

department research funding

The concept of “Investing in Members” is a strategic priority of the 2017-2022 Department of Medicine Strategic Plan. In the realm of research, investing in members is also a natural extension of longstanding funding mechanisms within the department. Chief among these are research funds that are distributed on competitive basis by the Department of Medicine Research Committee.

Funding for pilot projects, for example, allow any principal investigator or scientist with an independent research program in the Department of Medicine to apply for up to $50,000 per project. Funds can also be used for equipment or for scientific conferences. 

Additionally, the department offers bridge funding to stabilize research programs when an established principal investigator experiences a gap in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding or is submitting a revised research application. 

Both the pilot and gap funding programs accept applications four times per year. 

“When we looked at data on the long-term impact of these programs, we found that investigators who participated ultimately had a much higher NIH funding success rate than the national average,” said Nasia Safdar, MD, PhD, professor, Infectious Disease and vice chair for research. 

Overall NIH funding success rates vary by agency; in fiscal year 2017, for example, success rate for R01 awards ranged from 12 percent (NIH-National Cancer Institute) to 28 percent (NIH-National Institute of General Medical Sciences). In contrast, Department of Medicine investigators who received departmental pilot grants and subsequently applied for extramural funding from NIH saw funding success rates ranging from approximately 54 percent to 61 percent, depending on the mechanism and agency. 

Departmental pilot grant funding enables investigators to obtain preliminary data in order to strengthen NIH proposals. Additionally, applying for a pilot grant mimics the process used by NIH review panels, because a departmental panel of regular and/or ad-hoc reviewers uses an NIH-like scoring system to evaluate each application on the basis of factors such as scientific impact, significance, innovation, productivity of the investigator, and strength of experimental plans. This feedback from experienced departmental colleagues helps refine concepts and strategies at an early stage, leading to more robust proposals. 

“These funding programs are among several others available to department members,” said Dr. Safdar. “For example, funding is available for research and scholarly work in medical education. The Department of Medicine Education Committee awards Medical Education Innovation Grants of up to $20,000 to support educational projects for department faculty or trainees. And many divisions have developed competitive programs for pilot-scale grants available for research in strategic areas,” said Dr. Safdar.

“Building an independently-supported research program takes time and persistence. At the departmental level, pilot and bridge grant funding accompanied by feedback is a strategy that is helping to build a strong pipeline of investigators. Our goal is to help researchers achieve long-term success.”