TIP – Putting “Effort” Into Your NIH Application

Putting “Effort” Into Your Application


Funding News | May 16, 2018

Credit: NIAID

If your total level of effort on all projects will exceed 100 percent if we fund all your applications, explain how you will bring your total effort down to 100 percent when you apply.

We regularly receive questions about managing your level of effort. The following advice will help clarify NIH policies on calculating and justifying your level of effort in your application.

Know What “Effort” Means

In the context of your grant application, “effort” refers to the amount of time your principal investigator (PI) activities will take.

Reviewers use this figure to assess whether you can complete your research with the amount of effort you plan to commit to a proposed project.

NIH uses this figure to calculate how much of your PI salary it will pay.

For example, if you estimate you’ll spend 50 percent of your professional time on your grant, NIH will pay for 50 percent of your salary, up to the federal limit.

Read Your FOA

Always check whether your funding opportunity announcement (FOA) has special rules about effort.

Certain types of awards—mentored career development and small business awards, among others—require a minimum level of effort.

Additionally, some requests for applications have their own instructions about effort.

Our advice is written for FOAs that do not have unique requirements (e.g., investigator-initiated R01s, R21s, and P01s).

Contact Your Business Office First

Consult with your institution’s business office before you apply.

Your institution may have rules or guidelines on the following topics:

  • How to calculate effort
  • How to balance effort with your other institutional responsibilities and non-NIH projects
  • How to manage your salary and support if funded

Align Your Effort With the Work You Propose

Calculating effort isn’t an exact science, but you need to make an appropriate estimate.

Make sure your effort falls in line with what a competent researcher would need to manage the work you propose in your application.

Request a level of effort that fits your actual needs.

  • If your effort is too high, reviewers may recommend cutting your budget.
  • If it’s too low, reviewers may question your commitment to the project.
  • If your request is way out of step with what reviewers would expect, they’ll question your competence and may factor that into your overall impact/priority score.

Include only your own work as PI. Calculate the effort of your key personnel separately.

Never ask for more than 100 percent effort on a single grant. You cannot include overtime or claim you’re efficient enough to do more than one year’s worth of work over the course of a year.

If you’re submitting more than one application, you may ask for a combined level of effort that exceeds 100 percent (e.g., 60 percent on one application and 60 percent on another). If both applications are funded, we’ll adjust your effort to be no more than 100 percent when we negotiate your award.

Keep in mind that when you take this route, you risk having to cut your Specific Aims, reduce your effort on one of your other awards, or decline your award.

If you’re submitting a multiproject application that requires your effort on an administrative core, include this in your effort calculation.

New Investigators, Take Note

As a rule of thumb, put in at least 25 percent effort on each application you submit.

Reviewers may accept lower levels of effort from well-established, high-performing PIs who have demonstrated stellar research performance over an extended period of time.

Since you don’t yet have a comparable track record, they’ll likely raise concerns over a low level of effort.

Don’t worry if your effort changes over the course of your grant. Reviewers know that can happen, and NIAID allows you to change your effort as your work progresses (with some limitations we’ll discuss in a future issue).

Justify Thoroughly

Make sure your budget justification includes enough information for reviewers to understand why you need the time you request and what you’ll do with it.

We recommend the following approach:

  • Detail the work you’ll have to do as PI.
    • List specific activities.
    • Include time you’ll spend collaborating with other investigators, training your team, and building your infrastructure.
    • Note work that others will do, but don’t apply this toward your level of effort as PI.
  • Estimate how much time your PI activities will take, in person months.
  • Include all this information in the personnel section of your budget justification. Make sure you describe effort for each key personnel as well as yourself.

If your total level of effort on all projects will exceed 100 percent if we fund all your applications, explain how you will bring your total effort down to 100 percent.

  • For example, let’s say you’ve already committed 60 percent effort to other research projects.
  • You then apply for two new grants at 25 percent effort each.
  • In this case, you may want to state that you will reduce the level of effort so that your overall effort is 100 percent if both are selected for funding.

If your level of effort will change over the course of your grant, indicate this in your justification.

However, if you’re not certain your effort will change, don’t mention anything. You can change your level of effort later, when preparing your just-in-time request and during award negotiation.

Related Links