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How Long Does it Take to Get an NIH Grant?

Sep 14, 2023

“Are we there yet?” I’d pepper my dad with this question when we went to see my cousins in Carrollton, Texas.

I just looked it up, and turns out the drive was only 23 minutes. But it felt interminable when I was a preschooler. I had no mental map of the trip. And no sense of time markers.

Waiting to get your first grants can feel like this. How long will it take? Are you there yet? To help alleviate that feeling, I’ve been sharing my processes and time markers. I shared my timeline for my first NSF grant. And today, I’m sharing my timeline for my first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, an R03 grant. My co-PI was Annette La Greca.

But first, a caveat. Your timeline will depend on many factors - your experience with the topic and grant writing, the type of grant, who is supporting you, etc. It won’t look like mine. But examples help create a picture of the process. You can judge how you might be different. I estimated dates by digging through files and eRA Commons, the portal I used to submit my grant.

Developing the Grant (8 months)

February 2016 (8 months pre-deadline). Started drafting the grant. Started with the one pager (i.e., my specific aims page).

~March 2016 (7 months pre-deadline). Met with a program officer at NICHD (one of the institutes at NIH) for feedback on the one pager. She was encouraging.

~July 2016 (3 months pre-deadline). I started our research plan and other documents. Until that point, I was mostly tinkering with and refining the one pager. I started working on the grant documents about 3 – 4 times a week and sharing drafts.

September 2016 (1 month pre-deadline). I started finalizing forms. I asked people to read documents for final polishing.

Submission Day (One day)

October 2016. Stress! I found so many issues with documents even though I’d been refining them for weeks. For instance, I have two versions of the “final final” one pager on submission day. I was trying to catch small details like word differences across documents. I kept revising, but at some point I worried my refinements could be causing larger problems at the finish line.

Post-Submission (10 months)

October 2016 (1 day post-deadline). We were assigned to a new institute at NIH. As mentioned, we’d applied to NICHD. But we were reassigned to NIMH. I spent a day wallowing, as I thought this was a death knell for the proposal.

February 2017 (4 months post-deadline). Study section met to review our grant. Almost immediately, they posted our scores. We received a 10th %ile score. I was not sure how to interpret this score. I called my close colleague to ask for feedback. She said it was a good sign.

~March 2017 (5 months post-deadline). My program officer emailed to ask for responses to reviewer comments. I was also asked to submit an IRB proposal.

May 2017 (7 months post-deadline). Council met to make decisions about grant awards. I heard nothing after Council met. I eventually emailed my program officer to ask what the status was of my grant. They said, “It is still the plan to fund your grant.” This was news to me! Until that point, I assumed it was all up in the air.

July 2017 (9 months post-deadline). Award prepared for my grant.

August 2017 (10 months post-deadline). Received a notice of award.

In summary, this grant took 8 months to develop, and 10 months from submission to award. This is on the shorter side of a grant timeline, as we received the grant on first submission. To illustrate, at the 2021 NIH Virtual Seminar, Drs. Twombly and Talesnik said the typical timeline for a K grant (a career development grant) is about 12 - 18 months from submission to award. Notice that this timeline does not account for how long it takes to develop and write a grant.

Also, I shared a success story here, but rejection is normal. Case in point, I just resubmitted a grant to NIH. My score for this second submission was worse than my first score, even though I thought we were very responsive to critiques.

Finally, if you know someone interested in grant timelines, could you forward this newsletter to them? As always, thanks for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas.


Stay in touch: The Newsletter, Twitter, TikTok, and The Grant Writing Guide book.

P.S. If you’d like to read our R03 grant, it appears in The Grant Writing Guide on pp. 47 – 52 and 112 – 114. For more timeline examples, see pp. 18, 79 - 80.

P.P.S. My kids never ask me “are we there yet?” It’s because my cousin introduced me to this awesome thing called a Toniebox. It plays audiobooks. My kids love the stories so much, they sometimes don’t want to get out of the car.

A Toniebox.